Our company has its main office in Rotterdam (The Netherlands), and a second one in Zhytomyr (Ukraine). On Twitter you might have read that I am in Ukraine right now, together with two of my project managers, and it’s the first time that we’re visiting this country. That’s because our board of directors has recently decided that our web solutions division, for which I am “acting Business Unit Manager”, now not only comprises 60 people in The Netherlands, but also 40 people working in Ukraine.
(I am sure that it is a devious plot with the aim of making sure that I stop micro-managing whatever it was that I was still micro-managing. Here’s a tip for anyone who wants a manager to stop interfering with their people’s daily tasks: give him 100 people to manage. He will either stop micro-managing, or go insane.)
Well, after three days in Ukraine I’m starting to understand why it has been both good and difficult for some of my colleagues who traveled to Ukraine earlier. Let me give you some examples:
In the shops and restaurants most people don’t speak English. I try to narrow this language barrier by wearing a stupid expression on my face and smiling a lot. It helps (sometimes) because people will start using hand signals and other silent forms of communication. Like pointing at red table cloth to indicate red wine.
The letters in the alphabet are funny and all mixed up. The letter P sounds like an R, the letter B sounds like a V, the inverted letter N sounds like an I, etc. Together with a bunch of new letters we’ve never seen before this makes it very hard to order meals from a menu. And picking things at random can be very risky, as you might end up with a common dish called “fried brain”.
There is a sense of decency in this country that I have never encountered before. When entering the office people take their shoes off, and wear slippers. And then they all shake hands with those who have already arrived. My project managers and I have discussed importing those practices in the Netherlands as well. It would certainly add a new dimension of homeliness to our Dutch offices.
And last but not least, social interaction seems to be balanced differently. People in the shops hardly exchange a word or a smile with their (foreign) customers. But on the other hand, our own employees in Zhytomyr seem to be socially more active than their counterparts in Rotterdam. And we're happy to be included in that! (It’s as if they want our departure next week to be as emotional as possible.)
Of course, there’s much more to tell about Ukraine, the great people we have in Zhytomyr, and how we work together across a distance of 2000 kms. But I will save that for some other times.
First I’m going to take a nice bath in the pink bathroom of my rented apartment, enjoying hot water that will (hopefully) be heated with European gas.