Top 10 discoveries by a Norwegian Viking working with Asian countries
European and Asian countries are different. Well known! We behave different and we work different. But what can you learn about cultural differences? And what can you expect working with Asian countries? Let me give some reflections after several years working with India and Pakistan. And do have in mind this is from one humble Viking’s perspective.
Relationships are very important in Asia, as well for Norwegians. But colleagues in Asia tends to spend more time together outside office and in social happenings like weddings and birthdays. When Norwegians go to their cabins during weekends, people in Pakistan and India spends time with their families and colleagues at home. And they’re probably all connected on Facebook. Norwegian tends to separate more between private and business.
If you google “private security companies” you will certainly get hits for Pakistan. Which reflects the reality. You see a lot of armed personnel in Pakistan and India. The work offices are always well guarded by private security personnel, and armed soldiers and police is just as common. Once, going to a nearby restaurant in Islamabad I counted five police roadblocks just to get there. Nevertheless, you get used to it, but you should always check current situation with the Foreign Ministry or your embassy before traveling.
Just the right thing to bring intimacy into groups, getting to know your colleagues and business fellows. I love trying different dishes when eating out and Asia is the perfect place for a variety of tastes, like I would go for tapas in Spain. Still, I had it as rule to always stick to cooked and fried, and avoid raw vegetables like salad. Not because I believe something is wrong with it, but a different microbiota can give unexpected outcome. Nevertheless, I did go for the fast-food occasionally, but do keep away from chicken wraps in local gas stations. And if not familiar with it, they don’t serve alcohol in Pakistan, but do try the mango smoothie during season.
On multiple occasions, I found it difficult to get correct status in projects, which I believe lies in the Asian culture of being indirect in communication. Even though a red blinking project can be reported green. This is a challenge you should be aware of and it could be smart to track a detailed progress report. You need to be close on the ball.
Handshake is normal for Norwegians when we meet and well familiar by most Asians, however physical contact can be inappropriate for men and women who don’t know each other. Even for some of my subordinate they had it as a rule not to shake hands when we met. So, the advice would be to wait for the person’s cue to reach hands.
I am amazed how detailed CVs tend to be in Asia. It is way more detailed about education, skills and experience that you will ever see in a Norwegian CV. Even a junior will have several pages with a portfolio of experience. I can only assume that Norwegians don’t have the same work and career pressure you find in Asia and rely too much on the social welfare. Once, when running an interview in Pakistan, I decided not to cut of the candidate speaking, where the candidate spoke about himself for 30 minutes without taking a breath. Just amazing.
Career opportunities and job titles are seen very important and you will be surprised how many assistant- and deputy- managers you meet. A nice job title can be seen just as important as salary and benefits. Off course a good way of promoting candidates with leadership potentials, but there can also go inflation in fancy job titles.
Being well familiar with back-to-back meetings, I have always been strict on time management. A meeting must end in time to be able to start the next meeting on time. The same strictness will vary in Asia and you might want to take proactive approach to finish meetings on time.
You should, as a general rule, plan in extra traveling time. The traffic can be extremely bad with cars moving at a snail’s pace. Bangalore was just terrible, maybe the worst traffic in Asia. New Delhi also a pain. Pune not that bad. Islamabad was always good, but then again, the hotel was never that far from the office. You can never know what will happen. And do try to avoid the rush hour! If you think traffic is bad in Oslo you have never seen Bangalore.
Asia has many tourist attractions, and you should absolutely visit them if you get the opportunity. I had the pleasure of visiting Taj Mahal, Agra, Bangalore Palace, Mysore Palace, Faisal Mosque among others. All amazing places and as Norwegian you do stand out. I was taking pictures of the attractions, and locals where taking picture of me. Get used to it. And remember to take of your shoes!
Wherever you travel to, appreciate the culture and beauty of the Place
- Lailah Gifty Akita