Saturday, February 2, 2008

The long and winding road

I was feeling a bit frayed this week: we're dealing with some tricky issues of defining how to run the business at work, and had meetings off-site most days and into the evening most nights. It was unusual for the Dutch, who generally adopt a sensible nine-to-five and don't-call-me-at-home approach to business Long road 2 boundaries. (And I'll happily acknowledge the wisdom of Nick's post on adopting a less-frantic approach to life).

Language differences make it harder. I know that others are forced to use English to accommodate me, and I try to acknowledge the effort by staying alert and engaged throughout. On a long series of days, this may be a mistake: it's just not possible to continuously hit that level. I'm experimenting with other ideas; for example, encouraging them to use Dutch when I'm familiar with the topic or when the speaker is struggling. In return, they are slipping back and forth a bit when they need to be clear about something. And I'm finding that I'm picking up more from the Dutch than even a few months ago.

And there are cross-cultural differences. For example, we were discussing why a recent presentation by the GM had left the team feeling more worried about the direction of the business. We agreed on the generally gloomy tone of the talk: I commented that, perhaps, he should have concluded with an expression of confidence in the future and the employees. Several others immediately disagreed: the Dutch simply would have preferred to see a completed plan for solving the problem.

Bleagh: now I felt stupid for advocating pointless cheerleading over thoughtful substance. I generally weigh my remarks to try be sure that they are crisp, clear, and consistent with local norms. My GM suggests that it's best to just dive in and keep a good sense of humor, rather than wait too long or be too dispassionate. Still, it can be frustratingly hard to try to always get things right.

By mid-week, I was sinking into a weariness with the constant effort that it takes to simply try to fit in. I wished that I didn't have to reflect on everything so carefully, to continually have to bridge the language gap, or to be willing to take lessons away from every interaction.

People have told me that a lot of expatriate success depends on how you deal with feelings like this. It isn't the time to go out and vent, or to stay in and avoid engagement: one colleague advised that he took a weekend in Italy when the stress piled up on him. An attractive solution: Flights are cheap, and somewhere the sun is out. That thought, alone, improved my mood (especially since I enlisted our marketing director, who had great suggestions for everything). The week turned better; Portugal beckons in mid-February.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Would you be cut out for the expat life?

  Expat Focus blog points out a BBC survey of expatriate Britons that indicates that they are both happier (90%) and more homesick (76%) than others in the UK.

  The survey mainly reflects opinions of retirees, and cites "British weather" as one main reason for leaving, behind "better quality of life, and the standard and cost of living in the UK".  Among the negatives were "missing family and friends, traditions and culture, and the British sense of humour".

  Most popular destinations were Canada, New Zealand, and Portugal; 60% said that they wouldn't be returning.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

End of the month account settlement

Each month, around the 25th, the banking cycle comes to a frenzied and unpredictable end.

Through the days credit card charges accumulate, wages are earned, utilities are consumed.  Unlike the US, all of this is invisible.  Credit cards cannot be accessed DSC03760 online, wages are paid once a month sometime in the last week, utilities fluctuate according to the weather.

During the last week of the month, they all collide in a maelstrom of debits and credits in my banks' cash account.

In the US, home of the hedge, I get a bill for each service, and  decide how much to pay or carry on each charge.  This allows for dynamic management of cash flow and interest month to month ("stress" for most Americans).

In the Netherlands, a cash economy, everything is suddenly extracted in full.

I've learned to transfer a few extra hundred euros into the account around the 22nd, and then to cross my fingers.  The dust usually settles by the 29th and I can transfer any excess back into the linked savings account, where it earns equally unpredictable interest (something over 2%, paid quarterly, on the minimum monthly balance above a threshold).

It would be nice to at least get airline miles for charges as compensation for all the excitement...