Aug 06

Cultural Differences

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As a student, I worked in restaurants… sometimes as a chef or mostly as a waiter… coming from a family of restauranteurs, I had both the knowledge and the experience…

I knew Italian cuisine like the back of my hand -having lived with Italians for 20 years already-… and of course French and English cuisines…

There was that Greek restaurant in town that had always enjoyed a wonderful reputation and so one day as I fancied a changed a position for a part-time waiter came up…

Although it was at the other end of the town and I have always been a walker I decided I had to give it a try…

I got there and got the job -if I gave satisfaction- after a one week trial period… during which nobody ever even said so much as Hello to me… or said anything to me for that matter… my Greek boss family sat in a corner forever speaking Greek -which I don’t speak- with what seem the most male vent air whenever they caught my eyes…

The only thing they ever said to me was that I couldn’t pour coffee properly -how many ways are there of pouring coffee I asks myself-…

So much so that came Saturday lunchtime when, after the service, came the time of discussing the continuity of my employment with them…

They asked me what I though of the job and my position… to which I answered the job was fine and I loved their food… only the transpersonal communication didn’t agree with me… which motivated my refusal to take the job…

Their jaw dropped and said they didn’t understand how or why they could have made me feel so awkward when they had always felt most happy with my work… and would I reconsider ? I thanked them and said that my decision was made and I wasn’t backtracking… and so leaving… after the evening service…

I never heard about them afterwards -nor about the restaurant strangely enough- if anything I hope it taught them a lesson for those who came after me… as I was to learn mine…

All the same I have Egyptian friends in Paris who have a pizzeria…

No matter how many times I tried to tell them that European did not like to sit all together in one corner of the restaurant they still insist on pushing every walker-in… in the same corner…

Furthermore, a restaurant with scattered diners all over the dining room gives the walker-by the impression it is busy… as opposed to spooking to fin a few people in the one corner… especially on quieter nights… when people will only notice that most of the restaurant is… empty…

We’re talking about the same number of diners… it is the first impression that counts… but obviously Egyptians prefer to be stuck together…

Their restaurant is in an office area… so very busy lunchtimes but dead at night… and they could really use every tricks to attract the looker-in…

Twenty years later one of my clients is a Sales manager for a big Italian group…

A new Italian manger is moving in to cover for the departing French manager… and Frederick -my client- is having kittens at the thought that this new manager is nurturing a vicious hatred for him… this self-assured high-flying national sales manager is biting his finger to the bone at the thought !

We discuss it and I suggest he went out for a coffee with him and they could get things off their chests if there was anything… Frederick answers that he could never do that… and was leaving the company…

Within a week he gets a job with a 25 % percent increase on an already high salary… and a local -versus national- sales management position ! Frederick is on a cloud at the idea of meeting his manager to hand him his notice… that afternoon…

Comes the time of their meeting and Frederick announces proudly that he was resigning… to which the manager’s jaw drops… band he had to confess he thought nothing but good of his performance and there was no way he would let him go…

Frederick walked out of his Italian manger’s office with a big grin across his face and a 25 % increase on his salary… a job Frederick eventually kept… unlike me…

Both very similar experiences -except Frederick spoke good Italian (I was his Italian teacher)- only they don’t end up the same… but both situation arose from a perception… one-way or both…

And the same goes for humour and gestures…

Years ago Will Smith was invited on a very popular show on Hong Kong TV to promote his film… the interview took a quick turn for the worse when Smith started monkeying about the stage mimicking what he thought was Chinese attitude and language…

You should have seen everybody’s jaw drop… and the deadly silence that ensued… the interview quick moved on to the next subject and guest… and Will Smith was ushered off the stage unapplauded… his new film didn’t make the second week’s showing in the local cinemas…

If you’re talking to an Iranian and he winks at you… he only means he agrees and is listening… and a Tamil in a conversation bopping his head in what a European interprets as a ‘no’ actually means ‘yes’ !

29825a_98a86f68ece44f78ac06b01964fc6c61There is so much more than meets the eye even between sister cultures… or cultures which share a common language… i.e. English -like French- is spoken in many countries worldwide… but English speaking countries albeit speaking one common language do not necessarily share the same culture… British culture is not American Culture, nor are Canadian or Australian or even New-Zealand cultures similar beyond the English language…
and even then their English is not exactly the same…

Jesse CRAIGNOU

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