MICHAELA FENGSTAD

Writing about life as it happens, trends in career development and new inspiration

Tag: culture

Caution! Hot Beverage!

I remember my first cup of coffee in Canada. I was so excited to take my first sip and I was so ready to be amazed! Yet I was trying to make that moment before my taste buds would be blown away last a bit longer. I wanted to be amazed, not because I can’t live without a good cup of coffee, but because I wanted to be reassured that I made the right choice leaving my family and friends behind. At that moment, the way that coffee tasted was of critical importance and I was not ready yet for it Trying to drag that moment before a bit longer,  I started reading the writing on the sleeve of the cup.  “Caution! Hot beverage!” I read it again and again…  Were they making fun of me? They must have realized I was new in the country. It must have been my accent when I asked for the coffee. No, it can’t be… The lady in front of me had troubles with her English too. Hmm… my head started spinning and all the emotions before and the excitement were gone now making room for a new bunch of feelings… none of them on the happy, positive note. It must have been my dress. They all told me that I should give away my beautiful lilac suit and the skirt with big red roses that I loved so much but I never listened. I loved my colourful wardrobe, with floral patterns and ruffles. I used to get only compliments on the way I dressed. My students, my colleagues, my neighbours were all so full of compliments. Even the old lady selling Turkish  pretzels glazed with honey and covered with  poppy seeds  smiled at me every time I wore this purple skirt with big lace ruffles.

I swiftly turned and left the coffee shop, embarrassed with the way I thought I must have looked, but not before glancing with regret to the comfortable chair on which I was planning to enjoy my first sip of Canadian coffee.  Under normal circumstances, It was a 30 minutes walk back to the rented apartment. It took me only 10 that day.  It was a feeling of helplessness, mixed with embarrassment and fury that fuelled my run back.

Once back in the apartment and out of the once pretty skirt my old, sometimes reliable common sense returned. My mind started making sense too. It was the last time I wore my beautiful purple skirt with lace ruffles as although I knew it did not make any sense, and against my strong logics, I continued to blame the ruffles of my skirt for the way these simple “Caution! Hot beverage!” words made me feel.

Of course a coffee is hot; unless you ask for an ice coffee. Ice coffees are cold, as cold as ice, therefore we call them  ice coffee… right?  But taking the time to spell the obvious out was such a new concept for me! Where I came from, you spill your (hot) coffee and burn your hands, the maximum you get is a “Well done, dumb ass!”

In all these years since that happened I learnt that there are people that ask for coffee without realizing that you need hot water to brew it and in the 2 minutes between you putting in the order and the coffee resting comfortably in your hand there is no enough time to bring that hot coffee to a more comfortable temperature: not too hot to burn you but not too cold to impede on your pleasure of sipping out a hot coffee. And then there is the issue of a 3rd party accidentally grabbing your coffee  without knowing that a coffee cup might contain hot coffee. It all makes sense to me now!
For the last almost 20 years now I have considerably enriched my knowledge with extremely useful information. For example:

  • A curling iron is “For external use only” ; I am a bit  uncertain if it refers to a cold iron or a hot one. I mean, the warning is a bit confusing here.
  • I found out that I should not use my hair dryer while sleeping and cannot feed  the shampoo for dogs to the fish. Interesting, eh?
  • I was a bit disappointed when I read in the microwave manual “Do not use for drying pets.” I was hoping for a faster way to  dry Roscoe, my adorable Jack Russell.
  • My disappointment gave way to pure joy when I found out the Christmas lights I bought were “For indoor or outdoor use only”. What a relief!
  • Last year I decided to give Midol a try as I was having a bit of a tough time. Well, lucky me, I had no other health concerns as the warning on the box was quite clear: “Warning: do not use if you have prostate problems.” 

 

One More Time: Target and Customize Your Job Search

Looking for a job is hard work and writing or updating the resume for most of us is a daunting task that overwhelms and frustrates even the best writers at times.

I believe in targeted resumes, and although you can find more comprehensive and complicated explanations of this term on the net, I always tell my clients that a resume is nothing else than a reply, an answer to a question or even better an offer to a demand. Let’s see the following example: it is winter time and it is not too late to go for your flu shot. You assume the pharmacy or the doctor’s office would have a stock of flu vaccines around this time of the year for obvious reasons. To your surprise, they don’t have the flu shots but they offer you a quite impressive assortment of vaccines for tropical diseases. Hmmm… You are impressed, all right, but they did not address or solve your issue in any way. This is when you go to the next pharmacy that will hopefully answer your demand. Now, replace your person with the business in need of a particular qualification and the pharmacies with the job seekers. The ones that will address the requirements in the particular job posting will get the recruiter’s attention while the others will definitely land into the “NO” pile.

It is easier to preach “targeting” than to put it in practice, especially when using popular sites like LinkedIn. I use LinkedIn and I think it adds value to other aspects of our professional life and even to some parts of a job search. Unfortunately it works against the concept of “targeted” anything. Let me explain. As you all know, on LinkedIn there is only one profile that you can show the world and attract potential employers with. The problem here is that even when you target one specific job with one specific job title, the job descriptions coming from different companies are extremely diverse. Each company has their unique needs, their own organization chart and their own interpretation of a position.
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Casual Friday – 3 Rules

How do you dress for a casual Friday in your workplace? I have been thinking about this for a while now and the only clear idea is there are no clear rules. Every company seems to have their own understanding of casual Fridays. The truth is though that, at least in Canada, and Vancouver specifically, the Fridays are not that much different than the rest of the week.

I am a believer in formal(ish) attire. It is a sign of respect and class. I really don’t care if your clothes come from the most expensive boutique in town. If they look frumpy on you or don’t cover all the essential parts of your body, please don’t wear them at work. Take Catherine Middleton’s example: on a moderate budget (for her rank and income), she manages to be classy, function appropriate and fashionable.

 


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Culture and Business Etiquette

There are manners and there is the Business Etiquette concept. You might think they are the same and what our parents taught us should serve us well in any situation. The general misconception is that knowing what fork to use and how to keep our elbows at the dinner table should be enough to prevent anybody from being embarrassed or from making a fool of themselves during a business dinner. The truth is that there is more to it than simply knowing how to use the cutlery.

Let’s think for a moment: one of the most important notions to master is networking. It is never too early to start networking; in fact, the earlier you start, the better for you. Knowing the right person weighs more than the best written and presented resume or a lifetime of achievements. Networking is basically making and keeping alliances. And being friendly, courteous, respectful, diplomatic and knowing how to manage conflict in a positive way is only the beginning of how to build them. But there is a lot to learn and every time we meet another human being, there is a 50/50 chance to make a gaffe, to step on a toe or simply to blow it. The tragedy is that real life does not provide us with too many second chances to reset and start all over again. Therefore, the more you know and practice etiquette, the better equipped you are to manage that situation in your advantage.

Cultural differences are usually at the base of most misunderstandings or miscommunications. I am under a lot of stress every time I need to host or participate to any social gathering (other than with my close friends). I come from a culture that takes its time to build relationships, and until that time when we feel comfortable enough around another person, we are very formal. We take as much time as we need to know the other person and we can not be rushed into liking somebody or pretending to. Moving to Canada, I think I have missed a million of opportunities to network by not knowing how to come out of my shell and being too stuck on titles and formality. I am still a work in progress, as knowing what to do does not necessarily translates into practising in real time.

And this is only one small example where one’s culture will definitely act against that person in a Canadian business environment. My advice for everybody: if you want  to advance, on top of your competent self, master business etiquette and the language. Having an accent will always bring an exotic charm to your persona, but there are no excuses for not speaking a grammatically correct English. As Sir Francis Bacon once said: “knowledge is power”. Before anything, take some time to study the customs, culture, and language of the place where you intend to do business, regardless if you are a fluent English speaker or economically independent.

 

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