People, places and things

When considering how to implement a program in a setting with which you are not familiar, it is important to find out how things work.  You’ve probably heard the story about Chevrolet launching the Nova in Latin America, not considering that the brand, translated to Spanish actually means “will not go,” which isn’t such a great message for a new car.  While this is an error of language, which seems obvious in retrospect, there are other simple assumptions that may cause similar problems in design and implementation:

– in many parts of the world names do not follow the given name and surname model, with the surname passed on from the father

– when there aren’t street names, there often aren’t addresses

– when employment isn’t reliable, neither is the place people call home, but there are often patterns in the times and places to which people move

– while mobile phones are becoming ubiquitous, prepaid phones mean that numbers are not always kept by the same person

– without a clock, one might not know the time and without a calendar, one might not know the date

– in some countries, the calendar is different from what we use

– federal holidays are not always announced in advance

– in some places white, not black, is associated with death

– different parts of the body are considered tantalizing in different places.  just because it’s acceptable for a woman to show her midsection, doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable to show her knees

I’m sure that other people have examples of customs and taboos and things that they have learned throughout their work experience and travels around the globe.  I welcome comments to share those here.

One thing to remember in all of this is that  we have all said or done things that weren’t quite right.  The most important thing is to pay attention to your surroundings and take cues from those around you to alter your behavior and change your plans when you learn something new.  Humility, an apology, and the flexibility to change plans can go a long, long way.


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