Thursday, March 24, 2011


In 2002, when Dr Shabeer Ahmed planned to return to India after a ten-year stay inIreland, two of his Irish colleagues sent a written plea to the hospital director asking himnot to let Ahmed go. It is not often that you bump into such colleagues in a foreign land.But it is not unusual in Ireland. And that is precisely why the Irish are known for theiraffable and friendly self the world over.
“The Irish are naturally courteous and quick witted. You can actually pour your heart outto them,” says Ahmed. And they will go out of their way to find a solution. “They neversay they can't do it. They would rather finish all possible options before admitting it,”Ahmed, who worked at government hospitals in Dublin, Limerick, Dundalk, and Naas,says.
Is it good to build personal relationships? One could quickly run into a dichotomy-- intimacy and unselfishness might breed incompetence and adversely affectprofessionalism. But the Irish have their own way when it comes to productivity. Bybeing hospitable, the Irish make the workplace a comfort zone, but it happens withoutcompromising on the quality of work.
“Work culture is professional and yet quite informal. In a professional context, whatmatters is meeting deadlines and the quality of the deliverable. Whether an Indian does itor an American is irrelevant,” says Enwright de Sales, director with a global professionaladvisory services firm, who was in Dublin from 2000-2010. As a director of theorganization, he had a few Irish colleagues reporting to him and he says they absolutelyhad no problems in having a foreigner as a boss. In fact, Ireland over the last decade hasbeen home to people from many parts of the world and this is noticeable in cities likeDublin.Endorsing Sales’ views is Amit Wadhwan, who was executive chef in Wicklow and Dublin in 2008.
He says: “The theory is to work hard and play harder. Deadlines areexpected to be met and people are serious and more productive.”Though hard working, the Irish are dedicated to a less stressful lifestyle that allowstime for friends and family.
One of the things that is unique to Ireland is the `craic’,which simply means having a good time, whether it is a visit to the pub for a few drinks,meeting for a cup of tea, or just a chat in a corner. If that is not good enough for you to consider working in Ireland, check this out: The maximum working hours in a week is 48 hours, not including rest or lunch breaks.
Staying back after work hours might reflectbadly on one's performance.“Most importantly, I had a perfect life-work balance, enjoyed 5 days a week. In India,hotel professionals are still clocking a minimum of 12 hours a day and 6 days a week,”says Wadhwan.

When in Ireland, it is good to do as the Irish do. “One way to success is to be honest andtransparent. They aren’t nosy about your personal life. They are serious about their work,though the work culture is pretty relaxed," says Ahmed.

Yet another reason that makes Ireland an excellent place to work in is that employeerights are clearly defined. You should receive at least the minimum wage –- this goesup annually, so check to ensure that you are being paid at least the national minimumwage. “Strong employment laws make work environment safe and secure,” says Sales.

Victory sign is considered vulgarl Be warned about the Irish accent of English. But that is just a matter of time; you’ll getused to it.
Cricket can be the best topic to open a conversation, especially now with the Irish team’s recent victory against England in the World Cup

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


"I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad"-- George Bernard Shaw.

If it is Switzerland, don't expect to quickly get a homely feeling. The Switzerland you work in may not be the Switzerland of postcards. It's far from the breath-taking alpines, beautiful landscapes, adventuristic skiing and perfect honeymoon vistas.
Hard-to-befriend neighbourhood, formal work culture and high cost of living are sure to ensure an alien experience. "The Swiss are non-interfering, so much so that they will not bother about what is happening to or with the person sitting next to them," says Chaitra Pallavi R S, who was in Basel for two years, and currently on sabbatical from her job as head of marketing communication in TeliBrahma.
There is a clear divide between personal and professional lives. "The Swiss are polite, but extremely reserved. There is not even any superficial friendliness at work," says Shareen Rozario Pfister, who conducts cooking classes in Geneva. But the reserved attitude does not mean the Swiss are non-accommodating or intolerant. "It isn't rare to find Indian nationals in high positions. The Swiss are highly tolerant compared to those in any other European country," says Chaitra.

The Swiss have a high regard for privacy -- of theirs as well as others. The roles and responsibilities at work are well-defined. As they are good team players, the boss is one of the team and it is the team that arrives at a decision. But at times, the strong need for consensus slows down the decision-making process.
They are straight forward, and slow. They believe in addressing the problem from all dimensions," says Chaitra. What is particularly appreciable is their genuine effort to see matters from the opponent's perspective during business negotiations. Helpful suggestions come in unexpectedly, even when it is not necessarily in their own interest. "Their primary goal is an equal partnership and mutual benefit," says Sandesh Mirli, manager, sales, at a factory in Biel. Probably that earns the Swiss the reputation of getting the best possible deal without ever appearing aggressive or demanding. Any work, big or small, is serious business. To make a lasting impression, what's required is not a magnetic personality; it is sufficient to be responsible in things like sticking to time for work, meetings and dinners. "They appreciate formal appointments and don't work on impromptu appointments," says Chaitra.

For a country dependent on tourism, Switzerland is surprisingly nonchalant towards English speakers. Announcements on trains, posters in public places, instructions on medicines only come in three of the four official languages -- French, German and Italian (the fourth is Rumantsch). "It's essential to know French or German to understand trivial but important things of day-to-day living, like menus in restaurants or shopping signs in supermarkets," says Shareen. Despite the multicultural population, Switzerland's diversity is far from the fit-in phenomenon. "It's quite natural to feel alien in this country. Most of the time, with my broken German and their broken English we manage to communicate and get the message across. Otherwise, you are clueless about what your co-passengers are saying or the announcements," says Chaitra. The key is to try to respect the local customs and rules, and if possible, to learn German or French.

To find a job, you can't look at recruitment portals, adverts or approach a local agent. "They recruit through word of mouth or employee referrals, with priority given to native speakers. Big corporations are more open to mixed cultures," says Chaitra

A friend of mine used conditioner, instead of shampoo, for several months as she couldn't read what was on the bottles." -- Shareen Rozario Pfister

The Swiss do not tolerate noise, and you are expected to maintain a gap of at least a yard between two people in public places. In apartments, no major electronic appliances are used after 8 pm

High salaries
Beautiful landscapes
Low unemployment rate
Not the friendliest people in Europe
High cost of living
Conservative society
No Sunday shopping

Sunday, October 24, 2010

South Africa, Preeti, culture, abroad


If you were to follow the rule of `When in South Africa, be a South African', you would have only two options--- be utterly confused or completely lost. For, with hugely diverse cultures and 11 official languages, there is no real representative of a real South African and that makes it difficult to advice anyone to adapt to their culture.
A society of diverse origins-- from the black indigenous tribes of South Africa to people from Europe, India, Malaysia and China-- has gifted the country the approptiate title `therainbow nation’, describing the unity of eclectic population in the country once identified by division of the whites and blacks.
Now, a person of any origin or country can seamlessly be part of the nation just by being self. Thanks to Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, apartheid is outlawed. At work places, the skin colour no longer shades one's climb up the ladder of success. "Before I started working here, I had heard enough about the Black empowerment policy. But it is a misconception. If an individual is qualified, there is absolutely no shooting down just because someone's a foreigner," says Princy Kiran Abraham, working as HR coordinator and counsellor, who is in Gauteng, Johannesburg, for over 3 years.
According to her, communication is not difficult as every one speaks English despite their many official languages. As the language helps build better bonds with them, one realizes that people are fairly relaxed and informal as they generally care more for establishing personal rapport and developing mutual trust. Even at business meetings, getting straight down to business and rushing through these social niceties is considered rude and you are perceived as uninterested.

“Trust and relationship are important. Business opens with an initial casual discussion rather than jumping to the point It is easy to be part of the country if the basic courtesy is observed. Respect for time is essential by making prior appointments, and sticking by them, “ says Atul Padalkar, Dr Padalkar's Research Resources, Durban.
As they respect other’s time more than theirs, it is expected to keep business presentations precise and arrive at decisions on facts and figures rather than intuition. With directly aiming at general consensus, the focus is mostly on a win-win situation where all sides gain something from the deal. Though loud communicators, South Africans hate confrontations and are conscious of not making others uncomfortable.
What are hugely valued are courtesies, especially online. “One thing I’ve learned is that you have to reply to every mail. Even if it’s just saying `done' or `will get back to you'. Liberally use thank you and welcome. It’s unacceptable and rude if you don’t reply,” says Princy.
Whether it’s online or personal chat, one topic every one hates is racism. But they equally love sports. football, cricket or rugby which could be the best topics to start a conversation. Or, may be a bet on who would win the Soccer World Cup, scheduled to be held in South Africa from June 11.


“I once got lost 45 km away from home, all dressed up in Indian wear, on the way back from a function. I stopped at a garage and asked a lady in a car. Soon, she got out of the car with her pen and drew a detailed map direction in English, including the number of robots I would have to cross. To top it all, the lady gave me her phone number and asked me to call if I got lost again as well as to let her know I reached safely.”____ Princy Kiran

TRADITIONAL GESTURE: When you pay cash, the person at the counter may clap his hands and bend his knees slightly as a symbol of respect

Most restaurants have a dress code and that it is smart casuals.

TENDULKAR NEXT: After Gandhi the most famous persons there are Sachin Tendulkar and Shah Rukh Khan

INDIA CHOW: Indians have introduced a dish unique to South Africa, the half-loaf of bread stuffed with curry known as bunny-chow

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Egypt, Preeti, culture, abroad


Egyptian Mummies are not just manifestation of the belief in afterlife. They are the real symbols of love for life. That seems to be the fundamental ideology ruling the modern Egypt as people live their life king-size. Laidback routine is not an issue and income, however low, is a source of happy living. Nothing is urgent, everything is negotiable and when you find yourself in an insurmountable problem, there's someone to sort it out. No culture shocks, absolutely. What else would a foreigner ask for?
The primary element of living the life as it comes, even puts their work culture on a relaxed platform. With little or no consideration for time, overlooking deadlines is not uncommon. "When a meeting is scheduled, please don't be surprised if they don't turn up. Normally subordinates don't really like their managers," says Bharath Bilimaga, vice-president (sales) of a software company in Cairo.
Drawing a comparison with India, he says Indians are more professional and believe in working hard unlike in the Arab World. The easy work environment can be translated into lack of competitiveness. At the same time, there is an inborn stubbornness of compromising on the comfort of being a host. "They are tough towards foreign colleague. For them, you are always an outsider. It's better to watch your back. But outside workplace, they are friendly and treat you with respect. The tradition of welcoming guests at home and respect to elders is more like in India," says Pankaj Kumar, executive chef in Stella di Mare Hotels, Ain Sukhana, near Cairo.
At workplaces, lack of aggression to excel is palpable. "There aren't many qualified people for jobs, and eagerness to reach the next level is limited, Hierarchy is much similar to India. The only difference is they have too many senior posts," says he. This isn't an alien concept to India either.
But one needs to have ample patience there as delays are part of every project. "Egypt is a hard country in terms of work. Many foreigners go back in short time as they fail to understand the mentality of the people," says Pankaj. His sincere advice: "If someone wants to succeed here they have to be patient, earn people's respect, show you can teach them something new and at the same time, be firm. Don't expect results in short time."
As Arabic is their official language, there is always some scope for misunderstandings when the conversation is in English. Even after a colleague seems to have understood what you said, there isn't any harm in reconfirming it.

At business meetings, eye contact is good as it coveys honesty, but that should be ideally restricted to men. Dealing with women is dramatically different. Even when an Egyptian businessman welcomes you with a hug, it is advisable not to attempt the same with woman. Principally, when dealing with businesswomen, avoid any hint of intimacy. But those restrictions don't mean women can't enjoy their share of freedom. "The country is very safe. Women roam around freely even at 2 am in Cairo and Alexandria," says Bharath.
Beyond religion and politics, it is usually best to stay clear of questions about the person's family, and particularly female members of the family. Enquiries about someone's daugther's age or studies is interpreted otherwise

Cost of living
Depending on the capacity to earn, one can choose a comfortable lifestyle. "People are either rich or poor, apart from very limited number of middle class families. Over 60% of the population earns between Rs 1,500- 8,000 per month. Yet, they know how to live and manage the small salary and be happy too," says Pankaj

"Food is bland, but it's managable. But, we can't compare the Arabic cuisine with our yummy Indian cuisine. Falefal is quiet famous among the veggies," Bharat Bilimaga.

Egyptians prefer to do business with those they know and respect, therefore cultivate a personal relationship before business is conducted
Every written agenda or presentation should be in both English and Egyptian Arabic translation
Tipping is must at hotels and tourist places
Currency is Egyptian Pound (EGP

Denmark, Preeti, culture, abroad, foreign


It has been a journey studded with success for Naveen K Vodapalli. He landed in Copenhagen in 2003 with a dream to do something new. Years later, this senior software developer at Omada A/S owes everything to the beautiful-at-heart Danes, who are an exception to the global phenomenon of competition. For them, cooperation, not competition, is the key to best results. As excellent team players, Danes combine and share knowledge without a tinge of insecurity when it comes to working towards common goals. Hence what boldly typifies their office culture is equality and tolerance. The bosses are mere team leaders or group facilitators as opposed to being decision makers. "The hierarchy level is not quite imposed or pronounced. Every one has a sense of where they belong in the organization. The atmosphere is quite calm and pretty slow, to be said in Indian terms. There is almost a no sense of rush or panic," says Gowtham Kathirvel, a consultant (operations researcher & documentation) for a payroll processing major in Nordic region.That is a sure stamp of informality on work environment which provides absolute freedom of expression."Most of the issues are open for discussion and suggestions are appreciated. Danes believe in group work and often tend to take decisions which get positive nod from the group," says Naveen.It is quite easy to generalize Danes as private and cold people. But Gowtham begs to differ. "It is only like waiting for the eggshell to pop, which does not happen on its own. Take an initiative, be open-minded, use some humour and you will get along very well with them," he says.Danes are extremely helpful, though not friendly. Maybe the coldness has more with the extreme Danish respect for individual privacy. And there is no universal standard for acceptance of a foreigner.WORK SMART Businesses are characterised by an easy-going corporate culture that often allows open and honest communication. That provides a definite sense of unity too. "Danes are smart workers. They believe in working hard, but not working late. In India, it is the quantity of time that matters, but here normal working hours are from 7 am to 4 pm," says Kannathasan, who works in Copenhagen as a product tester for Nokia. He is trying to bridge cultural differences between the two countries with his website comes naturally to Danes to honour the ability of employees rather than giving importance to the person's nationality. "Indians are highly regarded at their work place for their aptitude and skill. Not only Indians, but Danes give due importance to talented individuals irrespective of their nationality," says Naveen.KEEPING APART PERSONAL, PROFESSIONAL LIVESA total professionalism underlies work atmosphere and employees mean real business when it comes to work. There could be professional differences, but they are buried before they call it a day. "A person might have a serious argument with the boss over some issue. But it ends within minutes and everything is patched up. The boss takes him out for a coffee or a cigarette. The next moment you see both returning as best buddies," says Kannathasan. GETTING JOBS ISN'T EASYIt could be a real struggle to bag a job. Though English is considered a mandatory second language, knowing Danish opens up many opportunities. Above all, Gowtham has a smart advice: "it is best suited if you land here with a job in your pocket or at least have it filled with a lot of currency."


Ways to make friends: Join Danish language classes, get into sports clubs, go out pubbing and be active in the expat scene

Dress the European way.

The currency is Danish Krone. Though Denmark is a member of the EU, it has not adopted the EuroIt is a safe place.

Go anywhere, anytime. It's reflected in the statistics that show the crime rate in Denmark as among the lowest in the world.

"Once you say you are an Indian, you have to face the cliche question. Are you a software engineer or a doctor, which most Indians here actually are."

Gowtham Kathirvel