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Tales of an expatriate lifestyle part 2

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Peter Thompson
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Spending time living in different countries and traveling extensively does a great deal for being exposed to nuances in culture and technology. This is part two of the expatriate lifestyle that follows on from the first article published.

Innovation in taxi payments

The US can often be incredibly advanced technologically. In San Francisco, most drivers have an iPhone with a credit card reader attached. Once the fare is completed, the driver swipes your credit card and hands you their phone. Here, you can choose from the preset 15%, 20% or 25% tip. You select the tip amount and are then prompted to enter your email address so that the receipt for the fare is sent to you. The next time you take a taxi and use the same card, it remembers you and there is no need to enter your email address again. It’s incredibly efficient.

The humour behind translations

Using a language translator in business can be quite amusing. Working with international firms often means that the workers do not speak English and there are times when the conversation needs to be translated. This can be quite funny and frustrating too. The reason is that the entire conversation is going through a third party person who has to understand the context of your conversation, perhaps with intricacies plus translate that into another language where the other person must interpret this. Now, have in mind that the translator must memorise the entire section before translating. It’s even more interesting when it’s slightly technical and the translator doesn’t understand the technical details in any language.

You can imagine the interaction. You are explaining a situation to a translator. You tell the translator your point in English language. You then listen as the translator speaks in the foreign language with the third person who is looking, nodding and you feel like your position on the situation has been made. The third person speaks in their own language of which you understand nothing. The translator then translate a completely unrelated sentence to you in English.  This can go on for some time before you begin to feel like you are in a monty python movie.

For example, in Serbian, the literal translation of “not mixing apples with oranges” is “not to mix grandmothers with frogs.”

The workerless retail shop

The Apple stores in the USA are remarkable. If you have an Apple ID, it is possible to go into the store and scan a barcode with your phone. You will then be able to get detailed product information. If the product costs less than $250, it’s possible to purchase the product via your Apple account and walk out of the shop without actually speaking to a shop assistant or waiting in a queue.

Off hand words can become distracting

Academics would often refer to this as the power distance between the employer and the employee which is certainly different between cultures.

My first management position in Eastern Europe was quite a challenge. I inherited 200 shipbuilders at a shipyard that was 70 years old in a relatively remote part of Serbia. Many of the workers were from nearby villages. They were good people but with somewhat limited exposure to foreigners. In their minds, foreigners must be smarter, wealthier and always correct with decision making which, of course, cannot be true, but it’s a case of perception being the reality.

I recall one day looking out over the shipyard and commenting to some people around me on how the roofs of the shipyard looked terrible because of rust and not being painted. When I came the next day, I saw around 10 men painting the shipyard hall roof. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t building ships but then recalled my statement the prior day making me cognisant of how important it was to be careful with what i said. Just because I was the boss didn’t mean that I was always right and certainly not every word that came out of my mouth was gospel. But, the point is that the workers did and therefore I needed to change my approach.

Use of stamps

The use of stamps in Eastern Europe is extensive. Nothing in some part of the world is valid unless it has the stamp of the company made over the top of the signature. The West cannot understand what the point of it is and the East cannot imagine how it’s possible to do business without them. One must be careful because a document that is not certified by a stamp is classed as invalid even though the signatures of both parties are genuine.

♦ End

About Peter Thompson

Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson founded GCOMM in 1996. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering/Information Systems from Griffith University and his MBA from Nyenrode Business Universiteit in Holland. He believes in building great teams of people, both in business and socially.
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