“But why, why do you smile all the time?” a friend at work gets asked on an alarmingly regular basis. “Why are you so bubbly?”
It seems there’s a time and place to be happy and indulge in meaningless but enjoyable chit chat. It’s limited to the corridors and kitchens of many workplaces in Latvia. Once in the office and juggling the many tasks at hand we change.
There’s simply no beating around the bush in the Latvian business world. Workplace communication is strictly business.
Via e-mail and on the phone many of us will be direct, blunt you might even say. Small talk is neither expected nor tolerated much. In fact, I was recently witness to two acquaintances bonding over their joint dislike of some aspects of intercultural communication. They quite simply “don’t have the time to discuss the weather and personal life.”
It’s precisely that common courtesy element I miss in my day to day business dealings in Latvia. Is it really too much to ask that you write “Dear Lelde” rather than “Lelde, FYA”? Followed by a simple “How’s the day going” instead of barking out orders. Must you write a one word answer?
Of course, there is a plus side to this. We do get a heck of a lot done. Imagine all those precious minutes saved, all otherwise “wasted” on futile small talk.
This may seem like quite the generalisation so I will acknowledge that people are more and more actively trying to foster a culture of pleasantries. This is particularly true of the younger generations and creative industries.
I’ve recently been exchanging emails with the loveliest of project managers at a local creative agency who never fails to cheer me up with her “have a wonderful day” style sign-offs, genuine or not. Likewise, I’ve exchanged a fair few jokes with a chap who’s been waiting a very long time for my superiors to sign his contract.
Another “breed” is the real estate agent, in fact, they’re probably closely related to many employed in direct sales. I’ve even been mildly offended by just how informal real estate agents think they can be.
In any case it’s still the cross-border e-mails that make me smile the most.