[Written in Africa]
I have written before about how local work culture varies from our own, and that the best thing to do is to adjust our expectations accordingly.
Since then I have noticed an odd but, I suppose, fairly predictable phenomenon: we foreigners have begun to assimilate. And by foreigners, I mean people from many different countries.
First, I have never before known colleagues to be so slack about their duties. Some people will not do their everyday tasks unless reminded (every single day), while others protest they had no idea they were supposed to do that, and expect me to explain it all to them and justify it though I am not their boss.
In many cases they claim they cannot do their duty due to a clashing commitment, despite many meetings where it has been reinforced that it is our own responsibility to find someone to cover if we have a meeting, training etc. These people tend to look at me angrily as though to insist that I solve their problem, even though my only connection is that I’m having to cover once again for their irresponsibility.
No doubt a lot of people dislike me.
And people turn up late, fairly consistently. To work, to their duties, to meetings, to anything.
And people sneak out early. That’s a chronic problem.
Of course, your unswervingly virtuous cosmonaut is loftily above such shenanigans, my dear reader kindly presumes. Nikolai, go native? In Japan, perhaps, only because he’s such a wanker he wants to show off to the world that he knows how to sit in seiza position. But in Africa? Heaven forbid!
Well . . .
Picture the situation: I know I’m supposed to be somewhere. But I’m kinda in the middle of something and would like to wrap that up first. So I think, what’s five minutes? Everyone else rocks up ten minutes late. Five minutes late is virtually early. And I know that I can get away with it because everyone gets away with it all the time.
And that’s how it begins.
But I noticed another foreign colleague is making more of an effort to maintain international standards than the rest of us, and that makes me feel bad, so this week I’m doing everything properly and getting where I need to be right on time. Someone needs to set a good example. Although, that colleague is one of those who likes to sneak off early if she can get away with it. No one’s perfect.
Another way foreigners assimilate is that they become more combative. As soon as someone infringes on their turf, or the water goes off, or someone disses them, they brandish their claymore and charge into the fray, hollering like a Highlander off his nut on ancient feud, whisky, and brisk mountain air.
This is not just an unthinking adaptation to our environment. On another level, we consciously know that unless we fight, we get nothing and lose everything. We cannot afford to give an inch. Everyone else fights, so we have to fight, too. There can be no hippies on the field of Flodden. There are some situations that I would normally let go that here, I kick up a fuss about.
For example, those duties I talked about. Normally I’m not a nagger or a dibber-dobber. I just keep my head down, do my job, and don’t worry about anyone else. Here, though, I know that if someone is not pulling their weight, that job will magically become my job. People warned me about this when I arrived – they said, never cover for someone or they will forever more assume that you are supposed to cover for them and will just expect you to do it. The first time a local asked me if I’d done their job yet, I became a believer. So I nag the tardy, or dob them in, or remind them beforehand so they cannot pretend not to know.
Previously, picking up foreign habits while living abroad has assuredly been an intensely irritating affectation to those around me but nothing more harmful than that. Bowing to my grandma and that sort of thing. But the belligerence and stubbornness I could pick up here would be a good sight worse.
What to do? For starters, I’m going to give myself a 2-3 week holiday as soon as I finish, just on my own, and try to decompress and chill out. Remind myself that the rest of the world is not a battlefield. It is a nice, peaceful place with running water and 4G. I should do this before I inflict myself on any family or friends. After that I should be okay, because those other habits were nothing but deliberate pretensions that I thought would make me look cool but which just made me look the wanker that I am.
What about you? Have you come back from Nigeria screaming your head off at startled post office staff, or from India and thrown your rubbish everywhere, or from Australia and acted like an impeccably adroit and debonair gentleman? Or pretended you can’t help eating a croissant for breakfast every single day, just to really piss everyone off? Bet you have, you shouty, dirty, croissant-eating bastards.