At the moment, and for the past few years, I am and have been working in Dubai.
Approximately 210 nationalities work and live here; making it pretty much The International City of this millennium, so far… Thus, ‘tis a great place to be when asked the question that inspires this piece.
I believe that the first thing to remember when working outside the U.S. is that, if one is working and speaking in English, it is quite likely not the native language of most of the people with whom one is working. For easily 75% of the people with whom I work - colleagues, clients, vendors, agents, PROCUREMENT DEPARTMENTS (don’t get me started!), caterers, you name it - English is a second or third language.
So. First and foremost, Wow. Working and conducting one’s business in a language not native to oneself is an impressive thing, in and of itself. I speak pretty good conversational Italian and would not want to depend on that to negotiate contracts or plan or direct a production. No thank you! Yet, here are thousands of professionals, technicians, workers all of whom are doing their business with English as the common denominator.
Perhaps some respect for that is in order.
That being said; keeping this one thing in mind can likely solve a great number of problems before they materialize.
You know how, when you go to (whichever foreign country the language of which you speak a bit) and you are talking to someone - getting directions or asking about the menu or something - and after a few words you realize you lost the Thread of Understanding a few sentences ago … but you just keep nodding and acting as though you understand in hopes that you will understand by the time the conversation is completed? Yeah, well these guys do the same thing: Pride is Universal.
So, when speaking with someone; watch the face. Watch for that look of “…I have no idea what s/he’s saying … but I’m embarrassed to interrupt …” and ask ‘em, in all sincerity, “Am I speaking too fast? Hey, forgive me.” Give a chance to respond and show that you really do want them to understand.
Sometimes it’s the speed; sometimes it’s an unfamiliar word that was used (happens especially in English, as there are so many words that look the same and sound different, sound the same and are spelled different, have widely disparate meanings).
When I do that, and they come back with an apology for their English, my immediate response is along the lines of “Well your English is a helluva lot better than my MandarinArabicHinduTurkishFrenchWhatever! Thank YOU for speaking English at all.”
Acknowledging contacts and co-workers for a proficiency one cannot match can make for some valuable diplomatic inroads and nurture a genuine respect. Good practice.
I had a recent experience, when writing a script, with using the phrase, “…the audience is arrested at the sight of…” Prompting my client to ask why they would be arrested.
Also, this simple awareness can (and should) serve to remind us how smart everyone else in the room is, as they are conducting business in a language that is not native to them. Impatience has no place, here.
This translates to the necessary use of restraint with the printed word to sell a concept. Pictures: they want pictures. Truly worth an easy 1000 words, the more your pictures can tell the client about the concept, the better. Simply put; they are just tired of reading, especially when it's not their language. When a Pitch document is submitted, it is usually the one(s) with the most compelling visuals that get invited to present in person.
In person, you'd have all the details at your fingertips; but the only ones who'll actually read them will be Procurement ... not the client. Pictures. Detailed and explanatory.
A final thought on the above. Email communication can be fraught with misunderstanding, even among fellow English-speakers. When an email comes in that seems overly direct, pushy, aggressive or in some way offensive (and it’s not from me), consider the native language of the source; are you in effect reading what is actually a rough translation of what s/he meant to say? Offense is rarely meant.
The Souk lives on.
In Dubai, there is what I labeled a “Souk Mentality,” that is, I think, so deeply ingrained as to be virtually genetic.
For thousands of years shoppers and sellers have shared a dynamic that is both a matter of Pride and no small part of the day’s entertainment: Bartering.
Getting the Best Possible Price (highest for the Seller/lowest for the Buyer) is the goal and the aforementioned matter of Pride and has been for centuries. This is fine when bartering for a rug or brass plate, piece of art, kilo of coffee or spices; but virtually irrelevant in the context of building shows and theatres and Experiences of any kind.
Whatever price is paid for the rug under barter, the quality and condition of the rug doesn’t change. The Winner wins and walks away with exactly what s/he wants.
This is entirely different when building a show; though what will be encountered in this part of the world is a stalwart refusal by the Client to accept this. Be Prepared. It can easily go down as follows:
• RFP with budget of 10 million.
• You Pitch to budget of 9.5 million.
• You win the project.
• You are then told that the budget “has been reduced” to 7 million, but they want the same show you sold them.
• You share with the Client the information that the cutting can be done, but it will mean a smaller show, that some component must be excised, the cast will be smaller, fewer sets, needle-drop music rather than original, whatever.
• This is unacceptable to the Client.
A problem, yes?
Happens all the time.
I have no solution to propose for this; just givin’ y’all a Heads Up!
Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.
But here’s a thing to remember in all dealings with other cultures. While the guys on the other side of the table may seem to want to take advantage of you … and probably do … it isn’t personal. In the part of the world where I am now and have been working, thousands of years of marketplace bartering and bargaining precede our air-conditioned meetings, but the genetics of the culture haven’t changed … we’re all just dressed better.
Oh, there are plenty of Bad Guys (on both sides; we are not guilt-free); they still abound, and I am not always as blithe about the ongoing and seemingly unnecessary hurdles and obstacles and protocols that slow things down and needlessly raise prices, temperatures and tempers.
Necessary or not, however, these dynamics are indigenous to the Culture(s); hence eradicable (and inescapable). They are not, however, Personal.
The complaint about Americans.
The one complaint I most hear about Americans is that we like to “…get right down to business: no chit-chat or ice-breaking conversation.” We laugh about this, at least most of my other ExPat friends laugh about it; but here’s the thing … People of most every other culture in the world seek to know the person with whom they are about to do business before business is actually done. While Business is Business; Business is also Personal. Your colleague across the table wants to know who you are, what makes you tick - to find common ground in interests or family or recreation ….then, they want to take advantage of you!
If they don't like you, they probably can't be bothered by doing business with you.
So get to know 'em. Let them get to know you. Make friends, garner trust, LISTEN TO THEM and they will listen to you. Let them go first. The way "we" do it just may not be
• the right way
• the way that will work in this new context
…and you can only discern that by listening, observing, learning the lay of the proverbial land.
A visionary and nimble Director, Producer and Writer, Kile Ozier has a global reputation for crafting Experience such that audiences are captivated and rapt; brought to their feet with thunderous applause or deeply touched by his ability to tell a story and connect, emotionally. His strong work ethic, creativity and empathetic management style has consistently delivered Show Experience that continues to resonate in the memories of his audiences long after the lights are doused.
He shares his techniques and philosophies … and opinions … on creating experiences (and on random experiences that have been created by others) in his iBook, “IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” - a free download from iTunes or iBooks at . Meanwhile, his blog, “IMHO: Sharing What I’ve Learned,” is avidly read and embraced by billions of humans and others throughout the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies. . To learn more about Kile, visit www.oziercreative.guru. To contact Kile, email him via