“I think I’m a bit traumatised,” my father said to me very calmly during my last visit.
I clearly had a moment of panic when he said that. We sat down and I listened to him explain how he went for a walk in his new hometown Hamburg and saw a rather vibrant display of people in town. At first, I didn’t understand what he was going on about, but then it occurred to me. My dad had gone out for a walk on Christopher Street Day. He had run into a completely different culture.
For those of you who are unaware, Christopher Street Day is an annual LGBTQ+ celebration held across Europe. My father, bless him, had not known what he was walking into.
He explained everything as it happened: the display of huge wagons and loud techno music that made the street vibrate. He witnessed semi-naked men and women dancing on the streets. I listened to the vivid descriptions he shared, including how a woman who walked past him stopped to take a photo of two women kissing and then walk away with no care in the world.
While looking around the street, my dad spotted another older man sitting at a nearby bench, watching the entire demonstration. They locked eyes and the other man waved my dad over. The two of them sat next to each other and watched the whole parade, which eventually ended with chants of thanks to the city mayor.
Once the parade ended, my dad bid farewell to his stranger-turned-friend and came back home.
I asked my dad how he felt about the whole thing that he saw. Without a speck of judgement or disdain on his face, he just said:
“I don’t think I have to see that again.”
For any modern, progressive person, that statement might have been rather offensive.
Clash of Cultures
But I took notice of how my dad explained the whole story to me without any judgement. He just ended the conversation with a decision that it wasn’t his cup of tea – his choice.
What took me by surprise was how my dad, being a traditional German man, did not judge the situation. He had just witnessed a total clash of cultures.
At that moment, I found it extremely remarkable that a man, born in 1934 and clearly brainwashed during his time in the Hitler Youth, didn’t have anything bad to say about the different culture he had just been exposed to. He just described a story without judgement, but with some surprise – which we all feel when experiencing something new.
I work with clients who often find themselves in situations where they face different cultures.
Whether it’s because they work in other countries, handle clients from different cultures and experiences, or because they travel so much for work that they get exposed to these different sights and sounds.
Not Participating in Different Cultures Does Not Mean Not Accepting
My dad’s story also made me realise something else. While my dad didn’t wish to participate in a parade that is “not for him”, he did not reject the idea or notion of what others were doing.
In that same sense, when we travel for work, we will witness many traditions and activities from different cultures, communities and upbringings. A small example is learning different ways of greeting people and having different public holidays than from where you came from.
Witnessing these events does not mean we have to participate in them. And even if we do participate, we can do it out of respect and a sense of belonging or experience. We have the choice of whether we want to accept and engage in it again later.
Take for example the Korean culture of Hoesik where you eat and drink with your colleagues after work. While some cultures celebrate and see the significance of drinking with workmates, you may not choose to partake in this due to health or even religious reasons. This does not mean you should be disrespectful. Here’s where communication and diplomacy play a very important part.
Live & Let Live
We can make our own choices without judgement of what others are doing. Whether in a personal scenario or a work setting, the key is to be courteous, compassionate and always be open to communication.
What’s one setting that you faced in a different culture that you found easy or difficult to participate in? Feel free to share so we can all learn and understand how different cultures and experiences shape us.