Issue 27

Gogu in cultural ...shock

Simona Bonghez
Managing Partner @ Colors in Projects


"Ssiga -ssiga…", Gogu smiled when remembering his holiday and he abandoned himself to the reverie: turquoise sea, fine sand beach, pine trees and sun on a permanently blue sky. God, I"m sure this island is the Heaven on Earth…

"What are you hissing about, Gogu?... Has any blonde memory come to haunt you? I thought you said you were having troubles with the Golf project … But you"re smiling, like you have no work to do." Misu"s words broke Gogu"s reverie.

"What blonde, Misu? Do you think I"m in the mood for blondes? But I remembered the holiday in Greece and it just hit me!" Gogu accompanied his last words by a smack to his forehead, obviously with the intention of emphasizing the importance of the moment.

"Don"t be too hard on yourself, Gogu, there"s no need to punish yourself now… I can see the matter is serious… But tell me, what was the hissing all about? And what exactly does it have to do with our project?! How is Greece going to help you in planning the deliverables?"

"It isn"t helping me with the planning"… Gogu became solemn again. "However, it does help me to understand. Maybe. I think so… Pay attention to this: when we reached our holiday destination, the girl from the agency told us to relax, not to hurry, as life on the island had its own rhythm: ssiga - ssiga, she said, that is slowly - slowly…"

"I see, that is the Greek word for slowly: ssiga…"

"Yes. And at the beginning I didn"t quite understand what that ssiga was all about, but I got it soon: they were never in a hurry. The bus used to leave only when the driver had finished smoking his cigar, the waiter was always complaining about being busy, instead he always found the time to talk nineteen to the dozen with you, generally about the latest game of the world championship, the frappe would arrive half an hour after you had ordered it, but they were all relaxed and peaceful… Just like you. Well, after a week, I got used to this rhythm myself, but the holiday was over… And to reach my point, the idea that struck me is very simple: just like I calmed down with the Greeks once I saw that this was their style, I have to understand the manner of those we are working with right now, and then, things will be much easier."


"Your answer is rather short. Could you be more specific?"

"I was just thinking… It"s just like when that client from Japan came and he kept saying Yes-yes-Yes and we all thought we had persuaded him, but he meant he had understood what we were telling him, not that he agreed, since afterwards he still did as he pleased."

"Exactly, Misu. They are called cultural differences. We are the sum of the education we have received, the customs we inherited and which have surrounded us, the beliefs of our parents, relatives, friends we grew up with. And they are different from the experiences people go through in other parts of the world. And then it is only natural that they have other creeds, other reactions."

"Do you recall that time we went to the movies with the Japanese guy? There was this noisy group right in front of us that you reprimanded…"

"Ha, ha… and the Japanese got upset; he was embarrassed by the fact that I asked them directly to be quiet instead of reporting them to the supervisor… Do you remember we couldn"t understand what it was that he wanted with the supervisor?!

But truce to jesting now! Let"s begin to study the differences there might be between us and them, to see whether we can better deal with this. We have to finish planning, and I still haven"t managed to find out which their holidays are in the near future."

"What are you up to, guys?" Chief had suddenly appeared again, and the two, caught in the discussion, hadn"t noticed him.

"You are sneaking in on us again, Chief?! Look, we are talking about the project in Kuwait. I want to draw up a detailed planning, for them to see how serious we are. It"s just that we haven"t got all the data yet… They say the holiday in October begins 70 days after the Ramadan, but I couldn"t find the exact date set for the end of Ramadan on the net …"

"Nor will you find it, Gogu. It depends on the m…"

"This year, it was in July."

"Not the month in the calendar, but the moon on the sky. And shut your mouth, a fly could get in."

Gogu was indeed open-mouthed. How come the moon? He listened to Chief"s explanations, but somehow his mind was refusing to accept them. And probably his feeling was clearly expressed by his face, as Chief stopped explaining to add:

"Gogu, I"ve heard you about ssiga-ssiga earlier. I know the concept, I"ve tried it out. But these people we are going to work with now are much farther away, both geographically and culturally. Things can be very different. You cannot take them out for a beer to clear things out. The best you can do is to offer them some tea. And only if it is not during the Ramadan, when throughout the day you are not allowed to eat, nor drink. And even if you took them out for a tea, you cannot expect them to speak their mind if something isn"t right, as they don"t want to put you in an awkward position. … As for the strict planning, forget about it. To them, time has a whole different meaning. You can suggest a weekly plan, by no means a daily one, and add some backups for communication and negotiations, double to what we are used to. And your idea to read more about their customs, beliefs and culture is excellent. It will help you a lot in your relationship with them."

"Chief, you have worked with them, haven"t you?"

"I have worked, I"ve made mistakes, I have learnt…"

"Ahh, do tell us about the mistakes you"ve made!"

Chief smilled. "Yes, I was sure you would want to find out about that. Well, look what happened: we had bad luck with some equipment which didn"t get to us on time, and we were behind the schedule delivering the solution to the client."

"And they got upset because of the delay?" Gogu jumped quickly to conclusion. "Didn"t you just tell us they see time differently?"…

"No, Gogu, they were not upset because of the delay, they got upset because of the bad luck. Listen, Gogu," Chief laughed, "you have a problem today: you keep standing open-mouthed."

Gogu was caught again on the wrong foot. "What do you mean by bad luck? What do they have to do with the bad luck?"

"It"s precisely that they have nothing to do with it. There isn"t such a thing as bad luck for them. There is only the will of The One Above All. Everything that happens is for a reason, it has a purpose and it doesn"t depend on good or bad luck. This is where I made my mistake… And if you don"t want to make a mistake yourselves, get back to work, or else you"ll see what bad luck means!"



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