As we’re now at the end of the Ramadan, I’d like to tell you the following story that happened a few years ago.
“Bring your own lunch” was the format of the session the Communication Department had organized to discuss diversity issues. As a speaker at that event, I had invited a few international colleagues to form a discussion panel. For the sake of a large diversity and broad representation, I had sent my invitation a few weeks in advance to people I all knew personally from previous occasions about intercultural aspects. To be as complete as possible about the type of event they were invited to, I mentioned the format of the session (participants bringing their own lunch), not realizing (although actually knowing) that Ramadan would start a few weeks later.
No wonder none of the Muslim colleagues I had invited showed up, nor actually bothered to respond to my request. “What a lack of intercultural sensitivity”, they must have thought about my attitude… Me, their colleague and also mentor in intercultural awareness and the like! Needless to say, I did feel somewhat embarrassed after I realized my faux-pas.
Recognizing cultural differences in this global world is the first of four recommendations (a.k.a. the 4Rs) Dutch guru Fons Trompenaars suggests to reconcile these differences and develop best practices and win-win situations. Indeed, many intercultural misunderstandings and conflicts in the world happen because people working together ignore each other’s differences or are not open to sharing them or dealing with them. In my story, although I knew about the coming Ramadan, I did not immediately recognize its impact on some of the panel guests. I must say that other European colleagues were also a bit puzzled about this typically Dutch (Calvinistic?) habit of bringing your own lunch for the sake of simplicity and effectiveness. But that is another story for maybe another occasion.
And for now: Happy Eid al-Fitr!
For Eindhoven News: Vincent Merk
Vincent is a Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Management & Community Advisor at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), and he loves to write too.