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How I Know I've Adjusted to Work Cross-Culturally

How I Know I've Adjusted to Work Cross-Culturally

We all take for granted how the business of life “works.” We know how to go shopping, to communicate professionally, to plan our work schedules.

Then we move overseas. Suddenly, work doesn’t “work” like we think it should. We were competent professionals in our home countries. Why can’t we figure out how business works here?

After initial culture shock, I’ve learned that if I watch and imitate, just as I did as a child and then as a young professional, I will adjust.

Here are some ways I know I’ve adjusted to work cross-culturally in Jordan:

  • I’m not surprised when most business transactions happen on WhatsApp, rather than by email or phone. It may be an apocryphal story, but I was told about a lawyer who set up contracts completely via WhatsApp messages.
  • I include emojis of flowers and smiles in business messages, even to someone at the Ministry of Education, but only because she sent me emojis first.
  • Fridays are my Sundays. Friday  is the one day of the week that everyone has off. 
  • Related to the point above, my weekend may be Friday and Saturday, or it may be Friday and Sunday. This depends on whether or not I’m working with a Christian school that week. Christians take Friday and Sunday off; other local people usually take Friday and Saturday. Or, like many of my local friends, their weekend is only one day: Friday.
  • I don’t make assumptions about mealtimes. And I don’t assume people eat three meals a day. I have one business friend who insists she eats only once a day (although I happen to know she also does snack at various times!).
  • Lunch is often the meal you eat when you finish work. This is true especially if you are in a school setting, as I usually am. I’ve been invited out to lunch at 5 in the evening.
  • I don’t think twice when someone calls me “dear.” It’s a common term of friendship, and people often use it even in business settings. (A word of caution: I learned that “dear” is not used in the same way in other Arab countries, for example, Egypt.)
  • Greetings and good-byes are very important. When I come into a meeting, I’m learning to take the time to greet everyone, starting with the eldest or the most important. I do the same when I say good-bye. 
  • I don’t expect taxi drivers or small shopkeepers to have change. If I get a 50 dinar bill from the ATM, I plan to shop in a large supermarket to be able to break the bill.
  • I don’t expect to get change that’s exact down to the piastre (like a penny).  Sometimes shopkeepers round up. And sometimes they round down, even at big supermarkets. And sometimes, even if I owe 5 or 10 piastres over a dinar, the shopkeepers wave it off rather than break a larger bill. It really does seem to all come out in the wash.
  • And most importantly, I’ve realized that everything people tell me about how to do business here is subject to change! Just when I think I’ve figured something out, someone else approaches the same issue in a different way.

The only sure thing about life in Jordan (or any place I’ve lived overseas) is that I need to keep learning, be flexible, and enjoy the challenges!

About the Author: Libby is an IDEAS Associate and professional librarian. She currently resides in Jordan and works with libraries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Enjoy other blogs by Libby, such as Working in the Middle.