I’VE BEEN PRETTY BUSY LATELY STOP OUR TEAM LEADER
IS AWAY IN THE STATES AND ALTHOUGH YOU MIGHT THINK
IT IS A TIME FOR RELAXING I’VE BEEN WORKING REAL HARD
INSTEAD STOP AT LEAST I’M OFF ON MONDAY THOUGH STOP
Sometimes I wish I’d been around in the era of the telegram. Communication systems were primitive and people would be all excited to receive a telegram from a loved one on the other side of the world. It almost made the planet seem smaller and the person was just around the corner. Of course in the modern day we’ve got mobile phones, the internet and video conferences to make the place seems small and I think some of the wonder of communicating has been lost along the way.
And that takes me neatly on to my point. Communication. Many argue that language can be a barrier to communication, and that can certainly be the case. But I reckon that culture is a far larger barrier and language can preclude that, and I’ve got an example to demonstrate it. I work for an American company, based in Minneapolis. We all speak English over in the UK, and they all speak English over in the States. We speak the same language. So there shouldn’t be any problems with communication. In theory.
But reality doesn’t quite work that way. We’ve had lots of problems, and everybody that I’ve spoken to who has worked with Americans has had the same set of problems with eerie regularity. But although it’s easy to generalise and blame our American cousins, it’s not their fault. And I know for a fact that we drive our counterparts mad sometimes, acting in what seems to them to be wildly unpredictable ways. And again, it’s not entirely our fault. The problem is that we all speak the same language and just assume that we’re on each other’s wavelengths. But that’s sometimes not the case.
I do recognise that everybody is an individual and therefore I can’t just refer the “The Americans” as though they are an army of clones, but attitudes and behaviour patterns tend to be very similar within a geographical location. However, America is so darned big and multicultural that there are a great many cultures within the whole country. So rather than generalise, I’m refining my discussion to the Americans I work with and have come into contact with (although not on an individual basis) so you can’t accuse me of being a generalist or a racist! Plus it wouldn’t be fair otherwise.
When I first started working with my American colleagues I treated them exactly like everyone else and quickly realised that they had a sense of humour (one generalisation gone), some were very clever, some were not so clever, and they were all different characters with different interests and lives. Much like anybody else. But as I’ve worked with them more I’ve come to realise that while our language is common, their attitudes to business and they way they talk and think is somewhat different to my UK colleagues. My favourite analogy concerns NASA. To put a man on the moon the USA spent billions of dollars, thousands of people and years of carefully controlled planning and execution before meeting their objectives (which they admirably did). Had Britain tried to do the same you can bet that a group of maybe ten people would have designed the rocket on the back of a cigarette packet, worked for a year or so out the back of a shed, made the rocket out of bits and pieces lying around the local dump and after a massive final push, have sent the ramshackle rocket on its course (after a few false starts when the rubber bands broke). It’s a totally different ethos.
And it’s this difference that has been most obvious to me. The people who colonised the USA may have come from Europe originally, but the European and American cultures rapidly diverged from that point on. It was only a few hundred years ago that this took place but already as nations we seem to be motivated completely differently. And it’s not a bad thing. The French and the English are a completely different race (and not easy bedfellows in general). But we know that’s the case because they speak different languages (note the use of the word ‘they’ as I am in fact Scottish). And the English and French are just as different as the English and Americans. It’s just that you don’t immediately realise thanks to there being no language barrier. So having realised this I can respect it and be less dismissive of my colleagues in future. And remember, just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there.