HOLEYBALONEY

Thoughts about Americans

This article is an interesting read, whether you agree, disagree or neutral about it like I am. Of course it generalised too much. Yes, it’s stereotypical. It is definitely the perception of one person who’s traveled to a few countries.

Some of the comments that I read harp on the fact that America (or USA as they’d prefer) is such a large geographical area and everyone is different (duh). A few even mentioned that Americans from different states are totally different. I was tempted to reply that unfortunately, I can’t tell the difference. You can, because you’re American. To a non-American, honestly, I don’t quite know the difference nor care which state you’re from. Like Americans probably wouldn’t know (or care about) the difference between a Singaporean and a Malaysian.

There are some points I agree with the author about, and that mainly applies to those that discuss the narrow view of the world that most Americans have. Granted, their country is large and technically they don’t really need to care about the cultures in other countries, but sometimes it gets so ridiculous that it makes me laugh.

I work in a global organisation headquartered in the USA so I deal with folks from all over the world on a fairly regular basis, be it over the phone, emails or even face-to-face. Again, it’s a limited subset of folks I’ve met and only from the East Coast (since it is apparently a big difference) so by no means are my observations universal.

The number one thing that I’ve absolutely hated about Americans is their lack of empathy or understanding for time zones. Either they believe that everyone lives in the same time zone as them, or they think that everyone around the world needs to adhere to their timings. I’ve had meeting invites sent out for 3.30am my local time even though I’ve specifically stated that it’s GMT+8 where I live. Yet when I asked for a time that is more suitable, like 7pm their local time (which is still 7am on my end of the world) I’m requested to do the meeting where it’s 9pm for me. I guess this fits into the generalisation of “It’s not all about you, baby”.. 

I always feel the love when I visit the USA, especially when they ask me where I’m from (expecting some state in the USA) and I say I’m from Singapore. The exclamations of “You speak such good English”and “Is Singapore part of China?” amuse me very much. However, the best ones are always those comments about the ban on chewing gum (which is false by the way – you can chew. The ban is on selling, not chewing), or the excited remark of “Oh will I get caned for this?” whenever they do something mildly naughty (like throwing a cigarette butt on the floor). And in case you think that they are just being cheeky, trust me, they think it’s true.

Another amusing thing that often happens to me is that when I ask wait staff to repeat what they’ve just said, they automatically assume I couldn’t understand them because I’m Asian and so my English is very poor. They. Thus. Begin. To. Speak. Very. Slowly. Until I tell them in fluent English (and with a big smile) that I actually understand what they are trying to say, I just didn’t hear them in the first place. The looks on their faces were priceless.

I’ve always been glad that I was born and raised in Singapore, a small nation-state with no natural resources, as it’s allowed me the opportunity to travel overseas more often and see the world. I’m also glad I spent my teenage years around technology as I got the chance to understand the world via the internet. 😀

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Travelling, Switching Off and other thoughts

I like travelling. Travelling for work and pleasure is of course two very different experience, but it’s still enjoyable. The short span of time on the plane is like the breather that you need to break away from work.

Being on the plane breaks you from all distractions of work, you can relax and catch up on sleep, watch a movie that you never had time to otherwise, read a book or just listening to music.

Even though you know very well that the minute you step off the plane and plugged in to the world, you’ll likely be flooded with emails that you missed, those plane rides gives you perfect excuses to switch off totally.

In this time and day, switching off is no longer an ability but a discipline. Smartphones constantly reminds us how many things we need to do, work hours are no longer clear cut 9-6, bosses and teams might not even be in the same country as you. As the world shrinks, it gets increasingly important to know when to let go and that switching off does not mean you are incapable.

Unfortunately, it’s all easier said than done. As Asians, we continuously try to show those ‘Westerners’ we are as, if not more, capable than them and the way we think we can do it is by taking on more responsibilities, working later hours and giving ourselves higher expectations.

I suppose at the end of the day it’s the Asian culture. The population is dense, competition high and culture cut-throat. Maybe it’s a good thing. Afterall, such work styles have propelled many Asian countries to great economic growth.

Or maybe, just maybe, after so many years, we still feel we have something to prove.

 

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