Friday, March 18, 2011

Get to the point!

Living in a different culture forces you to question the most basic “rules of society”. Why they exist, how they came to be and why we follow them? Certain things that I’ve always thought of as “polite” or “respectful” behaviors in the US are actually considered rude here. There are many many examples to choose from, but for today I’ll share just one:

“Get to the point”

In the US, time is a precious commodity and anyone who wastes your time is rude. In the work environment, if you need something from a colleague you get to the point and let them get back to work so as not to be a burden.

In Senegal, however, you’re considered rude if you don’t spend at least a couple minutes exchanging pleasantries and asking how they are and how are their families, friends, chickens etc. Then once you’ve established everyone’s wellbeing you move onto ask your question. This goes for random people on the street too. If you need to ask for directions you begin by greeting the person and asking them how they’re doing before getting to the question.

From an outsiders perspective this all seemed very superficial at first- just making small talk to give the appearance of really caring so that you can ask a question. But I like that people here haven’t forgotten all together that we should first introduce ourselves as humans before we turn to business. In the US it is much more time efficient to skip over the pleasantries, but it becomes all too convenient to see people only as the job they’re doing and treat them as such.

Regardless, rules are rules where ever you are and when it comes down to it, whether they make sense or not doesn’t really matter. If you don’t follow the rules you aren’t going to get very far. If I didn’t take time to chat with my fellow employees I would come off as cold and actually get less accomplished because people would take twice as long to respond to any requests (if at all). But by taking the 2 min to converse and “small talk” I save hours in the long run and also get a chance to know my coworkers a little better!

Reader Challenge: Next time you go to the grocery store or the bank (or something else- be creative), try to spend at least 20 seconds finding out how that person is doing. I'm sure some of you do this already, but I'm interested to hear how people react!

1 comment:

  1. Hey -- great insight. You might be surprised how much I already do this at work though. Most of our meetings (in my office anyway) start with at least some amount of finding out how the others are doing and whether they plan to ride RAGBRAI this year ;-)
    Anyway -- I am imagining that if you did this to a total stranger at HyVee [at least some of them] might really think there was something wrong with you, and take off running. :-)