I’ve been going through my old photos recently and I came across this. It’s some cookies that I made for a friend on his birthday a few years back. Can you guess what it is?
Yup, that in fact is a gingerbread version of the Fellowship of the Ring. I’m sure you’ll agree that I totally nailed it! Or possibly just in the ironic Pinterest use of the word.
Now if I am honest, this didn’t exactly turn out the way it looked in my head. I think the height ratios are roughly correct, and I am quite pleased with Gimli’s beard. But besides that… well, let’s just move on!
I’m sure you’ve had similar ‘nailed it!’ experiences? If not then you can leave now! Besides from those annoying super-competent folk, we all have those occasions where things don’t go as we planned. And especially so if you’re living in a new culture.
What does this mean? It means that for the cross-cultural worker everyday is a battle to nail incredibly simple and mundane tasks.
Take for instance the first time I tried to withdraw some money from my Japanese bank account. I’d only be in Japan for a couple of weeks. My bank account had just been set up, so I had a temporary bank book, but not yet a bank card. My cash was running a bit low, so I decided it best to go to the bank and take some out in person.
A fairly simple task. And yet it didn’t go quite as I imagined it would.
I did a quick recon mission to get the layout of the bank in my head, noting where the relevant forms and counters were (in hindsight, they may have thought I was planning a heist). The next day I took a few minutes at my apartment to go over the Japanese I would need for this task and set off.
I marched confidently into the bank, went to the cashier and told her in my polished Japanese, “I would like to withdraw some money please.” She helped me fill in the form, handed me an envelope with my requested amount of cash, and I sauntered back to my apartment.
Getting money out of my Japanese bank account? Nailed it!
It turns out that I had managed to communicate my desire perfectly…. Apart from the word ‘some.’ That’s right, as I counted out the money in my envelope I realised that I had withdrawn all of the money in my account.
Being a man I decided to do the honorable thing and pretend like that was my intention, storing the wad of notes in a teacup for easy access. Frankly, I don’t know why more people manage their finances that way.
But total disaster was averted by the fact that:
- I had, thankfully, not closed down my account.
- Japan is a cash-based society, so I had no direct-debits to worry about.
- Break-ins are fairly rare in Japan, and I lived on the 6th floor.
In between that bank escapade and the aforementioned cookies I have had quite a number of ‘nailed it!’ experiences, both in Japan and the UK. I imagine they will continue.
The difference is that my UK ‘nailed it!’ moments tend to be when I try something special (OK, sometimes I throw the teabag in the sink and the teaspoon in the bin , but we all do that, right?) Whereas in Japan it is doing the unavoidable stuff: banking, shopping, traveling, making friends… these basic building blocks of life turn into bake-off challenges when you’re in a new culture.
Now these stories are generally quite funny. In hindsight, if not at the time. But I think it is easy to underestimate the stress they place on cross-cultural workers. When I used the phrase ‘daily battle’ in the title I was not going for dramatic effect so much as trying to convey the way it often feels to live in a new culture.
Anywho, more on that next time. For now I will just invite you share your own ‘nailed it! stories (photos welcome). If nothing else, it’ll make me feel less bad about myself!