For more than three weeks, there has been an empty chair in our office at Integra in Cluj. One of our dearest colleagues, Paladia Petrar, is on a trip to the other side of the world, to pass some of the company’s know-how to one of our customer’s production facilities in China.
Business trips are always good occasions to experiment, meet new people and interact with diverse cultures. We often encounter worldviews resembling our own, traditions that are similar to ours, even similar words, but what happens when you find yourself in a totally different world, on the other side of the globe? It’s only then that you can truly comprehend the complexity of the world and get to discover yourself.
Paladia has some things to tell you about this kind of experiences. In the past two years, she visited China seven times, as a professional delegate for one of our clients, a major yarn manufacturing company that owns several factories in a city located less than 150 away from Shanghai; so we’re looking at a highly developed part of China, where the economy has reached its peak.
In this side of the country, at the core of the technology boom and peak of economy, Paladia has the mission to help the HR department develop their skills and knowledge and also to support the HR Manager in implementing new HR processes. During her trips, she has been giving a helping hand by delivering HR courses for 4 members of the department (which has a total of 7 people), by writing the HR procedures for processes like recruitment & selection, job analysis, satisfaction assessment, induction programs, training programs, and by working closely with the HR Manager to improve the HR processes in the company and deliver the results the management team expects from this department.
Occidental set up vs. oriental traditions
When you face a different culture, the first thing you encounter is the way people live, their education and behavioral patterns. China is a rather conservatory country, and a result of thousands of years of millenary traditions, where the individual melts into the collective. Given those factors, it was not an easy job for Paladia. She had to help standardize the HR processes for the members of the management and HR teams, giving support on several levels. Facing language barriers, different mentalities and cultural challenges, she had to adapt to a brand new way of interaction with people.
She found out that there were organizing issues, but it was hard to put these across to the team as Chinese people tend to answer only to their superiors, and hardly give personal feedback to outsiders. Also, the Chinese scrupulosity is hard to handle, people being mainly concentrated on each detail and task in particular, and avoid doing other things at the same time. Another problem was with respecting deadlines, a notion not so familiar in the Asian continent, where time seems to flow so infinitely.
After a few failed attempts in dealing with all those things, where she had to permanently remind people to answer their own mail, it was time to reconsider the approach. She had to first observe and learn from the people she had to work with.
Her lesson to learn was patience. She observed the way each employee is organized, that they were really meticulous and very good at what they do in particular. Getting closer, listening and carefully observing the HR work, she was able to see where support was needed and what she needed to focus on. Embracing this approach, she got to know people and understand the problems they were facing.
Certain features emerged from this: Chinese employees do what they are told to, they have a high sense of responsibility, although their definition of quality is sometimes different than ours. In her interactions, Paladia also discovered that for the Chinese people it was difficult to describe what they felt while doing their tasks or work. Talking about emotions at work is not so common in China either, apparently.
Cultural interactions outside the multinational
Apart from the HR and business side of Paladia’s Asian adventure, China has been for her a melange of new tastes, fragrances, colors, habits and traditions. She got to visit a lot of new places and cities, endowing her with a new vision over this amazing culture. By this time, she also discovered that as a Caucasian person it’s recommended to look your best every day you walk the street, because many of the Chinese have never seen foreigners and there is a strong chance they would want to take a photo with you. Even in big cities such as Beijing, Tianjin or Shanghai.
One of the most important cultural challenges was the food. The first year she thought the food was great, but after the second one she wasn’t so excited about it. Now, on her third year and 7th visit she finally decided that the variety of tastes, of manners of cooking - vegetables, and meat, either deep fried, steamed or baked – was to her liking; well, most of dishes anyway. Except for the street food, which still doesn’t look too appealing to her. Although she tried new things - at some point she had the skin of a Yangtse fish for dinner - she couldn’t bring herself to eat turtles. And let’s not get started with the Asian peculiar sweets, which remain a mystery to her up to this day.
Thanks to the VPN networks, that allowed her to access social networks ( because Facebook, Youtube, even Google is forbidden in China), we have been able to keep up with her, but we’re still eager to hear about her stories face to face and learn more about the Chinese culture. So we’re looking forward for her return!