A Politically Incorrect Summary of Working with a Multicultural Clientele
It takes all sorts to make a world
The wonderful thing about living and working in Dubai is that you get to experience so much culture and growth that comes with a diverse population. I have had the fortune of working with Europeans, Americans, South Africans, Kenyans, Nigerians, Egyptians, Khaleejis, Indians, Asians, Australians, Kiwis- pretty much everyone. I think the only countries whose people I haven’t worked with would be in Oceania and some countries in Africa. What I have learnt is that people are essentially the same- despite cultural differences. And another thing I have learnt is that cultural stereotypes exist for a reason.
Maybe I am providing an unnecessary amount of oxygen to an already burning flame of cultural stereotypes, but they do ring true for most of the people that I have come across. Here is a first hand account of working with multiple nationalities. The title says ‘politically incorrect’ so rest assured that no political decency will be seen in any of the upcoming passages. These observations are based on my personal experiences.
Indian People and Payments
I want to start with my own country because it has been by far the most educational of experiences in terms of standing your ground and not taking sh*t from people.
I come from an Indian family and ever since coming to the realisation of the ‘cheap’ stereotype being linked to my people, I have strived to never let anyone think that of me. Not to say that I will throw money around- if I see the value, I will spend money- like I do on Namshi- I just won’t haggle at every opportunity.
Once, on holiday in Goa, I went to a night market and one of the vendors was doing colourful braids for INR 250 (AED 12). Nowhere else have I ever seen braids being done for as low as AED 12 so I was happy to pay for it and happy with the job that the lady had done. An on-looker asked me how much I’d paid and when she heard the price she said, ‘you should have haggled.’ All I could think of was ‘Y Tho’.
The vendor was set up at a temporary night market- not at a well-off hairdresser’s. This was clearly a seasonal income for her. Plus, haggling is hard. Why should I put myself through that torture to make someone worse off and save myself, what, like 5 AED? I would much rather choose a different haggle battle.
But haggling is a huge part of the Indian culture and I wish it wasn’t because it makes my life so hard at work sometimes. Most conversations with Indian clients start with ‘any discount?’ Now, there’s nothing wrong in enquiring for a discount, sometimes you do get lucky. One time, I actually was offering 30% off- which I mentioned to the client-and he came back with ‘can you give me 50?’ I literally had to pause for a second and stop myself from asking him why. If the client miraculously agrees to the price, the real mission starts with chasing for the payment. Chasing for a week is just part of the deal and fairly normal. I once spent two weeks before Christmas sending reminders for payment- and I don’t even work in Finance- and then another two weeks after Christmas doing the same thing before finally getting a whopping INR 10k (AED 500).
The image of Indian people being cheap is ill-formed. It’s not that Indians are a cheap people; it’s the idea of parting with money, irrelevant of the amount, that doesn’t sit right with them. Most of my Indian clients have tried to delay payment for as long as possible, knowing full well that payment has to go through eventually- so why not just make the payment when you receive the first reminder? What is this sense of achievement you get when you have delayed payment for an entire month and made me waste my time? Is this the reason that most companies in the UAE employ Indian men in their finance teams? To delay payment?
The British Love a Good Moan
The British are perhaps the easiest people to have a transaction with, at least in my interactions with them, but if something doesn’t go the way they were expecting or wanted it to, the moaning and the whingeing that follows is comical as well as frustrating. I am not the first person to point this out; even my British colleagues have said ‘oh, the Brits do love a good moan’.
Most of the moaning British that I have encountered are keyboard warriors typing sternly worded emails or reviews. They are alright for the most part but there are also ones that hurt my feelings. I try not to come off as it, but I actually am a real softie so when someone says I am unprofessional, there is a part to the left of my chest that really hurts. And it’s almost always a convesation with a Briton that follows the ‘unprofessional’ route.
Briton: Hi, I would like to book the 10am seminar but it shows that it’s full?
Me: Yes, it’s full. You can book 11am though.
Briton: I think it’s unprofessional of you not to have enough spaces in the 10am one, I arranged for a nanny for my child so that I could attend the 10am session but now I have to rearrange everything.
Karens from North America
Demanding to speak to (your) manager is a very American thing, at least in my work. A lot of the times these Karens are from the US but one time I communicated with a Canadian Karen and I was in shock that Canada could even produce a Karen.
It’s the usual with them-
Karen: I want to speak to someone in charge of this
Me: I am. How may I help you?
I think my favourite Karen incident is from April 2017. I had just started in my current job and my colleague thought it would be funny to bring me into the loop. There was a Karen who wasn’t impressed with the idea of having to pay for the services she was seeking, so she wanted to speak to someone else. She was redirected to me, and I told her nothing she didn’t already know, so she was then redirected to my manager, and then to the CEO, and then to the CEO in the UK office- and everyone told her the same thing. In the end, she didn’t buy anything. So. That was great.
Europeans Have a Lot of Energy and Passion
There is somehow an excess of Portuguese professionals in my industry, along with a smattering of the French and the Spanish, and they have one thing in common- they are so passionate about everything. They talk with so much energy and they move around with just as much energy. Sometimes I just want to take a nap after conversing with them. It’s the same with Brazilians- so much energy and so much passion.
Eastern Europeans are Slightly Different than the Rest of Europe
I had a few Eastern European clients drop into the office one time and obviously I did a very bad, racist Russian accent in front of my colleague to let him know that an Eastern European communication was about to occur. As I walked towards them though, I was determined not to think about the stereotypes associated with them- that they might be stern and reserved. For all I knew, they could be fun and jolly. They weren’t. The Eastern Europeans I have met since have been stern and reserved as well. Having said that, one of my Romanian colleagues is anything but stern and reserved, so she is the exception to the rule.
Aussies and Kiwis are Ridiculously Nice
I don’t know what it is about them, maybe they have exceptional governments, or maybe living so close to the beach makes them happy, or perhaps New Zealand reaching a COVID-free status has just made them even nicer, but I am yet to come across an Aussie or a Kiwi who wasn’t nice.
The Young Ones with Rich Dads
I have immense respect for the Rich Dads in the region- they had humble beginnings and they remain humble to everyone. The hospitality of the older population knows no bounds. The younger population….are a little bit different. They have everything they could ever need. They have so much money, sometimes they ‘accidentally’ pay twice for the same thing and then don’t even ask for a refund. That’s great for my company’s cash flow but it makes audit a nightmare so I have to be the good guy and tell them what’s happened. When was the last time that you paid for something twice because you hadn’t got a text from your bank yet to say the payment was completed?
Such a great time to be alive, living in this rich tapestry of culture, moans and rich Dads. I’m probably a HR nightmare. Soz, Maryan!