Our world is arguably better connected by travel and communication than at any time in known history. That brings great learning and development opportunities on the one hand, but inevitable homogenisation on the other.
I’ve been lucky to have been exposed to a few experiences that have confronted my ignorance and naivety, and have compelled me to be rather more accepting and less judgemental of the cultural, social and aspirational differences that exist globally.
I’d quite like to hear of others’ experiences in this realm, so to get the ball rolling, I’ve listed a few unexpected events from around the world. I will deliberately refrain from adding any interpretation – you can do that perfectly well without my help.
But I would encourage you to add to the list, again, no analysis required…
Nota Bene: there is no intention to reinforce or lampoon cultural stereotypes.
REYKJAVIK – being introduced to a new customer at my agent’s bathing club. All 3 of us were stark naked. I didn’t recognise him when we later met, fully clothed.
COPENHAGEN – arriving at a 7am breakfast launch party, straight off a long haul flight, to be greeted with several glasses of Gammel Dansk (40% liquor)
SHARJAH – having an overpoweringly hot curry for breakfast, washed down with a can of Heineken wrapped in a napkin.
NEW YORK – walking to the Javits center by the most direct route and finding my suit and shiny shoes of great interest to the locals. I made it, but only just.
CAIRO – meeting with the Technical Director of the Egyptian Radio & Television Union for an hour exchanging pleasantries, and told to return in 3 days time to talk business.
DUBAI – having my chin pinched by a local dealer on our exhibition stand (I still haven’t worked this one out – suggestions please).
SOFIA – linking arms in the back of a taxi to keep the doors closed as we went round corners. Then having to kick the frozen doors open.
PALERMO – aquaplaning in my agent’s Fiat Uno van on the way to the airport, wishing I hadn’t told him I was late.
MOSCOW – helping my taxi driver change a flat tyre at -25°C and then seeing a line of old ladies trying to sell knitted scarves to passers-by.
BARI – eating sea-food for dinner that was still moving.
NAIROBI – staying at the Methodist Guest House and feeling ashamed at taking luxury for granted.
OSLO – feeling sorry for Japanese suppliers who insisted on trying Snus (moist tobacco powder) by swallowing it rather than smearing it on their gums. They disappeared for several hours.
ABERDEEN – having to continually say “pardon?” to a taxi driver who not only spoke with a heavy local accent, but also used Doric, the local dialect.
CAIRO – presenting to 50 TV engineers when everyone stood up and walked out. Wondering if I had said something offensive, I soon realised they had left to pray.
PARIS – enjoying perhaps some of the finest culinary experiences on offer… to eventually realise that there is no such thing as a free lunch!
NAPLES – realising that my agent was very well-connected on both sides of the law – and being thankful for it.
MANILA – becoming painfully aware of the buying power in my pocket compared to my agent’s and rightly becoming unusually generous.