Culture. It paints festivals with music and bright colors. It plasters the covers of the likes of National Geographic. It fills our plates with traditional dishes and cuisine from around the world. It is the thread that ties all of society together. It’s that beautiful thing that we celebrate.
That’s all great. Until it clashes. When culture is suddenly not a pleasant idea to admire, it is pretty hard to accept when it is actually impacting how YOU have always lived your life. And these cultural differences can become painfully pronounced in the workplace. Come on, work is already stressful enough. Add the factor that you don’t know what the h*ll is going on around you half the time, and you’ll start considering marrying for money as a serious option. Here are some of the struggles I’ve had in getting used to the workflow in an Egyptian office:
I never know when the holidays are (and neither does anyone else)
I took the Friday Saturday weekend in stride. That I can understand. It’s scheduled, I can plan on it, just takes a little adjustment to get used to and switching the phrase TGIF to TGIT. Done.
But wait. You mean to tell me that major holidays cannot be scheduled in advance? We have to wait on the moon? How am I supposed to schedule meetings and deadlines?
Meetings feel like warzones
Before Egypt, I always thought that if a meeting had yelling, angry hand gestures, and everyone talking over everyone else that it was a bad meeting. Now, I see that’s just every meeting here. It took me a couple times to realize that if I wanted to talk, I couldn’t politely wait for my turn.
There’s that whole language barrier thing
I speak Arabic (kind of), but when everyone really gets going and starts speaking faster than a fighter jet I get pretty lost. That’s not even mentioning the million cultural references, expressions, and slang that just go completely over my head. And whenever I try to say something in Arabic, it’s just more of a distraction than anything because everyone thinks my accent is so funny.
And that whole other language barrier thing
But on top of that, there’s the way that things are said that is so different, even if they are said in English. Here you have to ask someone the same thing multiple times before they really answer, because they don’t want to be rude and be too eager for something. I didn’t realize that, and made the mistake one too many times of thinking that their first answer that “they didn’t mind” or “it didn’t matter either way” was actually true (because it wasn’t).
Not only are the mealtimes different by what feels like a gazillion hours, there’s that dilemma of ordering. One time I asked for ta3meya, but didn’t enunciate my 3ayn well enough, so ended up with a whole container of tumeya. Sad day.
And that awkward moment when you walk in on someone praying
Sense of humors are just not the same
The embarrassing moments that can come from these misunderstandings don’t need to be revisited, but they are not usually pleasant.
Getting used to the importance of tea, coffee, and Nescafe (because that’s not coffee, apparently)
Starting the day together over a hot beverage and chatting about everything going on is a routine that has really grown on me. Even if I still don’t understand everything that’s being said. Ah well, maybe different cultures in the workplace isn’t so bad after all.