Cultural Differences?

I’ve just got back from holiday.  I’ve been staying at one of those all-inclusive-international-resort-hotel-thingys-by-the-sea, and it was fascinating because so many different types of people from all over the world come together and share the same space for a few days.

It was obvious that some people hadn’t stayed in a big hotel before – I remember the first time I stayed in a proper hotel was for an Assessment Centre with Abbey National (now Santander) and the culture shock was so enormous that I couldn’t concentrate on the selection tasks (at least that’s my excuse for doing so poorly).  Others were old hands, knowing all the tricks to squeeze every last drop of value from their all-inclusive deal.

Whenever something happened that was ‘different’ it was interesting to consider whether it was due to cultural norms or down to individual idiosyncrasies.  For instance, some people were making a number of trips to the buffet, separating their meals into entrees, mains & deserts, other people were stuffing all types of food onto one plate, and yet others were collecting lots of small plates – turning their own tables into mini buffets.

I’m stereotypically English, and will therefore queue relatively patiently for anything; any time queuing didn’t work as I expected I immediately thought that people were being rude – but maybe it was just a cultural difference.  Or maybe they were both from different cultures and rude. I found that the best coping technique was to think the best of people and assume cultural difference every time, then push in front of them.

Whilst the resort hotel amplified differences, a similar process of understanding peoples’ norms needs to take place whenever a group has to co-exist, and open plan offices have made this ever more important at work.  I reckon that this is the essence of what employers mean when they say they are looking for adaptable, flexible team-players.

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