Lost in translation

During the past years I have had the challenge and opportunity to study, work and interact in different countries with many different cultures.

Here are some of my observations regarding the people (hope nobody feels in any way offended) and cultures from these countries. I am trying to keep my thoughts related to the work aspect but I think it reflects in many way the culture as well:


I was born in Romania and lived there until I was 19. Being my home country some might think I can’t be subjective, but I will try: Like most Balkan countries Romania has a laid-back work culture. People think they need to impress their boss and work very effectively if the boss is around. If not, well, expect some delays…  Many people are highly educated (university and master degrees, multiple languages spoken etc.) and they often feel the job they perform is below their standards. So they don’t put much effort into their current job, doing the absolute minimum it requires to sustain it. This makes it difficult to move onto a job matching their qualification. My tip: You are working for yourself not for your boss!


I have studied and worked in Germany for almost 10 years, so I believe I had the opportunity to study their work habits in depth. Here are my thoughts: Everybody has heard about the hard-working Germans, about their punctuality and their high quality products. So I will not go into those aspects. What I have noticed though is that Germans tend to be over-achievers even if there is nothing to over-achieve in. That means that in a multinational projects you will always find Germans leaving the office last. Even though they finish their work in 8 hours like everyone else, they feel they need to stay in the office until 20:00 just to show, that they are busy, hard-working and better than the rest. So last few hours are usually spend on private e-mails, Facebook and other activities. The problem in working in such a team is that you have to spend more hours in the office as well, and if you attempt to leave by 18:30 you hear comments like: “Oh, half day today for you?!” My tip: take it easy!


I have worked on an assignment in China for 5 months which was a big cultural clash for me. Starting from the fact that even though working in an international company with highly educated engineers, almost nobody spoke English or any language other than Mandarin (and local dialects). So every meeting was a challenge, since it would start in English and continue in Mandarin, regardless of foreigners in the room. Eventually we learned that we can just leave the meeting once they start talking their language, because there is no way they will switch back to English or the translator could follow the high paced and volume conversation. We would just ask for the meeting minutes afterwards… if there were any. Also the Chinese (as well as other Asian countries) have an issue in saying NO. Saying that they can’t do something or didn’t understand it means “losing their face”. So if you ask them if everything is clear they will say YES and smile. So the trick is, ask them to repeat it, to make sure they actually understood you. 9 out of 10 cases they didn’t. My tip: learn to say NO!


I have been in USA a few times for work and also met many Americans in my international projects in China and Sweden. What I can say about them is that they are highly casual in their talk but highly professional in their work. For the Europeans this might be very confusing. A person can joke with you and talk private matters in the breaks, but when it comes to the meeting 5 minutes later they can attack you and put you against the wall. They say things bluntly to your face, and point out one’s mistakes clearly in front of the whole team. Even though you might be friends outside the office, business is business! If you remember this simple rule you will find US people to be very easy to work and talk with. Also they are quite culturally unaware when it comes to working abroad. They always act the way they do in the US and don’t realize that some people might get offended by their behavior. My tip: raise your cultural awareness when you go to a different country!


Though I never worked in India I have interacted with Indians on every project so far. It is hard to find an IT-project nowadays where no Indians are involved. They are for sure the IT-geniuses nowadays! While I have to praise the technical knowledge of basically every Indian I met in my work-life so far, I have to also say that some are not as reliable as we are used to in Europe. For example if you set a deadline which your Indian counterpart commits to, it doesn’t mean that he will actually deliver on time. Also he/she will not let you know that he will be late so you can plan accordingly, but when the deadline is there and you ask for the result, they will say it’s not done and they still need time. Also many (not all) Indians are late for meetings, whether it’s 10-30 min or actually not showing up at all. This might come across as unserious to us but as other Asian nations too (see section above about China) they don’t like conflicts and especially saying they can’t do something. So best way to deal with those situations is actively following up with the team what is the progress on their tasks. And make sure that 10 min before a meeting you friendly remind them that they should attend. My tip: Try to stick with the schedule!


Last but not least I will talk about Sweden. I have worked in Sweden for 1.5 years and have recently started working here at Stretch. What I can say about Swedes in the work place is that they are very pleasant people to work with, they are very family centered and value their private lives. In Sweden people will actually work for no more than 8 hours (unless of course there is something urgent which needs to be done) and this is something I haven’t experienced anywhere else! Even though the quality of work delivered is high, Swedes have a basic problem. Being risk-averse they don’t like taking decisions. At all! That is quite tough when they are managers or (in our line of work) the client; positions in which one HAS TO take decisions. It is nice that people are very tolerant and want to take into account all opinions and make sure they don’t miss anyone out, but sometimes in projects fast decisions need to be taken and people need to stand behind them. So my tip: Dare to take decisions!


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