When I was young, I resolved to never be a cabbage yakker. This is a woman who talks about cabbages’ price as if it were the most important thing in the world. I know there are many women who consider cabbages very important, but I don’t want to be one.
As the new year begins, I am forced to reflect on the woman I do not want to be. A few recent events have helped me to clarify my thoughts.
I don’t want a woman to secretly smoke in the Eurostar toilets, even though there are huge signs against it (although I would have to quit smoking first, so this one is easy enough).
I don’t want the woman who interrupts someone’s conversation on the street.
I don’t want my children to believe that queues are only for women. My age allows me to be the first in line at the Quai Branly Museum.
Three women with little in common, except that they were all French and all aged over 65, and all wore (real?) fur. fur.
This behavior is rude where I come from. Perhaps there is a sub-set of French culture that allows women of pensionable age to do what they want. I hope so, in a way. It means that they are following their own rules and not being rude.
It can affect our mood throughout the day when people break social norms. I was definitely less likely to be polite to the next person asking me directions, but thankfully for the majority of the population, no one else did.
Social norms can have a wider impact on the workplace. Mismatched expectations and cultures can lead to misunderstandings and uncomfortable conversations in project teams. You might be in the middle of a discussion and you have two colleagues at your desk. Another colleague comes in and interrupts your meeting. He kisses the women, shakes hands with the men, and then moves on to interrupt the conversation at the next desk.
This is unacceptable behavior in the workplace, and it would be laughed at by a Brit. It would be funny to hear from a French friend that he does it all of the time.
Working on international projects can be difficult because of cultural differences. The small things, such as how important it is for French colleagues to wish them Happy New Year during January and whether you should bring cakes on your birthday, can also lead to ‘them or us’ attitudes among team members.
However, if we are able to capitalize on our differences, play up our strengths, and build a multicultural team, then we can show that it’s our differences that make our lives more enjoyable and our projects more successful.