Eeek – my 50th blog post!! It feels like ‘wow already‘ and ‘I haven’t written 100 yet?‘ all at the same time! I wanted to do something fun to celebrate this moment for me, and that being said..
welcome to my first guest blog!
Nika has been a colleague of mine since my first day with my current company, TechBear. Fascinated with the American way of life since she was a teenager and working her first job with American foreigners, she was the ideal candidate to ask. Not only do we work together, but she also does a bit of blogging herself! For all the makeup lovers of the world, go check out her Instagram blog. It’s currently in Serbian but word on the street is she’ll be making it bilingual soon, so you won’t want to miss it!
I asked Nika if she wouldn’t mind writing about what it’s like for her to work with Americans. What are the cultural differences? Has it gotten easier? Have her thoughts changed from the beginning to now? Check it out below to see what she said!
As a person who spent her childhood listening to the great American bands, falling asleep to “I don’t wanna miss a thing” instead of your traditional lullabies, watching ER with my mom before bed and reading about American pop stars and actors in “Bravo” magazine, I can say that I pretty much grew up bi-culturally. I’ve learned English at a very young age precisely because I was so close to the American culture and English was naturally my favorite subject at school.
I decided that I should pursue what I loved most, so I ended up studying English at the University of Novi Sad, a city that is probably very familiar to all of Michelle’s readers! 🙂 During my studies I had numerous classes that dealt with the American culture, history, heritage, and literature, which helped me get a better understanding of everything that I followed so closely during my childhood.
Fast forward to my life today, I’m working in an American company, with American coworkers, American boss, and American clients! You’d think that learning about a culture and studying it from afar will prepare you for your encounter with people from that culture, right? Wrong.
My boss is American?
When I first found out about the company I’m working for today, I was 21 and that was my first real job. This might seem very confusing to you, as that is the first cultural difference that I can mention – nope, people in Serbia usually don’t start working until they’re completely done with school. I knew that in the US kids start working at the age of 15-16, but I never gave it much thought. When I first talked to Paul, I was terrified. I thought my accent wasn’t good enough or that he’d notice if I made any grammatical mistakes and immediately be thrown off by them. I also thought he would assume I had more work experience having his cultural background in mind. However, none of that happened, he was extremely welcoming and all of my fears faded away. Paul wasn’t the first American I met, I had a couple of professors at the University who sort of gave me a preview of the cultural differences that I could expect. I loved hearing their stories from back home and comparing their childhood to mine. Back then, I saw all the cultural differences – their usual pass time was to go to a mall with their friends, while we hung out on the street and played ball. They worked from the age of 14, while that’s when we started going out first.The schooling system was completely different as well, since here you get a wide general education in school and in the US you get to organize your classes according to your interests. However, putting all those differences aside and listening to some of the problems they faced growing up, my opinion started to change. They all felt pressured to do good in school, they had fights with their friends, with their parents, boyfriends, girlfriends and they all had the same teenage problems that we did. I couldn’t help but wonder…
How different are we, really?
Nevertheless, I think I saw the cultural differences the most when I started working with Paul and later on with Michelle in the office. There are lots of small differences which aren’t as prominent, such as the way they dress or what they eat, which has slowly changed as they adopted some of the Serbian ways as they spent more time here, but what I can say that still is a cultural difference is the relationship they have with their work and their family.
Serbia is known to be a place where the emphasis is on having fun and enjoying life. Don’t get me wrong, we are definitely a hard-working nation, but we make a clear cut between our work and our private life. We are not the ones to put in extra hours with no particular reason because we value our time with our friends and family just as much as we value work. Therefore, if there’s a burning need, yes, we will get the job done no matter how long it takes, but we would rather put in work and get everything sorted during our working hours and then just forget about work after.
What I noticed with the American culture, not just with our boss and Michelle, but with our clients as well, working hours are sort of a fluid thing. I’ve noticed that my inbox on Monday would be flooding with client requests and some of them would even be surprised that I haven’t responded during the weekend. Meanwhile in Serbia, it is totally common for companies in the IT industry to have weekends off.
Another thing that confused me when I got to talking with Paul and Michelle is that they were surprised by the number of people sitting in cafes having coffee with their friends. I mean I saw in movies that people would sit in Starbucks with their venti mocha lattes working on their laptop, but I thought that’s just one side of it. As it turns out, that is usually what cafes look like in the US! People working on their laptops, enjoying their coffee in silence. Meanwhile in Serbia, having coffee with your friends and catching up with them after a long week of work on the weekends is as normal as brushing your teeth. Only in the more recent years do you start seeing more and more people in cafes with their laptops, but the majority of cafe visitors are groups of friends sharing stories about their day.
Were my expectations met?
A year has passed since Michelle has joined the team and I can honestly say that it was nothing like I expected. On one side, I thought she might want to keep to herself since I can only imagine how uncomfortable you could feel when everyone around you is native and you feel out of place. I thought it might be hard breaking ice and overcoming the cultural differences, but now I know it’s all up to the people! If they want to learn more about each other’s cultures and be understanding of the differences, there is no way that it will go wrong. That is exactly how it went with Michelle. We quickly got to talking once she arrived at the office and as the months passed we became friends. I learned a lot about the American culture that no classes or movies could teach me and I’m very grateful for that opportunity! With Paul, Michelle, another one of our colleagues Kaylee and my lovely regular clients, I truly feel like I got to experience a bit of the US even though I never physically went there. I tend to joke around that once you step into our office you’re actually entering the US, sort of like you do with an embassy.
I can’t say that I find any part of dealing with American people hard or easy. I have grown accustomed to the American way of work and some days I spend more time talking to people from the US than to Serbian people. I must say, for me the lines are a bit blurred! My overall conclusion is that we’re actually not that different after all, we just seem different from the outside. Both cultures are hard-working, love their families, love to have a good time, and know exactly what they want, and when they want it – we just display it in a different way.