You’re either part of the in-group or out-group. No in-between. And with that comes important lessons for conduct.
I am in Romania to collect data and conduct research. However, one of the hardest things to do here (in my opinion) is collect data and conduct research. It’s not because my research topic is too vague, my surveys too long, and incentives not available; it’s because I’m an outsider. I’m part of the out-group here and I’m reminded of it daily. I do not want you to think that I’m complaining– I’m definitely not. I find these challenges and cultural norms important with helping me recognize specious barriers that I create in my own life and it’s helping me recognize how to overcome them. One of the biggest lessons that I learned while living in Europe is the difference between living in an individual versus collective society.
One thing that is indicative of collective societies, an in particular to Europe (this behavior is not unique to Romania) is the European blank stare on the streets. I am totally baffled by it. For instance, we finally received some snow in Bucharest last week and while it was pretty for the first few days, we now have the miserable black piles of snow that line the streets from all of the salt and dirt that accumulated from plowing. These snow piles take up a portion of the sidewalk, decreasing the footpath, which means that only one person can pass at any given time. That also means that when you’re walking down the street and you encounter another person, one person must stop to let the other pass. In the States, we would smile cordially and thank the other person for stopping and letting us pass. This behavior does not occur in Europe, and even less so in Bucharest.
It’s like there’s an apparition that’s sharing the road with you and you have to ignore that big, scary, monster. Definitely don’t look it in the eyes! It’s rare to smile at people on the street in Europe and I got used to that part, but I’m not used being ignored after being polite. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever stop being annoyed by that part either. However, one good thing is that it made me realize that when you’re part of the out-group (i.e., stranger on the street) you may as well not exist. This behavior makes the in-group (i.e., any community such as family, friends, work colleagues) even more attractive. And that definitely has it’s benefits as well. It also means that when I’m conducting research here that it is essential for me to use an intermediary for data collection. That slows the process down, but if the intermediary was not helping, I would not collect my data.
Second, I learned how global the US mindset is, despite what you hear on the 6 o’clock news. I do feel obligated to add this caveat- I have only lived in big, culturally diverse cities, and I expect that my opinions will differ from many Americans. However, I realized that most Americans are much more accepting of different races and ethnicities than most other countries. I never realized any of that until I moved to Europe. While the States has it’s own issues, Europe has an uncontrolled immigration problem on their hands that is threatening traditional cultures on a daily basis. From a sociology and social psychology perspective, it’s interesting to witness how all of these different cultures are blending at such a rapid rate.
Third, I’ve also learned of the value of networking and utilizing intermediaries to help you get where you need to be. If you are not part of the in-group in which you seek, you need to have someone introduce you. I spoke with one of my marketing colleagues about this recently and we remarked that this is the case in the US as well, but as we were talking more we came to the conclusion that while an intermediary is helpful to have in the US, it’s not the only way to get what you need. In Europe, and particularly in Romania, it’s essential.
On a lighter note, we’ve done our fair share of travels lately. In the past couple of months, we’ve traveled to Norway (Oslo and Svalbard), Greece (Athens) and France (Strasbourg and Colmar). Carl and his brother are off to Rome over Easter while Isaac, Jethro and I hold down the fort in Bucharest. I promise that I will share our pictures soon!