Working across cultures


You have all heard the phrase. “The world is now a global village”.  This is true.

Some of you saw my recent articles on

Management does not equal leadership

How to retain your best employees

Unglish is not an international language

Gate keepers.


Many managers in Uganda are not leaders.  They treat their employees like dirt since unemployment among graduates is 80-90%.  Wrong. Respect the people who work for you in order to retain the best employees. Every employee you lose cuts into your bottom line.

Unglish is not a language you can use globally.  Stop being lazy.

Gate keepers are to be respected. Never mistreat them or the price you pay will be high.

Timezones are crucial for global work. Your BPOs will not work if people think the whole world is in the Uganda timezone.

Here are some things I learned in one of my previous jobs.

1) In some cultures, shaking your head up and down means non.  In many cultures shaking the head that way means yes. The reverse is true for moving your head sideways.

2) In some cultures, YES means I heard you.  Wait till the project is not delivered on time when you asked about the deadline and the other person said YES!

3)  In some places, “you take the elevator and I will take the stairs”.  This literally means “do it your speedy way, I will take my time”.

4)  Time and meetings. Some cultures believe that showing up in time is insulting.  The West says time is time.  Now you can think about your 9am appointments and you do not see the person till many hours later. Time!

5) Auntie and uncle are used as signs of respect for family members.  Even my own kids used to call me Auntie Leah.  Imagine the confusion on the immigration officers faces.

6) Cousins are called brothers or sisters.  In some cultures.

7) In most cultures, people say when asking for something and they also say Thank You.  They also say Sorry when they realise they have made an error in something.  Many Ugandans whatsap “hey, send me audio” OR “where is dat audio?”

The employer flew in a cultural specialist to teach us how to work with people in different countries. I learned a lot but only took the jokes away.
a) Lunch is ready.  Come and eat. He would say “but I am not hungry”.  She would get angry and say “it is time to eat whether you are hungry or not!”.
b) An East Indian man got into some trouble in USA.  He showed up in court.  The judge set bail to the tune of some $15,000.

His lawyer asked for recess. Within an hour, the guy returned with $15,000 cash.  He had gone into the Indian neighbourhood shop to shop and people had given him the money.

The judge asked him if he had all the names of the people who lent him the money.  Reply, “I do not have the list but I would do the same for them”.  He got his bail.

Some Ugandans have accused me of comparing Uganda to Canada.  What is there to compare?

The unemployment rate in Uganda is 80-90%.  Unemployment in Canada is 7.4%.

Uganda’s GDP per WB numbers is $575 per capita.  Canada’s GDP per capita is $50,000+.  Just because you do not like to read what I write does not mean I am comparing Uganda to Canada.  I grew up in Canada so I write about what happens here so that Ugandans can see that things could be better.  They do not have to be the same.

Information you could use.
Martha Leah Nangalama
Moncton, Canada
Whatsap +15068716371.
Find me on Google+, Linkedin, Facebook and all social media.

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