Office Decorum 101: How To Survive In A Multi-Cultural Environment

Working overseas will be a bit alarming especially for the faint of heart. Culture shock happens when we see or experience something that is unnatural for us but for others, it is the norm and a daily part of their lives.


Japanese people consider slurping as a sign that the guest enjoy the food. If you are in Venezuela and you are supposed to meet someone, don’t show up on time. They will consider you too eager and greedy. It is customary to arrive 15 minutes later (which tbh should be applied ANYWHERE in the world). In Chile utensils should always be used to eat food. They never use their hands which is customary for Asians. I mean how could you enjoy a plateful of garlic sinangag with tuyo and suka’t sili if you will not eat kamayan style?


These are just some examples that we Pinoys might find funny or downright ridiculous. Little things we find trivial, but others might find seriously offensive.


So, new OFWs better prepare lest you aspire to have a frenemy at work.


1. Be Culturally Sensitive




Chances are you will be working in a place with people who have very diverse cultures. It is advisable to learn a few aspects about your colleagues’ culture especially those that will aggravate them. Dodge a bullet as early as possible. Trust me; it will make things much easier come evaluation period and you find yourself being ignored for a promotion or an increase because your officemates doesn’t consider you a “team player”.


Learning about other countries’ way of life, places to visit and other interesting bits and pieces is also a good thing! It will broaden your horizons and add up to your stock knowledge should you be fortunate enough to be in “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire”. It will also help stimulate creativity, seeing things in a different perspective, literally from the other side of the world.


Being culturally sensitive will also make you a superb customer service provider seeing you already know how to deal with a person from a certain background. Bonus if you can engage the customers by speaking their language.


So, talk to that colleague even if both of your English is broken. Learn all about their culture and even encourage them to cook their traditional cuisine for you and bond over good food (plus you get to save some lunch money!)


2. Be Mindful of the Communication Gap




Let me share you a story. An ex colleague of mine was teaching me Arabic and I was teaching her Tagalog. Why she wanted to learn I still don’t know. Anyway, we had officemates who are plus sizes and who might I add are also plus sizes when it comes to ego and arrogance. Long story short, I taught her the word baboy which in my defense I told her to use discreetly, just under her breath when she is fuming mad and frankly to my and fellow OFW office mates’ amusement. Hearing a foreigner speaks Tagalog is never not funny.


Imagine my utter horror when she shouted baboy while bantering with a female colleague (who is also plus size). But you see the thing is, she did not consider what she said is something bad. My stupid self forgot that Arabs does not have the letter P in their alphabet and every word that has a P on it, they change it to B. So, when I told her baboy means “pig” she thought I meant “big”.


Yep. Lesson learned.


3. Be More Tolerant




Patience is a virtue. Oh, this could not have been truer for OFWs. We already discussed the possibility of culture shock and (cringe) communication gap. With these situations, being more tolerant will come in handy.


But don’t misunderstand being more tolerant means be a pushover. I mean when push comes to shove you have to shove back and defend yourself but do so in a professional manner. How does one do that you ask? When someone raises their voice at you, don’t match their decibel. Keep quiet and just look at them in the eye. They will soon feel stupid shouting at someone who isn’t budging. That is the main point, make them feel stupid at getting angry over nothing or something that could be discussed like the mature, professional adults that you are. I know it’s hard to keep mum when all you wanted to do is claw their eyes out but when higher beings aka your bosses knew of the incident, they will laud you for not making a scene and disrupting the work environment.


And since we are on the topic of bosses, resist the urge to always complain to the boss about a colleague, or a client who is being difficult or the pantry being out of the packet of ketchup you like. Your officemates will consider you a suck up and your boss will assume you have nothing better to do but notice the little things.


 4. Be Proactive in Building One-on-One Professional Relationships



As OFWs we must always remember that we are on borrowed time. We might be welcomed at our host country now, but this will not always be the case. We are, at the end of the day, still foreigners and expatriates who will go back to the Philippines at some point.


Our officemates and bosses now no matter how much we detest them will and should always be a part of our professional network. You don’t need to like them you just need to respect them and get along with them even if it is just in the confines of your four walled offices. And don’t suppose if you are not working with them anymore that it is better to just forget about them and let bygones be bygones. The time will come when you might need them for something. Don’t go and act all mighty on me saying you will never need their help in the future. I’m telling you, you will. It might be trivial such as asking for the name of a certain supplier or as vital as asking for an excel formula that you needed to finish a very important report that is due tomorrow. Not to mention the need for character references from your previous job once you started looking for greener pastures.


5. Be Professional Always



You might think why is this number five? Shouldn’t this be number one? Or why is there even a mention of this since we all already knew about it?




Okay you might get indignant and tell me you are professional which I will gladly and wholeheartedly expect but there are times when we forget about this basic thing. Keep in mind that you are working with people from different backgrounds. Don’t try to stand out by being unprofessional. Always carry out common courtesy.


There you have it. Few items to keep in mind. I hope this did not discourage new OFWs instead, learn from our (my) mistakes and show others how hardworking, diligent and professional Filipino workers are. #PinoyPride

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