What has just happened?

With some people, you don’t need a lot of explanations – you both just ‘get it’. Other people may appear very strange to you, and we may not particularly enjoy socialising or working with them. Tools such as NLP can help us to establish a rapport, or, alternatively we can find out more about our personality types through tools such as the Myers Briggs instrument, which may explain why some relationships and others are harder to make work.

If people from the same culture suffer from misunderstandings and communication conflicts, to the extent that they require tools to support the relationship, what happens when we engage with people who do not speak the same language, have an alternative set of learnt behaviours and a different educational background?

Following are five tips that may help you stop and pause before jumping to conclusions too quickly:

1) Know yourself

Who am I? What type of person am I?

Am I more of an extrovert or an introvert. Do I look at facts and figures or does my ‘intuition’ reign?

 How do I learn and how do I approach problem solving?

What was the acceptable way of learning at school? At school were we trained to memorise facts and figures or develop a more creative approach to thinking? What’s my own preference? If I get IKEA furniture, do I just have a go or do I follow the instructions? What is learnt and what comes ‘naturally’ to me?

What values do I have personally?

Do I like to be independent or is it normal to depend on the state, family and other external agencies? Do I enjoy taking responsibility for my actions? If I have a family emergency, do I put the job before family? Do I live to work or work to live? Do I plan long-term or short-term?

And how has my national/regional culture influenced my thinking, behaviour and communication style?

People grow up in a community that generally has a shared history and language. They are influenced by the local climate, geographic location and economic circumstances. If you live in a first world country, with high employment, a social network provided by the state and a high per capita income, this gives an individual economic freedom and choices, but they may also spend time and resources to maintain a certain social status and loose some of the family network.

2) Direct / indirect communication

Some countries, like Germany, the US or Scandinavia prefer a more direct communication style. To be straight and get to the point is appreciated, whereas in other countries this may be seen as impolite. However, even within these very direct countries, some people may not appreciate this style – in Germany they use the term ‘Mit der Tür ins Haus fallen’. (To tall with the door into the house)

So what does it mean to be direct in a country like Germany? It may mean that you are open and honest, trustworthy and are not wasting the other person’s time by ‘beating around the bush’. However, in a country that favours indirect communication, the same communication style may be viewed as rude, rushed and lacking the accepted social ‘niceties’.

Some people may also want to have more context first and see the bigger picture before they can move on to make a decision or take action. They may want to view things from all angles, rather than ‘rushing into something’.

When dealing with people who favour indirect communications, their direct counterparts may have to pay a lot more attention to what was meant rather than what was said. Does the yes mean a no, packaged in a way that should not be construed as rude. If you give an instruction, was it really understood? And when you receive feedback, was there something else hidden in that positive sounding message?

3) Humour & Self-Deprecation

In Britain, there’s humour everywhere. I often wonder, as I didn’t attend  school here, if it was a compulsory subject! Not English grammar, but how to use double entendres and how to make fun of things.

Humour is also used in situations where British people don’t feel comfortable – a quick joke can diffuse a situation. This can be misunderstood by people from other cultures, where it isn’t ‘normal’ to use humour in a business environment. They may view the person making a joke as somebody who is not serious about the task at hand. That doesn’t mean that they have no sense of humour, they’re just too tasked focused to get side tracked by humour.

If you’re using double entendres in English, you also need to have quite a sophisticated understanding of the language to quickly spot the opportunity for a witty remark.

Modesty in Britain is often expressed through self-deprecation. This may be problematic in countries such as the US, where it’s appreciated when people can sell themselves and their achievements. An understated and witty way to talk about ones experiences and track record may be completely misunderstood there.

Also beware that in some cultures they do not use irony, so they could both totally miss the message and the humour in it.

4) Language & Grammar

English is the recognised language of business, but as already outlined above – even between native English speakers there may be communication breakdowns. This could also be down to accents, slang or typical sayings. Does an American understand when a Brit wants to ‘discount a business opportunity’? Or what do both sides understand when we ‘table a topic’? And what is it with Americans wanting to ‘reach out’?

Then you have other countries embracing the English language and ‘tailoring’ it – the Germans made a ‘Handy’ out of a mobile phone and I recently came across the term ‘body leasing’ – you try and guess what’s meant with that one!

When doing business with non-native English speakers, the whole communication process becomes even more complicated. Non native English speakers learn English and reference it back to their own language. The structure and order is usually different. Some nationalities may sound extremely rude talking in English – but it may just be down to the grammatical structure of their own language and subsequent translation into English.

A recent study by Keith Chen of Yale University found that the German language and our ability to talk about the future in the present tense, enables us to save better as it’s a more immediate statement.

People may have a strong foreign accent. Even within Britain, a Londoner may not understand a Glaswegian. What if certain words don’t exist in your own languages and for example the sentence structure already communicates that you’re polite and therefore you don’t have a word for ‘please’. Does that mean that people have no manners? Even if English is the language of business, for some people it may be the fourth or fifth language that they learn..

How do you address your counterparts? In English, people are very informal – they use ‘you’ and first names. However, this may be considered rude in other countries where there is much more emphasis on formality and hierarchy. Another minefield is ‘politically correct’ language. Is something that’s politically correct in the UK the same as in Britain or South Africa or Australia?

5) Non-Verbal Communication

Just as you get to grips with indirectness, grammar and foreign languages, then there’s the all so important non-verbal communication. You just have to look at your pets to see how wrong they can get it – the dog wagging its tail will hardly get a similar response from a cat.

If somebody nods their head, do they mean they agree or that they have ‘heard you’? Does a smile mean somebody is friendly? Or are they embarrassed and don’t want to loose face?

Do you judge somebody by their handshake? How is a ‘proper’ handshake supposed to be? And do you kiss? Who do you kiss? And how many times? Where do you start? If you look somebody straight into the eyes, does that mean that you’re open and transparent or aggressive and disrespectful?

Some cultures are used to physical space between them, others don’t mind touching and being close. Are their differences between men and women in relation to how we can interact and where is body contact acceptable.

In some countries, it’s perfectly acceptable to speak very loudly. This may be seen as a nuisance somewhere else. If you’re upset or annoyed about something, should you show this and raise your voice or control your emotions? The sentence ‘This is an interesting proposal’ may have different meanings, dependent on the tone of your voice.

And last but not least, there’s silence. What does silence mean? Somebody has nothing more to say/contribute or are they reflecting on what’s been said, are they in agreement/disagreement?

Some more reading:
Edward T. Hall’s Beyond Culture

Settling down in the Windy City

922793_10151637835010390_1059928942_n Ciara Newby has made Chicago, Illinois her second home, where she moved to seven years ago.

Growing up in Sedgefield in the North East of England, Ciara always had a keen interest in languages and foreign cultures. She first studied for a BA in Spanish at Leeds University and then continued with an MA in Modern Languages at Newcastle University.

During her studies, Ciara also had the chance to spend one year abroad and perfected her Andalucian accent in Sanlucar de Barrameda.

391416_10151666623925390_689454676_nFollowing her teacher training in the UK, Ciara got the opportunity to move to the US for a job offer at the British School of Chicago. Since her arrival in 2006, she has been promoted first to Head of Spanish and is now the Director of World Languages. Her husband Ben also moved to the US with her and was a partner in one of Chicago’s hippest nightclub, a Vice President of Nightlife at the Menin Hotels in Chicago and has now established his own business.

When you moved to the US, what were your expectations?

I had never been to the States before so I had a pretty stereotypical view. I imagined that life would be somehow like in the movies, that it would be quite cheap, I had a preconceived idea of service and that there would be shopping malls everywhere. I also didn’t expect things to be very different as I would work at a British school, but there were differences for example the use of the English language.

 How did you manage your initial settling in period?

Technology, like Skype, helped a lot to be able to talk to my family. Also the American culture is all set for convenience, which is great. My company also helped us with the move there and sorting out practical issues such as opening a bank account and getting a social security number. But the hardest thing was to make new friends – I just didn’t want to live in the expat bubble or only socialise with people from work. The older you get, the more difficult it seems to be to make new friends. 

 How did you make friends outside the expat community/work?

I tried to always be very friendly and open. Americans in general are quite curious to find out where you’re from so when I thought I would get on with somebody, I’d ask them to go for a coffee and chat. You just have to grab opportunities and keep working at it. I also know of friends networks and groups, which others used to get to know people.

 What do you enjoy most living in Chicago?

The standard of living is higher and I love to travel and explore, both in the US and Latin America. It is very exciting living in the centre of a city that is so beautiful and has such outstanding architecture. I love the mix of culture, restaurants and the street festivals they organise.

What do you miss from back home?

Obviously friends and family. But I also miss the quaintness and Britishness, the picturesque countryside, Sunday dinners with Yorkshire Pudding, chips with salt and vinegar and Coronation Street.

They sometimes talk about two nations separated by a common language? Have you experienced any differences in communication style?

People in the US are more well mannered. British people are more to the point. Socially I was quite shocked how acceptable it was to have dinner and use the cell phone all the time for calls and texting. I don’t know if that’s the same now here in the UK.

 What values did your parents/school instil when you were growing up?

I went to a Catholic school and we were taught to be honest, always tell the truth and see the good in anybody. I would say I was brought up with Christian values.

From your observations at school, what values do you think are important in the US, that we don’t focus so much on in the UK?

Ambition is driven into children for example in sports and also academically. Parents have to encourage their children as education is more expensive than in the UK. They seem to have a stronger vision about being the best. In the UK it is more about enjoying to be a child.

Could you imagine working in another country?

Yes, I could. I’d like to spend more time in Latin America as I enjoy the Spanish language and I’d like to learn more about the cultures. As a linguist, I would also like to learn another new language and more about other cultures.

Do you believe working abroad has been useful for your career?

Definitely. As Director of World Languages, I also look for overseas experience when looking at other people’s resumes.

What characteristics do you believe somebody should have, if they want to work/move overseas?

They have to be adaptive, patient, enthusiastic and need to accept that things are done differently. If you’re in a country that has another language than your own, it is essential to take lessons in it to be able to integrate more. I would also recommend that people should explore more outside the ‘expat bubble’ as this will make their overseas experience more worthwhile.

What is your favourite food & drink in the US?

I love sushi – there are so many sushi places in Chicago and I hadn’t had it before I came here. I also like American steak and seafood houses. Drink, well it has to be one of my husband’s cocktail concoctions:-)

What places would you recommend for people visiting Chicago or the States?

Downtown Chicago is beautiful, I’d recommend they take the architectural boat tour and find out more about the history. They should definitely go to a game of the Bears, Bulls, Cubs or Sox to get into the sports atmosphere. I love California and the Pacific Coast Highway, Arizona is beautiful and I love Miami as it’s quite Spanish.

What should people avoid?

Oh, be careful with grits – that’s a breakfast dish from the Southern states. I was really excited to try it and found it was disgusting. I’d also watch out for the portion size here – I first put on weight as I didn’t realise I could leave half my plate to go back. In the Southern states – Nevada, Alabama etc – public displays of affection are also frowned upon. Also be careful not to get yourself into less desirable neighbourhoods, because people do have guns in the US and use them.

Have you taken up any new activities since moving to the US?

Yes, I started sawing and taking lessons in dressmaking, which I probably wouldn’t have done at home. Americans are also very much into exercising here and I now do yoga and spinning, which again I don’t think I would have made the effort back home.

And we have to have some weather talk – what’s it like in Chicago?

The summers are very hot and we go to the beach a lot. There are also open air cinemas where you can go and have a picnic. In the winter it gets well below zero, sometimes even down to -30 degrees so you need snow boots and a good down jacket. Oh, and if you get an apartment, make sure it has air conditioning! Overall it’s a fairly safe place to be. Ah, there are some spiders here that can bite. But maybe there are some that bite in the UK??

What steps would you advice somebody to take before moving to the US?

I would think very carefully about what you really need to take there as everything can be bought here. Also prepare yourself emotionally as you’re a long way from home and make sure you say good-bye to everybody. I’d recommend to read some books, such as a Lonely Planet Guide. It helps you get a clearer idea of your new area and the more you know, the easier it will be to find your way around. If you come to Chicago, you can watch some movies that play here to see more of the city, for example Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Break Up or the Time Traveller’s Wife. The tv series Prison Break also starts off in Chicago.

Any final comments?

I have not met anybody yet who didn’t like Chicago. Some people wanted to go home after a while, but I don’t think they had made enough effort to meet people. You just have to be prepared to have a go. If you come here with an open mind, you can adapt. You can never plan for every eventuality and things will go wrong whatever you do and they also won’t be what you expect. Personally, I have no plans yet to return to the UK.

An Apprentice’s View

Last week saw the celebration of National Apprenticeship Week in the UK. In the past few years the government has focused on this type of vocational training for young people as an alternative to the academic university education. However, a recent survey of the CIPD found out that there apprenticeships are seen as the poor relation to universities and almost 50% of those questioned believed that they were more suitable for manual or blue collar professions.

In other countries, such as the DACH countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), their long-established Dual Education System is seen as a cornerstone of economic prosperity.

In Germany, around 60% of school leavers choose this route to attend vocational college, for example on day release, combined with practical experience in a company. Dependent on their previous school qualification and chosen profession, the training lasts between 2 and 4 years. There are around 350 officially recognised training occupations and last year 21.7% of companies were offering training to young people. They made a total of 584,547 apprenticeship placements available, with 551,272 contracts subsequently signed.

Other European also adapted the dual education system such as Belgium, Denmark, France and the Netherlands, but it is used even further afield for example in China and India.

Laura Nicholson - smallRTR Handelsgesellschaft is a German SME with a head office in Ratingen and subsidiary offices in the UK, the Czech Republic and Poland. The company is a supply chain provider to the power industry, specialising in steel tubes and pressure parts.

In Germany RTR has offered apprenticeships for many years to ensure its skilled workforce for the future. Here in the UK, Laura Nicholson was the company’s first apprentice. She joined their Gateshead operation in 2011, following completion of her A-Levels. Here’s what Laura thinks about her experience as an apprentice:

What were your favourite subjects at school?
English, biology and art.

What kind of career did you have in mind following your school education?
I was considering primary school teaching for a bit, then physiotherapy was another idea. I also wanted to be a vet but that didn’t last long neither. I didn’t have a big game plan.

I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do and decided to gain some experience. It personally seemed silly to spend thousands of pounds to get a degree I might not even need. I was advised by my parents to only go to university if I knew I would need a degree to achieve well in the profession e.g. doctor, teacher, lawyer.

How did you find out about the RTR apprenticeship place?
I joined an apprenticeship company – Access Training – and they found me potential apprenticeship placements. It was all about administration or recruitment. They interviewed me first before suggesting the apprenticeships they thought would suit me.

What attracted you to RTR?
I stopped doing German at GCSE level at school and it has always been a little regret as I originally wanted to continue it and I liked the fact that they wanted me to do German as well as my NVQ. RTR gave the impression of being a small and good company and two managers interviewed me for the job.

What kind of qualifications have you gained so far?
I’ve completed an NVQ Level 2 in Business Administration. I’ve been also been doing German at the University of Lifelong Learning and completed an ACT! User and Administration Course. I’m currently doing NVQ Level 3 in Business Administration and Level 3 in German and I’d like to do the exam for AS Level German. I also did a telephone course with Access Training.

What kind of practical work experience do you think you have gained since you joined RTR?
I learnt about logistics and sales and use an ERP system. I build up customer and supplier relationships. I prepare quotations, send out material enquiries and handle all the paperwork through to invoicing. I can also make a macchiato in the correct way J I’m a lot more confident than I used to be and I can honestly say I think my apprenticeship has attributed to that.

How do you gain your theoretical experience for your NVQs?
You pick your own subjects and you can link them all to the job that you do. I’ve chosen for example order, product and services because I do this every day. All the questions I get asked are easier to answer as I have experience. If I don’t know something, I can call my assessor at any time to talk about it. The NVQ is based on continuous assessment and I have regular meetings with my assessor and Access is very, very supportive.

What do you think have been the advantages and disadvantages of doing an apprenticeship?
The advantage is that you get work experience and a qualification. It’s at no cost to you and you get paid to do it. It’s easier to do the qualification as you can base it on something.

The disadvantage is that you don’t necessarily get a degree and that’s what some people look for if you apply for a job. Apart from that I can’t think of anything else.

What do your friends from your school think about your apprenticeship?
They think it’s really, really good. Some wished they’d done it rather than go to university. You don’t get into any debts. My friends at university all knew exactly what they wanted to do as a career and they needed a degree for that. They sometimes say they’re jealous of me for choosing an apprenticeship, I think this is mainly due to the fact I’m saving up for things like a new car and to move out and they know when they leave university, they’ll have debts that I won’t have and they won’t have savings like I have.

How do you think apprenticeships could be improved?
Sometimes apprenticeships seem to be a bit like slave labour and that side needs to be looked at. The minimum apprenticeship wage differs from the minimum wage, but what people need to take in to account is the advantages of an apprenticeship against being paid slightly less money. I’ve been told that I’m one of the lucky ones and other companies don’t train or let the apprentices take any time off to do NVQ their studies.

Do you meet any other apprentices?
No, not really. I only know one other person who does an accountancy apprenticeship at Procter & Gamble. And another girl who does hairdressing. Everybody else is either working in an office, in ICT, in catering, but all my best friends are doing a course at university.

Do you have any other plans after your NVQ Level 3?
I need to think about what I want to do as I don’t think there’s a Level 4 at the moment. There may be something set up by the time I finish, but I’m not sure.

Time to Think about Time

Train clock_ExtraSmallBeing on time is not always easy for me. This may sound strange as I am German and therefore punctuality should come natural to me. From a young age, we are taught in Germany that being on time is the right way to be – it means you are reliable and respectful of other people’s time.

Even when running just a few minutes late, I do still feel bad about this due to my German cultural values. When standing in a queue, I immediately wonder why there is one in the first place and if there’s a process that needs to be improved. Even when it is only minutes, the waiting time immediately feels like ages and as ‘wasting’ valuable time. However, somebody else in the same queue might think it’s great to have a little break or use the opportunity to chat with the other people in the queue.

In a task focused and time critical business environment, we use agendas that are usually followed. We aim to stick to deadlines and key milestones. When there’s silence in a meeting, it may feel uncomfortable and somebody generally makes a comment just to break it. Decisions are made quickly to ‘save time’, not to ‘miss the boat’ or appear indecisive.

So what does time actually mean and does it mean the same to everybody? You probably have friends that are generally on time and others that always make you wait. Elizabeth Taylor even made a point of arriving late for her own funeral.

In some professions that deal with hard data – such as accountancy – it is important that people stick to deadlines and do one job at a time. In others – such as creative positions or when working with people – time pressures are taken away so that issues can be looked at from all angles and relationships become more important.

The time we can measure by seconds, minutes or hours is called ‘clock time’. But there’s also ‘nature time’ – the seasons, day and night, the lunar calendar – more important to those working in agriculture, farming or fishing. We also adjust our clock time twice a year to nature time to get the most out of the summer’s daylight hours.

And then there’s our ‘internal clock’ – but internal clocks are not the same for everybody – some people may be so called larks who prefer to get up early, while others – the so called owls – would rather have a lie in and stay up later. If you have young children or teenagers, you may notice the differences in how easy or not it is to get them out of bed in the morning. And our internal clock can, of course, get disturbed by travel jet lag or shift work.

Our attitude to time is both very personal, but also deeply ingrained culturally. We may not be aware of how we have been taught through generations, at school and at work how to approach time. This influences our view of what’s ‘normal’ and the ‘right way to be’.

As a country and as individuals, do we plan long-term or short-term? How do we look at and talk about the past, present and future? When working internationally and with multi-cultural teams, those differences in views can make an impact on expectations, leading to miscommunication, frustration and in a worst case to a breakdown of trust and relationships.

An Italian may find the Swiss very impatient and inflexible. A Mexican may find Germans rather cold and unfriendly. And even Americans in Britain get sometimes frustrated with the small talk when they just want to get down to business.

In western cultures, such as the US, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Northern Europe, it is important to be on time and on schedule. They are the countries of the clock makers and fully integrated transport systems, where manufacturing and service operations are planned to be as efficient as possible and everything is expected to run like a perfectly oiled machine. These are countries where time can be made, saved, spent, wasted, won and lost.

The anthropologist Edward T Hall described this in his concept of monochronic and polychromic cultures. In our western, monochronic culture, time is tangible as it can be scientifically measured. We have a linear vision of time and as a consequence we generally do one thing at a time – sequentially. Our focus is on the task ahead and therefore we do not appreciate interruptions. This depends upon your ‘type’, but also how you were taught to best manage your time.

However, in polychronic cultures, there is always plenty of time available and people therefore have more of a focus on building relationships, they don’t mind being disturbed and are used to doing various activities simultaneously.

The linguist Richard D. Lewis developed three concepts of time: Linear-active time which could be compared to the monochronic approach. His multi-active time (or also described as‘event time’) is prevalent in Arab and Latin cultures and has at its core relationships and transactions between humans. The right moment or the actual meeting is more important, not the time an event starts and finishes.

I recently chatted with a Brazilian friend about time. She lived in the UK for a number of years and returned to her home town of Sao Paulo. I would describe her as very punctual and reliable and I wanted to find out what in her view was an acceptable time for friends wait for each other. She said it depended on the situation. If you were to meet up with one friend, you should try and meet around the agreed time. However, if there’s a group of you out and you meet at 8pm and some are busy with other things, it’s perfectly fine to catch up even hours later.

According to Lewis, cyclic time is prevalent in Asian cultures and he writes: “Americans see time passing without decisions being made or actions performed as having been ‘wasted’. Asians do not see time as racing away unutilised in a linear future, but coming around again in a circle, where the same opportunities, risks and dangers will represent themselves when people are so many days, weeks or months wiser”.

Does that mean that in Asian cultures people do not value punctuality? In China or Singapore punctuality is also valued. Production is managed in a linear way, with the terms ‘Lean Manufacturing’ or ‘Total Quality Management’ championed by Japanese companies.

The cyclic time view, however, will still comes into play when building relationships or during a decision making process, as the focus is on reflection rather than action. Hierarchy may also play a part as it may depend on the person and their status, which will decide who waits for whom.

So what influences our perception of ‘time’? We may seek origins in different cultures’ approach dependent on the region’s climate, the country’s religion, history or industrial/economic development.

The American psychologist Robert V. Levine dedicated a whole book to ‘A Geography of Time’, in which he described how he measured the pace of life in 31 countries.  By comparing walking speeds, postal times and clock accuracy in similar cities, he found that the fastest three were Switzerland, Ireland and Germany, with the most relaxed life found in Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico (England came 6th, the USA 16th).

But even within countries, we can find different paces – life varies in the countryside to urban environments or regionally such as New York or Massachusetts in the north east of the United States to southern states like Florida or Texas.

In 2002, the Morgenroth Zeit-Project measured the walking speed in various German cities. They identified the ‘protestant’ cities of Hannover, Dresden and Stuttgart as the fastest cities, while the more relaxed walkers lived in the ‘catholic’ cities of Trier, Saarbrücken and Passau. The walking speed results also correlated with the response time of emails sent to local job centres and overall the ‘faster cities’ also had a higher GDP per capita and higher average earnings of their citizens.

Are you experiencing challenges because of somebody’s personal attitude to time? Or is it a totally different cultural appreciation of time that you’re finding very hard to work with. Or is everybody just struggling as nothing can be planned time perfectly due to external influences such as traffic or weather?

I hope this has given you an alternative perspective on time and maybe a more relaxed attitude to your ‘late’ friends and colleagues.

We would love to hear about your own experiences and practical tips of how to make the best out of tricky time situations!

Multi-Channel Customer Communication

The internet and more recently the smart phone and social media revolution have dramatically changed the way we research, market, sell and talk about products and services. We have all very quickly added these to our communication repertoire and it’s easy to forget how ‘young’ some of our most established brands are. Amazon was founded back in 1994, Google started its commercial operation in 1998, in 2004 Mark Zuckerberg worked on The Facebook and only five years ago Apple presented its very first iPhone.

This fast acceptance and adaptation challenges organisations to provide the right communication channels and be innovative and effective in their application. One of Lexica’s clients is Cologne based ITyX, a specialist in digital communication solutions. A spin off from the University of Koblenz, they have focused on incorporating Artificial Intelligence (AI) methodologies, such as neural networks, to process incoming information and manage knowledge. 

If organisations receive hundreds of customer emails or social media feeds every day, the company’s Mediatrix RESPONSE is capable of analysing the content, routing it to the correct team, while providing a link to the customer’s details on the CRM and even suggesting potential responses. This benefits customers in that they receive a quick and comprehensive response to their enquiry, while the company achieves average handling time decreases by up to 55%.

Often it is possible to already find answers to queries on a company’s website in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section. Organisations provide, for example, a set of questions & answers from previous interactions with customers. Other solutions, such as ITyX’s Mediatrix, provide a dynamic Self-Service that draws on all incoming email communication and updates the FAQs accordingly without need for any administrative input.

Websites for products and services have evolved with new technologies becoming available all the time. Initially more like an online brochure, even the smallest company can now afford e-commerce facilities, blogging became a trend and today it’s all about Twitter, Facebook & Co. You can embed videos in your website and add chat windows for additional, live customer support online. Mediatrix WEBSCOUT from ITyX enables organisations to support their online customers with pro-active service by live chat, but also co-browsing. This means that when requested by a website visitor, the customer service representative can jointly visit certain pages, explain and also help fill in information online.

Amazon is a company that combines technology with great processes and as a result require little customer service. However, I’m sure you have visited websites with FAQ sections that don’t provide you with the answer you were looking for. Instead of continuing on the digital channel, you then have to revert to a traditional one such as the telephone. Or you may have found a blog from other users who seem more knowledgeable than the company itself. If emails don’t get answered by a company within a day or so, we switch back to other channels. And even worse, if a public sector organisation provides me with no email or telephone contact, but invites me to join them on Twitter, that’s a bit like waving a red flag to a bull!

Anyway, it would be interesting to hear from you about your multi-channel experiences, the highs and lows and maybe what you think the future will look like.

Further information about ITyX and its adaptive, multi-lingual Mediatrix module solutions are on http://www.ityx.co.uk/. You can also visit VERA, which is their entry email response solution for companies that deal with smaller volumes.

A French View of North East England

Hélène Beaugy grew up in Chalon-Sur-Saone in Burgundy,France and today lives in Jesmond, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK.

She started studying for a career in languages with a degree in English Language and Cultural Studies at the University of Dijon. An Erasmus exchange with the University of Northumbria enabled her to spend some time in Newcastle, where she moved to in 1999.

Following the completion of her undergraduate studies, Hélène stayed in the North East and started a career in teaching, first at a school in Lanchester and later at Central Newcastle High School. During that time she continued her formal studies and completed a Masters in French and Spanish at the University of Northumbria.   

After a 10-year career in teaching, Helene decided on a career change and in 2010 launched her company ‘Experience Northumbria’. She now offers tours in French, Spanish and English to overseas visitors, specialising in outdoor activities.

We wanted to find out from Helene how she found living in North East England .

What differences did you expect regarding the way of life/culture?
I had already spent some time in the UK on school exchanges and working as an au pair in Chester. So I had a vague idea about living in the UK. However, I was unprepared for the strength of the accent in Newcastle. It was unbelievable! The first two days people had to repeat everything at least once. It took a bit of time to tune your ear to the English and then the accent and after around three days my understanding was starting to get better.

How did you find the initial settling in period?
It did not take long to settle in – I took to it like a duck to water as I always liked Britain and the English language.

When I first came to Newcastle, I asked the University to find me a home stay. I got on fantastically with my Geordie landlady, who lived in High Heaton. She was really helpful and was already used to foreign students. She took me around and explained how the buses worked and was very kind and friendly. That really was a good start and it made me fall in love with the North East. The people here are very friendly.

What are the things you most enjoy living in the UK and what do you miss from back home?
I like speaking English – I like the sound of it and can’t really explain it. Also living here is a process as you’re always learning more, you find new films, new literature etc.

What I miss from France is public services that work. We do pay more taxes, they’re just more re-invested in efficient public services. For example, I pay more for public transport in Newcastle than in Paris. Also the trains don’t work here. A typical example would have been a trip to London, where we arrived at the station and I was looking everywhere for a button to press, so that the door opens. In the end, I realised I had to open the window and open the door from the outside. In France we had trains like that before the war. I’m not saying that there are no problems in France as we do have a lot of strikes. But when the system is working, it’s working and I’d expect for example a 800km trip to do in 3 hours.

Otherwise there’s not much I miss. I get the chance to visit home and then get the best of both worlds. I can fly from Newcastle to Paris with EasyJet and then take the train home, which is quite affordable.

How did you find making friends? And how did you this? Was it easier or more difficult than back in France?
It was relatively easy to make friends. First I met lots of people at university and then later at work. There were also people looking for French conversation groups and I made very good friends through that. It wasn’t harder than making friends in France, just a different way.

Do you recall situations that you initially interpreted wrong? If yes, what happened, what did you think and what did it later turn out to be?
I remember being called ‘pet’ all the time. This really felt invasive, but then I realised people say that to everybody and then I found it very sweet.

I also remember my godson coming to Newcastle who also stayed here for four years. We took a taxi to the Central Station and the driver, who had the broadest Geordie accent, was talking to us and we believe was trying to make a joke. We didn’t say anything, but we couldn’t understand a word throughout the whole journey!

How does the communication style in the UK differ to France?
I think people are very cautious, both in the topics and also in getting their own point across. As a foreigner you do get away with saying things a bit stronger. People never tell you that you shouldn’t do this here, but you notice their reaction and then you try to be a bit more diplomatic.

I organise for example philosophical evenings, where everybody brings some food that we share and I prepare a conversation menu. My continental friends – for example from Spain, Italy, Germany – all engage in heated arguments and go far in defending their strong ideas. I recently heard an interview with the French academic Alan De Botton on Radio 4 and he said that the best evenings are those with friends in deep conversations.

The topics the British avoid are for example politics and private life. You would need to be very close to somebody that they tell you more about the latter. People also don’t get emotional easily while on the continent people are more at ease with showing their emotions.

What values were you brought up with at home?
I had a relatively strict upbringing and we were taught honesty, reliability such as “my word is my bond”, the value of education, kindness, politeness, respect to elders and everybody else around you.

If people aren’t polite, I am not interested in them, no matter who they are – either French, British or any other nationality.

Do you think that children in the UK are taught the same values? If not, what do you think is important or the right way to be for the British?
As a nation, I don’t believe the British see the value of education as important. Things you know have to be more useful rather than general and cultural knowledge.

I also think that British society punishes family, women who bring up children. There is a lot of pressure to be everything – a good mother and good in a business. In France it’s easier to work part-time or stay at home longer. The family is an important value in life and a lot is done to help. Children are also more left free to look after themselves, whereas in the UK it’s too overregulated, they have really gone over the top. The litigation culture forces the state to cover their backs and you end up more and more with a nanny state.

Here I also believe that people are very individualistic. It’s how to make your life, your money, it’s not so much about solidarity. The continental model is more about society as a whole.

What is also strange here is the drinking in order to get drunk. On the continent you may end up drunk after an evening with friends, but it’s not what you set out to do. In 1999 we didn’t have the binge drinking culture, but it’s appearing in France now too. I can’t understand the motivation to do that and I also don’t think that it’s just the price of alcohol as I think a pint of beer for example is still quite expensive. That is a too simple explanation and I think it’s a form of destructive behaviour.

Also here boys and girls go out in separate groups, whereas on the continent we generally go out in mixed groups.

Would you work in another country again? And if yes, what country/ countries would interest you and why?
I would very much like to work in German or Spanish speaking countries as I would like to experience real life there rather than just holiday life. Also it would help improve my language skills.

Do you believe working abroad is useful for your career? If yes, how?
I wanted to study overseas as I also wanted a local qualification that would mean something to a UK employer. Also it shows that you have an openness of mind and that you’re not afraid to uproot, to go out and do it. That you’re not afraid of challenges.

What characteristics do you believe somebody should have, if they want to work/move overseas?
Open mindedness, tolerance. I think that nothing is ever as good as home, but you find out how people do things differently and sometimes better. If you also are outgoing, then the rest just happens.

What is your favourite food & drink here?
Yorkshire Pudding, bacon; and elderflower cordial – it doesn’t exist in France.

What places would you recommend people to see who come to either visit or live here?
Durham, Hadrian’s Wall, Coast and Castles such as Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh, Holy Island.

What do you think people should definitely avoid? For example things you shouldn’t do, not talk about, food you shouldn’t try, places or activities that are just too weird for foreigners
I would avoid the Bigg Market with visitors as it’s just too unbelievable. Also if you go to a football match where England plays your country, don’t go and support yours loudly. I’d avoid tripe, which is something Geordie.

What steps would you advice somebody to take before moving to the UK?
If I had to do it again, I would start looking more at the Embassy/Consular website to find out more about the administrative steps of moving to the UK.

Are there any books, websites, films, tv programmes or networks that you would recommend to somebody moving to the UK?
I would recommend British tv comedies such as Faulty Towers, Blackadder, Father Ted and Only Fools & Horses. There are also films that accurately portray British life which can be either positive or depressive, such as Ken Loach films or the Calendar Girls.

Thank you for the interview!