Each morning, as I walked to my office, most of my co-workers would keep their heads down or shyly glance up as I passed by. Combine that with my...new expat state (i.e.: scared shitless), I wouldn’t say hello to them either. I would just let them stare at me...walk by...and say nothing. This wasn't going to help the situation...
I learned the Malagasy phrase of, Manaona, Il voe voe. (I’m sure that I brutalized the spelling, but it means, simply, Hey, what's new?).
After a few days of timidly walking past the uncomfortable stares, I started to say Manaona, Il voe voe, to ANYONE AND EVERYONE. Surprised, my co-workers started to see that I'm not the big cranky scary monster that I looked like.
Some of the my braver co-wokers would teach me a word here or there. The more Malagasy I learned, the more confident I became, and the more that I spoke. The more I spoke, the less scary I became and the more people would talk to me and be less timid.
Along with learning Malagasy, I would talk “Canadian” to encourage more conversation.
Example: I eat my breakfast every day at work. When someone would come into my office to ask a question or to give me something, I would ramble on about what Canadians typically each for breakfast. And then ask what people in Madagascar typically eat for breakfast (anything eating and Madagascar is involved, you can assume it always starts and ends with rice). Then more and more we were sharing the back-and-fourth conversations with each other.
One rotation I brought back a figurine of a moose - to show them something Canadian. I left it on my desk. And waited for the questions...
It was probably a week or so before one of my co-workers asked what it was. I explained that it was an animal found where I live and goes hand in hand when you think of “Canada”. Then more questions,
And so on ....(by the way, I’m looking for a figurine of a beaver if anyone has one. Haven’t been able to find a small one anywhere!) .
A few weeks ago, I was in a staff meeting, and was tired and concentrated at the task at hand, and getting a little impatient in the meeting. This translates to me coming across as...well...not aggressive, but very...factual and right to the point. Less...pleasant...( I should also mention here that its people do not ask questions here during meetings, even when encouraged. This makes even the smallest tasks more challenging for all involved).
So we had this meeting where I’m concentrating (i.e.: cranky) and I’m trying to push the meeting forward... So we had the meeting, went over everything, encouraged questions, and then went back to to our offices.
A few minutes later, a co-worker, who was in the meeting, comes into my office. He's asking questions about what he didn't understand during the meeting. I’m a bit frustrated as we have had the conversation over and over again that he has to ask questions if he doesn’t understand!!
I asked him, Why didn’t you say anything during the meeting? It’s quite possible that other people had the same question as you?
He replies that he is too intimidated.
I just make a face.
He continues, You know...you are like your Canadian moose sometimes. Very aggressive. (No idea if moose are aggressive...)
I said, Do you think so?
He continues, Yes. I think you should be re-named “moose” from now on. (This was extremely ballsy of him, I think!)
I’m half frustrated and half laughing. I replied, Well ... GOOD!! I’m going to continue to be an aggressive moose until you learn how to be an aggressive moose and speak up during meetings.
He got a huge smile.
I continued, Okay, then, it's settled. You will be Moose Be (be = big) and I will be Moose-kelly (kelly = little).
This made my day. I felt like I was sort of fitting in and being treated like.. a normal person by my co-workers.
Actually, it continues to make many days... because when he gets too timid or is skirting around a certain issue, I’ll call him Moose Be, he’ll get a smile, and then go off and do whatever it is he needed to do. It’s a very small baby step.. but extremely rewarding.
I held a meeting last week in front of about 8 people and he asked THREE questions. THREE!! :)
It’s taken me nearly a year to feel like I fit in here...and there are still a lot of days where I completely do not fit in at all. So these little things... make a huge difference.