Going back to see my family in France recently caused me to reflect on Australian multiculturalism. Did you realise that in Australia one in four of us was born overseas?
I was born in Bar-le-Duc, a small town in France to a French mother and Moroccan father. My fiancé is German born Russian, and we live (soon to be married) in Melbourne, Australia.
I have always been fascinated and sometimes challenged by different cultures. From a very young age, I developed an instinctive ability to adapt to other cultures. Spending my summer breaks at my grandma’s in Morocco, I was not the little French girl anymore – In my heart I deeply felt like a Moroccan girl. It has not only been adapting to another language, I even feel the tone of my voice and my facial expressions changing in different cultural situations.
However, when you move to a new country, you take it to the next level… Sometimes you find yourself completely lost, and not only in translation!
Allow me to share a memorable story from my time as a stewardess on a beautiful catamaran in The Kimberley. Freshly arrived from France, I decided to take up the challenge of working as a crew member in a team of seven. As the only woman! The challenge was real for many different reasons, but the language barrier created some hilarious situations.
There we were, on the first night on the boat and these deckhands start sharing stories about “Old Mate”. What followed was every night, when we were hanging out in the galley to do the dishes and share a beer, I would hear them mentioning their Old Mate again and again. After nearly a week, tired of being the only one who didn’t know this guy, I got the courage to finally ask, who is this Old Mate that everyone knows? In case you’re not familiar with the colloquialism, using Old Mate in place of the subject’s name in an anecdote assumes that the listener can identify them within the context – or not. Sometimes Old Mate’s a generic person who is irrelevant to the point of the story.
When I first started working in a professional environment, I thought I was doing a great job by arousing interest, soliciting for business and suggesting to clients they seduce candidates without realising the literal translation of those words and their cultural implications!
People are curious by nature, so when they notice my accent in person or on the phone it’s often a great conversation starter. I still make the occasional faux pas, but I’ve learnt how to own it by making it my point difference, whether I’m networking or socialising.
Cultural competence, in brief, is the ability to interact effectively with people from different cultures. In today’s workplaces, cultural diversity is part of everyday life. If I were to think about why embracing – actually I’d say celebrating – cultural diversity matters, I would put it in the following terms: Capturing unique talent; Boosting innovation; Encouraging productivity.
Of course your attitude towards cultural differences depends on your world view, but I would highly recommend investing in developing your cross-cultural skills… which is not just about bringing croissants to morning tea.
Given Australia’s multicultural society, how do you make the most of the different cultures in your world @work? What’s different about you that works to your advantage?
Interested in French style? Join me for Slade Chats with ‘French Chic’ Caroline Vosse – FrenChicTouch blogger, public speaker and entrepreneur at 6pm on Wednesday 13 June 2018. Click here for details.