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Q&A: Local holidays party-pooper

Hi Christel, do you think I should I (pretend to) enjoy the celebration of local holidays? It seems to me that local celebrations are really important to my local staff, but sometimes I find it hard to get into them. For example, at my current post in Armenia they celebrate “women and beauty day”, which I think sounds a little bit offensive.

Dear Anonymous – please stop worrying. If you think that your local colleagues really care about how you feel about their holidays and traditions, you’re probably wrong. Remember that you are not their first American colleague or supervisor. They have seen many of you come and go, each one with their very own opinion about their cultural celebrations.

I happen to come from a country (the Netherlands) where they celebrate a holiday that is considered extremely racist by Americans (it involves people painting their faces black). However, it doesn’t help when outsiders come in and critique local customs. Locals will simply think that you don’t understand them.

Even if it turns out that you’re right in the long run, which you very well might be, try to be diplomatic about it. Or – even better – ask your colleagues and local employees what it’s all about and why it involves certain (crazy) customs. It's quite possible that things are different than they look like at first glance.


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