Cultural Differences

20.05.2011 Cultural Differences

One of the most difficult things to get used to here is that to a Burmese person, delivering bad news is considered very bad form indeed. So much so, that they will go to any lengths to avoid it, even outright lies if necessary. This is hard work for a Western brain to adjust to! For example, if a nanny is unhappy in her job she will tell her employer that she has a sick relative in need of an operation and must go up to the mountain region, down to the delta, off to the back of beyond immediately to help out. And never reappear. In some cases she may have been tempted to another employer by more money, which is considered VERY bad form by the expats, obviously, but often she just wants to leave but is unable to say so.

I know of one family who are on their 6th or 7th driver and cannot fathom out why they keep disappearing without a word. Now clearly there is something going on for that amount of drivers to be pissed off but the family are blissfully unaware and as such are unable to change whatever it is to improve conditions and thus keep a driver for longer than 5 minutes.

It’s not only domestic staff. Pete’s organisation broke for the Christmas holidays and one chap just never returned in the New Year. Turned out he had got a job with the UN and never thought to let his old employers know. When they did find him of course, they weren’t bothered that he had moved on but a bit annoyed he hadn’t finished the reports he had been employed to do.

We have been looking for a housekeeper/cook for almost two months. In a country where labour is cheap and plentiful it is proving remarkably hard to find someone. One of the most annoying things is that our neighbouring housekeepers know of plenty of people looking for work but won’t recommend them in case something goes wrong. They would be embarrassed if we didn’t get on with the person they had put forward for example, and they feel it would reflect badly on them. To me this is completely bananas! And most frustrating. On we plod, trying to find someone far enough removed from anyone’s acquaintance to come for an interview.

You can imagine how the NGO’s struggle, where most decisions mean bad news for someone, somewhere. One organisation wanted the staff to have ownership over their projects and so spent considerable time and resources workshopping the possibilities for future funding. At the end they were expected to decide which regions would benefit and which would, inevitably, be wound down. They couldn’t do it. The staff dithered for so long, not wishing to be the bearers of such bad news that the management had to step in and make the decisions for them in the end.

I worry that Amber will walk out on us one day so drill her weekly about how we are doing and if she’s happy and tell her often that she MUST come and talk to me if there are any problems. Having been brought up in the American embassy I think she is used to our funny Western ways and I know that she and Alfie adore each other so I content myself with that. Still, if she does end up having a poorly relative I will be on tenterhooks!

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