May 17, 2019
For International World Cultural Diversity Day, I was joined by many members of our EMEA team to share their experiences with culture clash. At Braze, we hope that sharing our stories will promote understanding and curiosity of cultures less familiar to us. The team wraps things up with a few tips when traveling through various countries.
PJ Bruno: My mom told me I was special as a kid and unlike anyone else. And I hope someone told you the same, because you are. Your unique in every way. And yet we're all the same. We're literally made of all the same stuff. But one of the things humans do best is trying to make sense of the world around them by identifying, and labeling, and comparing. And it's a thin line between taking into account someone's background to accommodate for cultural differences and making a sweeping generalization about a person based on their accent or appearance. It can be a polarizing topic to discuss where the world is going and if it's in our best interest collectively. While there is always more work to be done, we can at least recognize the boom of diversity and inclusion initiatives in the work place. Today we'll hear from our own people at Braze about their experience with diversity and the times they felt a rift between them and someone from another place. I started making my first European friends in my teens, and I didn't quite understand the kiss on the cheek greeting. Am I supposed to do it with people I just met? Do I do it with other boys too? How many kisses? Do I kiss teachers too?
Speaker 2: So the kisses on the cheek thing is actually a really funny one for me because in Switzerland people give three kisses. In Germany, they often give two or they don't give any. And in the U.K. I found that sometimes people don't like to give kisses or they give one or they give two.
Speaker 3: Well I'm quite posh, as you can probably tell from my accent. And Posh people kiss on two cheeks as well. But not everyone in the U.K. Does and I find there's a bit of a north south divide. So my fiance is Northern, and all his family and friends kiss on one cheek, but I kiss on two cheeks. And then we face this awkwardness every time I see them, because I want to be considerate of how they greet people, but they are being considerate of how I greet people. So then we end up in this scenario where I go for one and they go for two. So I actually just have abandoned kissing at all and I just hug everyone and I find it works. Hugging is the way forward.
Speaker 4: I'm Swedish. And you know in Sweden we don't really kiss. People are kind of afraid of one another. I'm not sure, people might have seen there is this image floating around the internet where Swedes are waiting at the bus stop for one another and they basically stood two meters apart from each other. So I think the whole kissing on the cheek thing, that's not really common in Sweden. Personally, I'm a hugger, so you know people get a little bit like "Oh, whose this guy" when I approach them.
Speaker 5: I mean coming from Brazil and having this affectionate culture obviously my first instincts is like I'm gonna hug you and I'm gonna kiss you. And usually it is a two kiss. So one on each side of the cheek. Depending on who it is. So if it is someone very close to me I might go for full on kiss on the cheek rather than just putting side to side faces.
PJ Bruno: We're lucky enough to have a collection of cultures at Braze.
Speaker 6: I'm half Irish and half Italian.
Speaker 7: I feel British I am British, but yet I'm of Indian heritage.
Speaker 4: Being from Sweden.
Speaker 8: Being a German when I move to Mexico.
Speaker 9: Growing up in Scotland.
PJ Bruno: Everyone of them with a different understanding and expectation of the social code that mediates all human interactions. The fact is most of us mean well and want to have positive connections with one another but sometimes our intentions don't get through. They can be obscured, different cultures have different expectations of professional behavior and if you're not careful you could find yourself offending someone unintentionally. I got the opportunity to talk to some member of our London team to hear about their experiences with culture clash. Our hope is to dig into some of these stories to provide some more understanding, and hopefully more understanding makes for better connections.
Speaker 3: I think that the biggest learning curve I've had at Braze is working with different cultures, when I work with the sales team and they hand an account over to me, it's like one of the first things that we'll talk about is what kind of culture are they, because in APAC, if I'm working with someone who's based in Singapore or they might be based in Thailand or if they're based in Israel you know the Middle East they're all going to be so different to work with. For example, typically in Asian cultures they're very polite and won't speak up in a room. So I've had with some clients a hesitation to even introduce themselves in a room, it's been interesting because we're up in the office there. I've been getting some tips from the team about how to work with customers there and one of the tips that Sam - who's an account manager out there- gave me was that Asian culture love to talk about food and it's very central to their culture. So apparently if I'm struggling to get clients talking I should try and talk about food, like "Hey I've heard that the food scene's amazing in Singapore, where do you get the best chicken satay?", because that's like a big dish out there, and so probably that's a good tip. I guess when I'm working with Israeli's I've found it a bit of a culture shock because they're very direct and in British culture directness can sometimes be a sign of rudeness, but for them that's just the way that they work and they want to get stuff done, so I think there's an element of me understanding their approach to business and not being offended by it.
Speaker 7: I think diversity inclusion is a big buzzword, if I look back I've been in sales twenty years, I know I don't look it, but it's true. And if I just look back at my last company there was a lot of older men and I think in sales, when you don't have a diverse range of people then the thinking can be one way. You know we've moved on from selling the way we used to sell, on the phone getting people's credit cards or selling double glazing, you know the way they were thinking wasn't flexible or agile enough and because they thought they'd been doing it for the last 50 years. This is the process that works rather than looking to new ways of adapting.
PJ Bruno0: In one of my previous jobs I was working closely with the engineering team. And there I struck up a friendship with a Russian guy, he was quite different and I think a lot of people first misunderstood him for being quite brazen. Because he just said exactly what he thought all the time and he would come in in the morning and he would just make some off the cuff comment and talk really loud and people would be quite offended. I think especially comparing it to the people who have been living in the UK for longer, who are a bit more quiet, a bit more composed. And he would just say really funny things that would rattle people at times but that was just his character. I kind of liked that about him because it was a bit refreshing. As the weeks went by that he had joined the company, people started understanding that was just his cultural background as well and it became a bit of a joke too like, I bet he's gonna make a joke about this or that. It was a nice addition to the team at the end of the day.
Speaker 8: Germans are always on time and they stress themselves a lot to be on time. Let's say if I'm about to run late I would not necessarily run over a red light but I would stress, if that makes sense. That is not good on your health and for so many other reasons it's not really nice, but it results in people being on time and being time efficient. Coming to the UK, not that they're really delayed or people just show up 2 hours late, but they take their time and a tolerance of 15 minutes is absolutely acceptable. I picked that up here because I quite like that, because even if you run late you don't stress yourself, you still take the next tube to work or whatever and coming back to Germany makes me feel really stressed all the time, because people just stress for no reason, like my mum she's working half=time and she would rush home and there's nothing waiting for her. If I'm queuing up in the supermarket and somebody is taking too much time to pay, here in the UK people would just be really patient and wait, whereby in Germany people would be like why can't you pay faster and whatever. I shouldn't really talk so bad about the Germans.
PJ Bruno: Speaking of cultural differences, I did all of these podcasts in London this morning and only the German woman was direct enough to tell me that I had salad in my teeth this whole time, just great.
Speaker 9: Growing up in Scotland in an Italian household, I would behave in quite an Italian way, I think, without realizing it, to my Scottish friends. So something that's really common in Italy is to be very honest but in a nice way. I'm quite direct but again in a nice way, not in a confrontational way so it wasn't unusual to say to someone, you look awful today, you look really tired, you look really really tired. But in a really nice way as in are you okay?, is there something that I can do to help you (laughs). You just don't look yourself, what's going one, but someone did turn around to me and, I won't use exact words because we're recording, but did say is it because I look terrible today and I said no no I'm just really concerned about you. That offended them.
Speaker 6: The first time I went to a physio in London, it got really embarrassing because in Italy it's normal when you go to see a doctor or an osteopath or a physiotherapist to take your clothes off. The physiotherapist left the room and said okay I'm going back in 2 minutes just get ready and lay down and so when he came back I was wearing just my underwear. He was like oh no please can you put your clothes back on. And then I find out that in the UK it's not needed. (Laughter)
Speaker 5: I have one of my best friends, her name is Flo.
Speaker 8: So one of my best friends is Brazilian.
Speaker 5: We used to struggle a little bit with some of our cultural differences.
Speaker 8: In her culture it's quite normal to ask a question several times because people might not feel comfortable saying yes. Say like you offer a snack or a dinner or whatever.
Speaker 5: In Germany, from my understanding, when people give an answer that's their final answer. Whereas in Brazil being the persuasive kind of Brazilians that we are, we don't take a no for an answer.
Speaker 8: In her culture it is polite to say no initially and be asked again, in Germany it's the opposite, if you say no and you get asked again, people get pretty annoyed for the reason for example of like didn't you listen that I just said no.
Speaker 5: It's just because I really want you to be part of whatever I'm asking. So let's say tonight like lets go out and have a drink, oh no Pria I'm tired. Oh but come on let's just have one drink, no Pri I've already told you, oh but just one come on it's Thursday. She's like Pri I said no, and I said but why, what else you have to do?
Speaker 8: That was a friction in our friendship but we addressed it quite nicely by stating where we're coming from in terms of in my culture it's that way and in her culture it's that, so let's just try to work together.
Speaker 4: I've been in London now for the past nine years and I guess I'll be perceived as very non Swedish, so going back to Stockholm this must have been 4 or 5 years ago and I met with a friend and we went to a bar. I was going up to the bar, it's busy I'm ordering and while we're waiting there I'm waiting to be served I look over to my right and there's a bloke there, he's also waiting for a drink, waiting to order, so just out of nowhere I say hey how's it going how's your night? And he just looks at me like why are you talking to me. Because again going back to what I said earlier Swedes don't really take well towards strangers coming into their circle and disrupting their groove. So I think that I actually properly offended him, he looked at me big eyes and then just turned away.
Speaker 8: When I think about an experience that has shaped me quite a lot and thinking about diversity was when I was roughly 20 years old and I moved to Mexico for 3 years. The thing that I found most shocking was when they tend to say things making other people feel comfortable as opposed to actually meaning it, that could be as let's meet up on Fridays and hang out, but then they never really follow up and me as a German I took that really seriously. Just to give you a concrete example, I organized a dinner, invited a couple of friends, of the friends that I made there, they basically never showed up. Living in the culture for another 2 years I really learned how to deal with that and in that scenario, if I had to relive that situation again I would make sure to remind them a couple of days before. Like a confirmation and continue the conversation and that's one thing that really struck me and almost was quite painful, because having set up the dinner and people not turning up that was quite weird at the time.
Speaker 5: When I moved from Brazil to Portugal I was about a month into the country and I was in school so just like hearing people referring to other kids as putos, it was interesting to me, because in Portuguese and I guess in many other languages, when a word finishes with an O or with an A it means that an O is a masculine and A is a feminine. So there's me there in this group of friends, acquaintances at school and I thought to myself, why not try to be Portuguese about it and show them that I am actually, you know guess what I'm getting to know your culture and I want to use your words I want to use your sentences. So I start to tell them my story and I wanted to refer back to my past when I was a small kid and there was me hearing this like all those putos, and obviously putos means a boy. What did I think immediately, oh when I was a puta forgetting exactly that puta actually means the same thing in both languages , well in both accents lets say in Portugal and in Brazil. But it was very embarrassing because everyone started looking at me and I had the whole innocence on me to refer to myself as a kid, but using the female version of puto baputa without thinking of the actual meaning of it. So it was very embarrassing, everyone just looked at me.
PJ Bruno: What's the meaning of it though?
Speaker 5: Prostitute.
PJ Bruno: Oh Okay. See I don't speak either language so.
Speaker 5: Can this be on the podcast?
PJ Bruno: I think so, I'll try to work it in.
Speaker 5: Okay.
PJ Bruno: So you referred to yourself as a prostitute.
Speaker 5: Exactly.(Laughs)
PJ Bruno: How can we dig deeper to find out what someone else's values are and what they see as acceptable and familiar. Pellegrino Ricardi cross cultural expert encourages us to ask anything as long as it's with curiosity. Step 1 ask a simple question Step 2 listen to the answer, pick a word and follow up on that word. The only caveat, this will only work with people who are from cultures that like to verbally express themselves. How do you greet new people?
Speaker 3: I like people to be really casual, I find the formality of meeting new people so awkward and I really freeze with small talk. I hate small talk and actually I think the thing I admire people in terms of the art of conversation is being able to talk about something other than the weather or where you're from or how you got into work that day. And I love it when people just bring really random questions into conversations like, if you were a color what color would you be. I mean it just can be so random but it catches you off guard and you actually find out more about people. I think on the first day it's always nice if you meet someone, or you meet a client for the first time just to be polite but then also get the conversation going around something else as well.
PJ Bruno0: I think when I wanna include new people I usually just try to hang out with them a little bit. What's really nice in the UK specifically is that you just go to the pub after work, so I try to make an effort and invite people to come along to that. Usually that's been received quite well but depending on who it is, sometimes people are a little bit more shy and they don't feel comfortable doing that kind of stuff, which is fine as well.
Speaker 4: A nice thing might be a little bit overwhelming, what I tend to do when I speak to someone is also to pull in others around me and sort of help that new person, to introduce them to the wider group and I think that comes back to what I said previously where some people might not naturally want to approach people, so to bring them into a conversation while sort of being there and safeguarding the communication. I think that's typically something that I would do.
Speaker 3: I think just smile, honestly especially now I work the middle east territory and can you imagine it's really again male dominated. I'm working Israel, I work Dubai, you know these companies all have their own culture fit and I tell you what just a smile goes a long way. It just lets people know as soon as they see, that you're friendly you're approachable. It's a language that everybody speaks, no matter where they're from.
PJ Bruno: Today is the world day for cultural diversity for dialogue and development. A sanctioned international holiday. The need for diversity and inclusion can take may shapes, but it exists everywhere. Our EMEA team would like to leave you with some helpful tips when working or playing internationally.
PJ Bruno0: One thing that I would recommend for people visiting Germany or Switzerland is don't be put off by people who are a little bit harsh maybe or who are a little bit direct. Oftentimes it can be harder to make friends, if you let yourself get scared off by the first contact which might be not as friendly or as polite as you would imagine. But just be open to people, somebody doesn't react the way that you're used to that's probably got nothing to do with yourself, it's probably just the culture. Just make sure that you keep trying to interact with people and try not to take offence.
Speaker 5: So [inaudible] could be not to wait for your turn to talk, because you might never get the chance to speak.
PJ Bruno0: No just talk.
Speaker 5: Just if you have something to say just say it.
Speaker 9: Also touching, touching is [inaudible] it's not unusual when you see someone to rub their arm and be like hi how are you
Speaker 5: Or you want to get their attention while you're talking because you want somebody to listen more, you would grab his arm.
Speaker 9: Yes, just give them a wee hit.
Speaker 3: So I'm going to give my tips for the UK and I think the number 1 thing in the UK, which we're known for is queuing and you really just have to get that down. If you come from an Asian culture where queuing, you might see a picture of it and there's 100 people and it's like first come first served, get in there. If you try and do that in the UK, people will be pretty angry. But the other thing is that people are very un-confrontational in the UK so you won't get like a Hey Man This is My Place In The Queue, you'll just get a dirty look or even nothing, you'll just get a nudge, you know they'll get real angry. People don't like that.
Speaker 4: Move out of your comfort zone a little bit because ultimately I believe that people are nice, just exposing yourself to other people that you don't know is hopefully going to open up a new world to you.
PJ Bruno: Happy cultural diversity day, go learn about someone different.