Day 6: Solo and Surrounded

Okay, the title already makes this sound like it’s going to be some giant whimper fest, but I promise that is not anywhere close to what I’m feeling so I hope it doesn’t come out that way, but here goes.

There’s a saying living in New York that you can be surrounded by people and yet entirely alone. I think I may have felt that way early on, the first year was certainly a roller coaster, but I haven’t felt it in a long time, at least not in the sad way that the word “alone” evokes. Mostly I appreciated the anonymity of my own world next to so many others, until inevitably I would bump in to someone I know and my solo world would quickly fade away.

Today I had a daylong meeting entirely conducted in Chinese. Now I mentioned the other day the daylong meeting that was simultaneously translated, but this was 8 hours in which I was the only non-English speaker in the room without translation. My boss encouraged me to go not as a torture exercise or to waste my time, but to observe how things get done in this unique culture. And it was absolutely fascinating. While clearly all my observations are antidotal after just one meeting, I did ask a couple colleagues afterward if some of the things I saw were normal. They all seemed to agree, though that could just be observation numero uno:

They all seem to say yes to me even when they’re saying no. Now, again, I’ve only seen this in a very short window, but I get the sense that the folks I’m working with (small sample), are apprehensive to say no. Is that a respect thing? Or are they just a more positive people? A “yes and” culture? Certainly could learn a lesson from that type of behavior…

…which brings me to number 2.

They like gifts. A lot. So the presentation today was three different online video companies (think Netflix or Hulu), sharing their capabilities and upcoming programs. Each of the different companies gave us gifts, and my colleague Erin said it’s common not only for media companies to give gifts (obviously they’re trying to get our business), but in work the exchange of presents is very typical to show appreciation and respect. If you’re interested in the goods: a moleskin, jump drive, really fancy pen, stuffed animal(s), more cupcakes than you can shake a stick at, and soooo mannnyyy lattes and food food food.

Speaking of food, number 3. The drinks are so sweet! Good lord are the beverages sweet, and I’m known to imbibe in a little soda now and again. Word on the street (or at least, again, from colleagues) is that they really love sweet drinks when they’re coldish (as a rule they’re not a very pro cold drink culture) and then tea!

4. TEA TIME. You know how in day long sessions we have “coffee breaks”? In the agenda it said “tea time” and I just thought that was cute and you should know.

Lastly #5. I am hereby completely suspending my understanding of “respect.” So similarly to the Japanese culture when they exchange business cards they bow and accept/give them with two hands, except not as low of a bow. But I loved watching them hold tightly and seemingly genuinely to their new contact’s information. I have so many business cards from so many different meetings and I think I would have remembered a lot more of those folks if I took their card by two hands and slowed down to listen. I can take that learning moving forward for sure.

On the other side of the “respect” coin though, I was surprised to see the group talking (and not quietly mind you) during all of the presentations. They still were paying attention, as it seemed their conversations were about whatever the presenter was presenting, but I can’t remember ever seeing something similar in Western culture.

My boss was right. It was worth the observation, and I’m certain that is not even scratching the surface on what I’m about to uncover. So enough for now, I’m going to get to it.

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