Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandra Levit. I had not come across Alexandra before and it was a conversation with my friend Laurie Ruettimann that put us in touch. Given Alexandra is a very well regarded in the space of careers and the workplace I was curious to see where the conversation would go… it went global!
Alexandra is in the process of spending 4 months in the UK with her family for among other reasons, to experience a different culture and to expand her global competence (I think that’s the term she used). We shared a drink and exchanged stories and experiences (I shared some of my China and Hong Kong experiences amongst others).
In reflecting on the conversation afterwards a thought occurred to me and it reminded of an encounter I had a few years ago. I was on holiday in Cuba and being it’s one of the few places on Earth it’s really clear that people are Canadian and NOT American I was enjoying getting to know a few people from Canada. The first person I had chatted at length to was a female marine engineer from Newfoundland who was, to put it mildly, getting all she could from the all-inclusive bar and proceeded to power-drink for the 4 days I spent at this particular resort.
It was my third afternoon sat in the beautiful Caribbean sunshine when I was joined at a neighbouring bar stool by an older gentleman wearing a baseball cap from an exhibition in Toronto. We got to chatting and it turned out he was spending the twilight years of his career consulting in the government trade arena having worked from the Canadian Trade Department for over 35 years. In the course of the conversation he happened to mention that he had been fortunate to visit every country in Asia, at times spending weeks or months working on particular ‘missions’ or projects.
What a fascinating and modest man. We chatted for over 2 hours but the point he made that really stuck with me was that in order to understand a country you really needed to spend time there. He mentioned a few books and models that he referred to in assisting his understanding but mainly his research was arriving in advance of any particular assignment and spending a few days walking around, seeing people going about their daily lives and chatting to people in normal settings – not the enforced facade of government trade talks. He remarked how this real life understanding had on many occasions given him valuable insight that had facilitated progress in the ensuing formal sessions.
So I guess Alexandra has it sussed in that she is here, experiencing the UK first hand and meeting normal people (I AM normal!) and getting to understand the mentality of a nation in real life.
The piece of insight the older gentleman shared with me that has also stuck with me concerned the aforementioned marine engineer. During the course of our conversation she appeared at the bar several times with an insulated commuting mug to get it refilled with Mojito. On observing this my companion remarked “in Newfoundland drinking is more a sport than a pastime” and then he took a beat and added, “and she is quite the athlete”
P.S. Alexandra asked me for some examples of great British TV she should be watching (or watch from the past) and I blanked only coming up with BlackAdder (from series 2 onwards) and Yes, Minster – any other suggestions?