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Posts Tagged ‘culture

It wasn’t as boring as we expected

It’s a cultural thing.  Brits were surprised their politicians weren’t dead boring.  The debate wasn’t quite as boring as watching Congress pass the Health bill but I did switch over to the The Huff Post to read about Obama at NASA announcing 6bn for commercial space flights.  Now that is exciting!

But it was boring

Truthfully, I am a geek.  I watched Congress pass the Health bill.  Of last night, I can remember except marveling at a newspaper picture of the 3 contenders’ ties.   I wonder what women would wear?

I was also amazed at how nervous the leaders were.  So much for our adversarial system of public life.  It scares the most competitive of us silly.

So morning after.  What can you remember of what the leaders said?

So what happened in Britain yesterday to rival 6bn for commercial space flight and the introduction of SDR’s by IMF.  Three pale male and stale in brightly coloured ties said  . . . .?

Oh, and an Icelandic volcano shut down our air space.

Speaking properly

I once worked with people who hated other people ~ or so they said.  I hated broccoli (I like it now) and I hated doing my tax return.

Sometimes I loathed someone.  Or I disliked someone.

Speaking accurately

The nuances of emotional words are interesting.  We have poor emotional vocabularies as a general rule.

Understanding nuances

The other day, I dipped into  Kate Fox’ Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour.

The nuances of Englishness

Kate Fox suggests the English accept serious but not solemn and sincere but not earnest. I looked up the differences in my COBUILD dictionary that was built from a corpus of actual English usage (Collins Birmingham University International Language Database).  It wasn’t very enlightening.

Serious not solemn; sincere not earnest

So I am on the trail to distinguish solemn from serious and earnest from sincere.

Any suggestions?

Harare International Ariport
Image via Wikipedia

Yes, there are wild animals in Africa and sometimes you meet them

A jet on a domestic commuter flight collided with a squad of warthogs that had found their way onto the runway during the night at Harare International Airport.  The jet hit the pigs just as it screaming down the runway in take off.  The undercarriage was damaged and the plane veered off the runway at speed.  The pilot brought the plane to a safe stop and all 30-40 passengers were evacuated safely though obviously startled.

That’s my summation.  I am following this story because I want to know what happened to the pigs.  It’s called the zeigarnik effect. We always want to know the ending!  No one says what happened to the pigs (or whether anyone has mended the airport fence).  So I keep reading the stories to find out!

Manage for animals and be to-the-point ~ very to-the-point when you work in Africa

While I’ve watched the story I read an extract from a statement from the airlines chief executive.

In exactly five sentences, the CEO summarizes the situation and he does so in logical order.

A template for perfect business writing

I’ve copied the statement below and added a heading before each line.  It’s a case study of a perfect business memo.

Situation : something has happened and we must pay attention

“An Air Zimbabwe MA60 aircraft impacted with warthogs during the take-off roll on November 3, 2009 at approximately 19:36.

Mission : this is why we must pay attention

This resulted in a rejected take-off.

Execution: Specific events in logical order

The aircraft was on the take-off roll and was about to lift off the ground when it hit the five warthogs.

The nose and left main landing gears collapsed after the impact.

The aircraft veered off to the left side of the runway and stopped off the runway with damage on the engine propeller and on the wing tip.”

Missing:

What will happen next and who to contact?

NB:  There is no mention that the passengers got off unharmed because no one is hurt.  We take it for granted that if casualties were not reported, that there is NTR – nothing to report.

I still want to know what happened to the pigs.  I know it is not particularly relevant. It is just the zegarnik effect, I know.

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Whinging poms

Have you ever seen a psychological study of why the English complain about the weather?  Or why the English complain .   .   .

We all know the English talk incessantly about the weather.  The Aussies remind us that poms whinge.  Or rather, the Aussies dismiss “whinging poms” with a frisson of superiority!

Folklore has it that poms whinge about the weather to make small talk.  That smirk of satisfaction begs explanation in turn.  Why is it considered polite to whinge about something we can do nothing about?

If  a South African is talking, they would advise you what to do about the weather. The focus would be on action and the focus would be on the battle of life fought successfully against willful, unhelpful and unbiddable elements.

If an Australian is talking, they would be proud of Australian weather.  I’ve never deciphered that either.  Proud of something you had nothing to do with making???

I know how to treat with a South Africa.  They want to “do”.  They want to be competent.  So simply ask to borrow their umbrella!  They will make sure you get back to your car dry – and probably get your shoes cleaned for you to.

I’ve cracked the English whinge.  You say sweetly:  “I like English weather.  Everything changes so fast.  If you don’t go out for a single day, you miss the daffodils, or a tree that has changed color”.

The English man or woman is left in a dilemma.  Continue whinging and imply England is not up to scratch?  Won’t have that!

So they start being informative.  You’ll hear all about the plants they love.  Your walk to work, or your previously insalubrious train ride, will take on a fresh look as they point out all the best bits of scenery to look out for!

And it works on other topics too.  The English are as volatile as their weather.

Idiosyncracies that we love

I am a serial migrant and one thing you learn “on the road” is that every community has phrases and ideas that are deeply coded.  They simply don’t mean what they sound as if they mean.

When I first arrived in UK, I heard people saying “Bless”, quite a lot.  I even asked someone what they meant.

It was a dumb thing to do, of course. When he said “Bless”, he was saying “Oh sod off, I can’t be bothered with your troubles.”  He certainly wasn’t going to translate accurately.

He said he was commiserating.  And no, he did not follow through on what I was asking him to do and what I though he was obliged to do. Lol.

Legal systems differ

I remember someone returning from UK to Zimbabwe after studying for four years here and he told us seriously that he was going to study face recognition because it was important in jury trials.

I remember looking around the room and thinking, “Who is going to tell him?”   No one spoke up, so I said as gently as I could, “X, we don’t have juries in Zimbabwe.”

And we don’t have juries in Zimbabwe not because of the current troubles but because we have Roman-Dutch law.  So does South Africa, and oddly Sri Lanka.

On the look out for deep differences

Because of this difference, I am always on the look out for things that I just “don’t get” – where I might be jumping the wrong way because I grew up in another system.

Look at this quotation from a famous US lawyer, Newton Minow.

“After 35 years, I have finished a comprehensive study of European comparative law. In Germany, under the law, everything is prohibited, except that which is permitted. In France, under the law, everything is permitted, except that which is prohibited. In the Soviet Union, under the law, everything is prohibited, including that which is permitted. And in Italy, under the law, everything is permitted, especially that which is prohibited.[9]

Which category does UK fit in to?

It is my understanding that Roman law fits into the German camp.  Unless I am allowed to do it, I can’t.

And it is my understanding, that English law (I am not sure about Scots law) is in the French category.  Do whatever you like.  We will say if you can’t.

An example of how these differences create confusion

This is how confusion arises in practice.

When I read a sign that says “Parking is Permitted with a Permit from 10-11 and 2-3”, my first reaction is puzzlement – followed by a eh? Why would I want to park here from 10-11 and 2-3?

No, it doesn’t mean that at all.  It means you can park here whenever you want, but you must

a) move your car between 10-11 and 2-3

or

b) buy a ticket.

I bet you thought that was obvious.  I am still confused every time I see that sign but as it only costs 40p to park there all day it is a confusion I will put up with.

Does this difference account for the nanny state and other British wonders?

When I heard the Unions negotiating for workers to go to work in shorts during this past very hot week, I got into a Twitter conversation about the nanny state and I started to wonder if this difference accounts for differences in management style as well.

The differences between Germanic and Anglo meetings

Meetings in Germanic countries are brisk.  You go in armed with facts and figures and MAKE DECISIONS, quickly and definitively.

Anglo meetings swirl around this way and that with no agenda and no outcome.  As an American-trained, Indian-born manager used to say in NZ (nudging me with his elbow and whispering out the side of his mouth):  “Sit back and wait. We will be here for the next hour discussing process and there will be no goal”.  Sure enough, for the next hour we discuss who wants what.  What we are trying to achieve collectively is not mentioned at all.  Who knows whate we were there for but we’ve had a spirited discussion about individual preferences.

What does it mean to ‘manage’ in the two systems?

I think I prefer a system where everything is allowed unless it is prohibited.

But possibly when you grow up in  system like that you aren’t used to designing systems or spaces where things happen.

And then you get a profileration of crazy rules.  10 signs per 100 yards, or whatever the figure is for British roads.

And it also means that one of your choices in life is to sit and do nothing.  Though some people are trying to prohibit that too.  This illustrates my point.  Designing and organizing for action is quite different from banning the few things that we may not do. Banning someone from doing X will not get them to do Y.

Alternatives

This thought process is starting to feel like ‘reaching’ to me.  But to try to illustrate my point.

What if you simply told people to drive safely and they will be accountable for what they smash into?

What if you told people to pay their taxes but that we would display online how much they paid?

Life can be made very simple if we choose.

And we shouldn’t have to tell people what to wear to work.  Really. If it is hot, wear shorts.  If it is cold, wear a jumper.

Of course, if you cannot afford a change of clothes, that would be my concern.  I’ve been brought up in system where managers are supposed to make things possible.  We are certainly accountable if people cannot see the way forward and don’t have the resources to get there.

Have a great weekend!


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