Wise, Wicked, Simple, He Who Does Not Know How to Ask… In Communication across Various Cultures.
Blog in the Spirit of Passover
At this time in Israel and the rest of the world, Jews are celebrating the Passover holiday, which marks the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to freedom. On the first night of Passover, at the Seder meal, it is customary to read the Haggadah. The reading includes a discussion of four different kinds of children: wise, wicked, simple-minded, and not knowing what or how to ask.
That is also how it is in the world of cultures – we are not all the same. Every culture has different people – smart ones, evil ones, gullible ones, etc. Israel is a country of immigrants, a melting pot. It is the Land reached by our forefathers – from Eastern Europe and North Africa, and later from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, the Americas and the rest of Europe, and from the entire world. In today’s Israel, we are all different, and we differ in where we came from.
The title of this blog refers to our differences. We are the four different children, including the clueless one who doesn’t even know what question to ask! He is the perfect metaphor for this holiday – someone who came from a different culture and doesn’t understand what’s going on around him.
When doing business with people from other cultures, many don’t understand the local culture and so don’t know how to behave. “How should I ask?” How do you adapt yourself to the other person’s culture?
It’s important to be familiar with at least the basics of each culture you encounter in business, so that communication will be effective. Good communication leads to business success. Culture includes accepted behavior in that society, and even more critically – its underlying values: the roots that lead to that behavior. Examples would be the values of respect and hierarchy in China, and of long-term planning and rule-following in Germany. Likewise, in Israel, various central characteristics should be acknowledged, such as informality, direct speech, ambition, entrepreneurial thinking, improvisation and more.
These characteristics come into play in daily interactions, at work and also during holidays. On Passover, besides reading the Haggadah at the Seder, there are two other main customs: not eating “chametz” (leavened products), and eating matzo (unleavened bread). The root of the word chametz is related to the word for fermentation and going sour, and also to the abstract word for missing out on something or not succeeding at something. The root of the word matzo is related to the word for squeezing, wringing and extracting – in the sense of utilizing something to the fullest extent.
In the spirit of contemporary Israel culture, people now often ask things like, “So what are you planning this year? Chametz or matzo? Missing the mark or making the most of things?”
This improvised wordplay shows thinking outside the box, along with a message of encouraging achievement and success. It also implies the price that the individual and society pay for extracting the most from every situation – in the form of never resting, being intense and perhaps hasty, and living on borrowed time. We don’t want to miss out on anything or have anything go sour on us! We rush from place to place to place…we want to achieve things at work, make money, raise a family and even find time to enjoy life – by engaging in recreational activities, going abroad, seeing the world. In other words, squeezing as much as we can out of our lives. Life! Success! The best possible within the given time! Here and now – not later.
On the Passover holiday we speak of the four children: wise, wicked, simple and the one who does not know how to ask. This reminds us of the differences between us, but also of the essential similarities, roots and day-to-day behavior we share that push us to make the most of life and succeed. For people from other cultures who work with Israelis, it can only help them to understand the Israeli mindset and its rich, complex background.
Happy Passover to all of Israel and our loved ones in the Diaspora!
More about the Israeli business culture can be found in the book Israeli Business Culture, available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/9659250401/ref=rdr_ext_tmb
This practical book combines background information with real-life anecdotes and recommendations for good cross-cultural communication.
Read more about the author of the book and the blog, Osnat Lautman, and the services offered by OLM Consulting, at www.olm-consulting.com.