There I was … learning a lesson in cultural (in)sensitivity. I was asked to support a meeting for planning an upcoming airshow. My company was a big supporter, and the organizer thought I would be an asset working with the local ministry of defense. I met the organizer’s people at the MOD main gate – two young ladies. We headed in to talk to the assistant undersecretary of something – that is, and old-guy. We got the usual coffee and tea and moved on to business … kind of. This guy spent much of the meeting telling these gals how cute they were and touching a knee or elbow. They spent the meeting giggling and attempting to keep the discussion on target. I did my part offering company support and support of the embassy (which I knew would be forthcoming). As we were leaving, the undersecretary suggested they re-meet later in the week for lunch (not including me).
We collected our identification and left the premises. At that point, comfortably out of earshot, I turned to the ladies and expressed my horror, as an American, at what they had just gone through in terms of harassment and apologized for a male colleague’s behavior. To my amazement, they just laughed. They said it happens all the time here, they were used to it, and nothing ever comes of it. I said it wouldn’t happen now in the US …. Of course, this was a country that still ran hiring advertisements requesting good ‘front office appearance’ and that resumes should have a photo – long after the US had pretty much abandoned that bit.
I did have a receptionist, though – nice young local gal. One of my older colleagues in town on a business trip was flirting with her as he left the office; this guy was quite fun, but obviously considered himself a bit of a ladies’ man. He left her giggling as he returned to the hotel. Her comment: “That Joe – such a character. I wish he were my Uncle.” I left the office laughing on that note. I had the delight in telling Joe later that night her comment … and he was devastated! He had hoped to be considered for a younger role!
Moral: Repeating an earlier moral, cultures and customs differ, and you must be adaptable to the local situation. Polite, but adaptable.