Doing business in the UK?
Doing business in the UK with some trepidation because you’ve only just arrived? I don’t blame you! I fully identify with you since I’ve ‘been there, done it and got the metaphoric T-Shirt’!
Anyone who has lived overseas, whether through birth, emigration, work or otherwise, will identify with how tough it is to move countries. Even if the language doesn’t change, the culture does! Even moving within the States of the United States of America, most would agree that living in California is very different from living in NY – and living in upstate NY is again different from living in Manhattan.
So imagine changing countries, culture, languages, alphabets, lifestyle, behaviour…when you’re just about to turn thirteen. Not a great time of life to do that, but then, it’s tough at any age. I attended seven schools until I graduated high school, changing countries back and forth three times in that period. When we emigrated I went from being a ‘clever clogs’ (or less polite term for it) at the top of the class, to flailing at the bottom of the class, mainly due to language barriers. So I know what it’s like to encounter culture shock and been through it several times, within the same country and by changing countries. Now that I’ve established credibility for having empathy for foreigners, please read on…
Doing business in the UK can feel like a minefield at times. I recall attending business meetings and being clueless as to whether we were making progress or not, and in which direction!
Can I help you?!
Like most things in life, there are pluses and minuses to changing your job, city, lifestyle or country. Some people find it harder than others. Me? I embrace change and find it energising. I love leaving my comfort zone because from experience, that’s where the magic happens. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
Having left the UK as a child and coming back here as a working adult, left me vulnerable to massive culture shock, not only in the day-to-day machinations of life, but also in attending business meetings, motivating staff, reading body language and indeed, understand spoken language, how it was phrased, intonation, the words used…English became a foreign language.
At times it felt like a minefield. Even now, 15 years on, I can misunderstand or misinterpret simple conversations, such as a chap walking up to me after I’ve parked the car. ‘Can I help you?’, this chap intoned? I answered politely with a ‘No thank you, I know exactly where I’m going’. My husband nudged me and I shot a glance at him curiously, and with a degree of irritation, wondering if my lipstick was smudged, or worse. Actually, hubby was trying to warn me but it was too late.
This same chap who had appeared to be nice by offering unsolicited help, had actually wanted me to move my car and park elsewhere. Husband understood immediately, having lived in Britain all of his life, and looked at me quizzically when I responded with a ‘No thanks, I know where I’m going!’.
There was no chance that I was going to understand an innocent-sounding question such as ‘Can I help you’ to actually mean ‘Don’t even think of parking here!’. Beware fellow Foreigners – the British are subtle!
I rest my case – for now!
So next time you meet with someone who has lived overseas for a significant period or all of their life, and they’re doing business in the UK, be open to the fact that they may react in ways you find odd, when actually, it’s just due to their different life experience. Interpretation is key, as is making people feel equal rather than superior or inferior – and definitely avoid the latter. My cheeks smarted for a long time following that unfortunate and memorable encounter, leaving me somewhat shaken at having so badly misunderstood an insincere offer of help.
If you know of someone contemplating a move to the UK for any length of time, especially if they are coming to London, share this informative and humorous booklet with them. This will help smooth over their time here. It will also remind you why the UK is such a great place to live, and provides several recommendations on where to eat, drink and shop in London.
I certainly wish I had had such a booklet when I arrived back in the UK.