Sunday, 2 October 2016

Learning some cultural communication lessons – the Bulgarian Blog

I’ve been on a speaking assignment to Bulgaria and, as always when venturing abroad, I have learned a few new things, not least about differences in communication styles.

A very handy little guide I was given on arriving at my hotel explained that Bulgarians nod for ‘no’ and shake their heads for ‘yes’. I wish I had known this when working some years ago with an asset management executive who displayed exactly this trait. Rather than going straight into a criticism/discussion about his mis-match between words and body language, I could have eased my way in with the semi-serious question: “Do you have any Bulgarian blood?”

Then the moment I finished my talk one delegate came straight up to ask a personal question – not, sadly about my subject matter of Presentation Skills and Pitching, but what was the meaning of the word ‘taut’. Ironically, the word appeared in a direct quote from a Spanish magician.  I was annoyed with myself, however, because clearly I had failed to run through my script and slides one final time to check for words that may be unfamiliar to those whose first language is not English. 

Other things I learned in Bulgaria include:
  • They all think we are mad for choosing to Brexit. We had not even got out of the airport car park before my taxi driver began to grill me on the matter. 
  • The Hungarians have had to set up a new Facilities Management Association – because their best people in the sector have left for the UK and Germany.
  • The Bulgarians still have book shops all over town. They even have a big outdoor market, devoted entirely to books. Some of the cover designs are very familiar, with Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver featuring strongly. Quite how Sir Rod Stewart’s autobiography ‘Rod’ translates into ‘Pao’, however, remains a mystery both to me and to the Google Translator app. 
  • Ian Gillian ‘sings Deep Purple’ at local gigs – with an orchestra!
  • If the taxi driver who picks you up at the airport charms you into accepting a ‘fixed fare’ you are definitely being ripped off. But you won’t realise it until the return trip, because it’s still quite cheap.

Finally, I visited the grand-looking cathedral opposite my hotel and I was reprimanded for having my hands in my pockets! Again, I was disappointed in myself, because I like to think I am not really a hands-in-pockets person – certainly not when talking to someone. I felt like suggesting perhaps they should focus more on putting away the stray brooms, storing the rolled up carpet more tidily, replacing a lot of broken light bulbs and switching some others on so that we could actually see the artwork on the walls. But I didn’t – I meekly obeyed. 

However globalised we become, differences in communication and culture persist and we need to learn, respect and abide by them if we are to engage with different communities.

Goodbye to the Yellow Brick Road that runs from the Radisson Blu to the cathedral

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