3 Difficult Truths About Working on a Multicultural Team

by Maria July 07, 2017

There are some deep universal truths that make cross-cultural communication easier. Those truths are not what we’re here to talk about today. Here are three oddly specific things Jobbatical’s super-diverse HQ has taught me about working on a multicultural team.

Some people eat sushi with a fork. And that’s… OK?

Some people also genuinely enjoy pineapple on their pizza. Others drown lasagna in sour cream or pour a bucketful of hot sauce on everything. If you’ve never seen this before, it can freak your arbitrary-rule-following brain out a bit.

I recently discovered that an American colleague didn’t think wild strawberries were the most head-explodingly delicious thing on the planet. “Treason!” I thought. “Everyone knows Estonian wild strawberries are a gift from the heavens!” It took me a second to recover from the shock and stop giving my coworker (completely undeserved) judgy-eyes. Once you realize other people’s eating habits are rarely a personal insult to you or a vicious attack on the culinary heritage of your homeland, you’ll feel a lot better.

Eat and let eat. Unless someone’s actively shoving pineapple pizza down people’s throats (in which case we have much bigger problems anyway), we’re all good.

I respect your completely ridiculous opinion. Shine on, you crazy, misguided diamond. 

Some people are incapable of engaging in small talk

Lookin’ at you, fellow Estonians. For many of us introverted northern types, any conversation is a commitment not to be undertaken lightly. Sometimes we won’t say anything to you kooky temperamental southerners by the water cooler beyond “hi”. It’s not that we don’t appreciate you as human beings. We think you’re great! It’s just that we quite simply don’t have anything to say at this particular time.

Note: I am aware I’ve just actively participated in perpetuating a potentially harmful stereotype. So if we could all just stop acting like total clichés, that would be great.

“Please don’t notice me, please don’t notice me, please don’t notice me.” 

Being excluded from a conversation sucks

In every multicultural office, situations will inevitably occur where two (or more) speakers of language X will speak it in front of non-speakers of language X. For the non-speaker, this is super awkward. “But we weren’t talking about anything relevant to them,” you might say. Yeah. Well. They don’t know that—that’s the point.

At Jobbatical, many of us are guilty of this (lookin’ at you again, fellow Estonians). It’s so easy to slip into a conversation in your native language because, well, it’s your native language. And there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But for the sake of transparency and general human decency, try to stay aware of your surroundings and make sure you’re using the appropriate language for the situation.

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