Society · Subversion

Foreign Names and The Subtle Frictions of Diversity

As we are all fully aware of, diversity is our greatest strength. Working in highly effective racially and culturally homogeneous teams and companies is therefore no longer something we can do. Part of it is perhaps because it would just be too easy to operate with a shared set of values. Instead, the modern employee enjoys a “gamified” workplace, and part of that is the artificial difficulty that comes with collaborating with people from all over the (third) world.

Sometimes, I wonder if God enjoys playing cruel jokes on me, for instance when I found myself in a “task force” consisting of me, two Indians, one African, a Romanian, and Turk, and a Pakistani. There are of course the usual difficulties of dealing with people whose English is barely functional. I quickly realized something else: just the fact that these people had names that had a spelling that was rather foreign to each of us, with the exception of the two Indians, made working with them quite difficult.

Now you may think that I am surely exaggerating. Yet, it takes a bit of time to get used to first names like Nwankwo, Suryakumar,  Gheorghe, Haseebullah, or Kazımcan. Everybody is butchering each other’s names all the time. In the first meeting, easily five to ten minutes get wasted on people asking about how to pronounce each other’s name because nobody wants to offend anybody else but the effect is often nil. Written communication also comes with some friction because you probably need to look up some of those spelling repeatedly until you have memorized them and if you work with enough third-worlders you probably will only remember the spelling of a small fraction of them.

Of course, the knee-jerk response is that it is some kind of white supremacist thinking that everybody should come from the same culture. This is not really the point. Instead, the issue is that even in relatively trivial aspects, such as people’s names, “diversity” does not add anything. Quite the contrary. On top, you are dealing with people from incompatible cultures and some with surprisingly lacking education. One of the highlights of my career is witnessing Ukrainians insist on not wanting to work with Russians as they were not supportive of Putin’s special military operation. Put a Pakistani in a team with an Indian and you may also get a sense that there is something fundamentally wrong with forcing people from all over the world to work with each other.

I have worked in ethnically white teams and the level of productivity in these teams was far higher, sometimes a magnitude higher, than what I am observing in culturally diverse teams. Even white teams with guys from Belarus or Russia work very well. In fact, I sometimes found myself enjoying it more to work with Russians than Western Europeans. Back then I did not realize it but everything is smoother when you skip past needless frictions altogether. You sit together with Mike, Jack, Peter, Chris, and James, briefly talk about what needs to be done, and then things get done.  Talking about working in all-white teams, though, is akin of having some 90 year-old guy talk about his time in WWII. Never forget what they took from us.

3 thoughts on “Foreign Names and The Subtle Frictions of Diversity

  1. Well, this is crazy, I am a copywriter from Africa and l have found myself working for clients in America, Singapore and India. I am somehow not very impressed by the English spoken by these nationalities, not all of them are good speakers or writers despite English being their native language. I once had a client of French descent who learned English as a second language and it was very difficult communicating. Just something to add, European English might be different from American and also different from Scandinavian English because as Africans we speak English based on our colonial masters, my country was a British colony, so my English is British. I have had to learn American English by listening to podcasts and reading American blogs for decades because I usually want to write for that audience. However, I have had clients from Poland, the UK and also America who didn’t have a proper grasp of the language.

    1. I can confirm that the French struggle with English. At work I hardly ever interact with people from France but I recall difficulties communicating with French students at university. Sadly this includes some very attractive French women who were into me but, alas, I found it too tiresome to listen to them. It can be challenging enough to listen to a woman talk when there are no language issues at all, after all.

    2. English is not the native language of Indians, and only for some in Singapore.

      Speakers of British English will have no problem understanding speakers of American English, and vice versa (excluding a few words and some slang).

      French people are notoriously arrogant about speaking anything other than French, so no surprise there.

      The best non-native English speakers in Europe tend to be Scandinavians, as we don’t dub our movies or TV shows (except for small children), so we are constantly getting native-speaking English input. Since our languages are so small most of us mainly participate in English-language spheres of the Internet as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.