Mosaics of Culture (And British Queueing Etiquette)

There are at least 195 countries on planet Earth, and we are extremely proud to have a magnificent mosaic of representatives from 28 of those countries onboard our fleet, resulting in a convergence of widely different customs, social behaviours and ideas.

Being culturally aware or culturally competent helps us reduce the chances of making bad decisions. In the same instance, being culturally competent increases the chance that we will make more insightful, considered decisions. However, unfortunately the development of cross-cultural competency is somehow absent from the agendas of most maritime education and training, even though our sector is highly globalised and the maritime labour market widely multicultural. I would agree with experts that perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on developing the concept of cultural awareness and thus the key driver has been neglected: our own cultural identity. After all, how are we supposed to understand other cultures if we do not even understand our own?

Our own cultural identity is multifaceted and rather complex. However, understanding the many aspects helps us to ac- knowledge and understand others. Having an open-minded attitude will help us become more aware of the diversity of the people around us and to achieve cultural awareness. We must recognise and understand that we all have different values shaped by our diverse cultural backgrounds. Being self-aware also prevents us from projecting our values onto others and, in the process, helps us relate more effectively across cultural lines. What we might consider to be “normal” behaviour or practice in one country can be quite different in another.

The act of queuing may sound peculiar or alluring, but it just means to wait in line, and the British are renowned for doing it and doing it well! It has been said that we like queuing so much, that we will join a queue then ask what it is for. That is partly untrue. In fact, we dislike queuing just as much as anyone else. The only difference is that we have utter respect for the convention of queuing and scorn anyone who tries to manipulate it. According to historian Dr Joe Moran, “The orderly queue seems to have been an established social form in the early 19th Century, a product of more urbanised, industrial societies which brought masses of people together.” So, in case we are ever travelling together, please keep it in mind!

Cultural competence is a term starting to be used in organisations that identify their awareness and responsiveness to culture in the workplace. Developing your own cultural competence requires you to investigate your own background, which is made up of the experiences, values and knowledge of your own family and community history. Think back to your own childhood, where you may have been confronted with cultural differences. One of the most powerful ways to show your colleagues that you respect and appreciate them is by being open to the traditions and values of all cultures. In the 21st century, we need to have the ability to get along with other cultures, ethnic groups and races at all levels of society. In our diverse maritime spheres and societies, there is a pressing need to effectively communicate cross-culturally.

We can start by getting to know each other better and learning about our colleagues. Accepting that everyone has a unique background and trying to learn about one another can help strengthen our teams, improve communication, and help us do a better job for the clients that we serve. It also makes our workplace a more interesting and enriching environment. Let us ditch the assumptions and stereotypes, treat others as individuals, and start learning about the different cultures of the people that we are fortunate to share this journey with.

If you want to get ahead in the UK, it is always advisable to respect the queueing system. Here are the rules:

a) Do not jump the queue or push in.
b) Do not ask the person behind you to mind your place while you go to buy a coffee or visit the toilet.
c) If you are carrying a suitcase or pushing a supermarket trolley, do not crash into the heels of the person in front of you.

On the other hand, it is perfectly acceptable to roll your eyes, click your tongue and sign in disgust when the line moves slowly. Feel free to glare at the person at the front of the queue if they decide to make small talk with the airport check-in team or the bank teller. And if you see someone pushing in say, “Sorry, excuse me” in a terse, slightly raised voice. This works every time!

Richard Knighton, Fleet Personnel Director