Compass

Fresh Perspectives You Can Use.

How Can They Tell You’re Different?

BLUE CRANE develops eNewsletters with businesses that have something to say!“Are you enjoying your holidays here?” The waitress at the Park Cafe in Villach is very friendly as she serves the fabulously rich cake and strong coffee, with a glass of water by the way, which is typical for Austria.

People often address us as visitors, even when we’re not – or maybe they are right and we are tourists everywhere, except the place we grow up in. We lived in Cape Town for nine years until recently, and settle here in Austria’s Carinthia now – but we are German.

How can they tell you’re different?

‘When in Rome, do like the Romans do.’ I found that to be good advice in the past whenever I travelled to places I hadn’t been to before. Trying to blend in at airport customs in Jakarta is what you did when you arrived in Indonesia via Singapore from South Africa on a second, clean passport during the Apartheid years.

But does it work? Did the locals think I was born in Venezuela when I was in Caracas? I am sure I didn’t pass for a local in Cape Town’s Kayelitsha township, but a few kilometers away in Simon’s Town nobody gave me a second glance walking down our Waterfront.

Fact is that we’re all different, of course – six and a half billion unique human beings on this planet, our fingerprints prove it; and it’s not important how far apart we are geographically – what matters is how close we are culturally. There’s a difference, although there is a proportional relation.

If I start yodelling in the middle of Hamburg, passers-by will stop and stare. In a small village in North Korea I would get arrested and put in an asylum for that, but anywhere in Austria, folks would smile and join in. Well, the way I yodel some of them might think I am dying and call an ambulance, but that’s not the point.

The point is that others can tell very quickly that you’re different first by the way you look, and then by the way you speak. Or write?

That’s what I am trying to find out from you today : can you tell that I am German from the way I am writing this article? I publish COMPASS for subscribers on four continents (Asia doesn’t seem to be interested much) and I consciously try to choose a neutral style here.

Working in Public Relations, on other occasions I would use a different approach for a particular purpose. When I lived in London in 1979/80 I sometimes played a little game with myself at parties : how long could I hide the fact that I am German by putting on as much of a British drawl as I could muster?

After a while, the best score I achieved was just under one hour if I remember correctly – and it was either because of, or in spite of all that really good French red wine they offered there.

Now here in Austria, I spoke to a gathering of Germans and Austrians last week and all of them, without exception, were amazed that I hadn’t lost my northern German accent after 22 years in South Africa.

That’s how the waitress in the Park Cafe could tell we weren’t Austrian, so we had to be tourists : not everyone wears Lederhosen here so we didn’t look different, but I am not one to keep my mouth shut for long.

We spoke differently. Do I write differently? Please drop me a brief comment and tell me what gives me away – or doesn’t.

Next time I’ll ponder on whether it helps or hinders to be different – if there is pressure towards conformity, where does it come from? And why?

Until then, all the best from : Berend

Thursday, 29 March 2007 - Posted by | 1. COMPASS eNewsletter

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