Many ex-patriates dream of one day returning home, triumphant, with their American education and/or professional successes, happy to settle once more into a culture they know, love and miss.
Turns out, heading “home” can be so alienating you turn right back to the U.S., reports today’s New York Times. A fascinating piece examines the experience of several Indian businessmen who moved to India after years of living and working in the U.S., where business culture is so profoundly different they simply didn’t fit in: they talked back to their managers, challenged authority, asked direct questions, insisted on action, not just discussion. They didn’t like endless government red tape either.
I’ve lived this experience, running headlong into problems when doing business, or trying to, with Canadians. Born, raised and educated there, and after two staff newspaper jobs, I left Canada in 1988. I’ve lived in New York, doing most of my business in New York City or with other Americans since. Oy!
I love Americans’ commercial directness. If someone wants to do business with you, you know it, you know it fairly quickly, and it happens. If not, you move on and that’s normal. In other cultures, India and Canada included, things can move much more slowly and even stating in plain direct language what you want can be considered pushy and rude — enough so to blow a deal. I’ve managed to reduce, I was told, someone’s Toronto assistant to tears, for using language and a tone that most New York college interns wouldn’t even blink at.
I used to do cross-cultural consulting with Berlitz, training senior execs moving from the U.S. to Canada and Canadians moving to the U.S., sort of a cultural intrepreter. Such differences, subtle and large, fascinate me as so many faux pas are made every day by people who really don’t understand how differently other cultures think, behave and respond.
The great thing about being an ex-pat is tasting another culture, or many. The tougher part is — where’s home?