February 28, 2008

Left of the Church

My son threw up his hands as he got to page 10 of the newspaper over his post-pranzo espresso, "Why does the church (Church) always have its hands in politics!"

As Veltroni gathers consensus for his new Partito Democratico he must come to terms with the Catholic church to have any chance of winning upcoming elections. He has chosen a wise position that aims to include the left-leaning Catholics into his fold and distance the PD from the radical anitclericalism of the farther left. Although the PD needs the Catholic vote, he reminds them that the lay nature of the State must be also be practiced and not only preached. "We can't enter into the 21st century with a counterposition of Catholics and lay people. It would mean that Italy is condemned to a never ending Porta Pia*." He calls for a shift in language -- for example, in the place of "in the defense of values", a move towards, "promoting values", as a first step. As he walks a fine line, he asks his lay followers to be ethically senstitive to Catholic positions and to make a conscious effort to get away from name calling.

The division runs deep and the left has historically been on the other side of the divide from the Church. Now it is up to Super Walter to build a bridge to the other side, and I have faith that his pragmatic and personable ways will pave a way.

a domani,
* The conquest of Rome in 1870 that led to its integration into the newly formed Italian state (1860).

February 23, 2008

Visit China

Just a quick note to introduce you to a fantastic blog, click here, for the expat community in China.

Maybe Alan Paul -- an American expat in Shanghai with his family and contributor to the Wall Street Journal -- should tune in and learn a few things about Chinese culture. From his column, The Expat Life, (click here), I have the impression that China is a kind of Disneyland whose main reason to exist is to entertain and provide endless opportunities for expat excursions and sightseeing. His children certainly enjoy all the excitement and rushing about, but are they investing in their CQ while living in China, or will they remember only lots of five-star hotels, weird old buildings, and their friends back at the gated expat community? Certainly a different experience than that of Barack Obama at six to nine years old (click here for blog entry)and the cross-cultural skills he gained while attending an Indonesian school and living Indonesian daily life.

Just a reverse cross-cultural moment...

a domani,

February 19, 2008

Mission impossible

Well, I did it. The forms have arrived, to be properly completed by our idraulico di fiducia (or family plumber), stamped, signed and returned. Then we will receive a mysterious phone call to set up a time for its arrival -- the Contatore (or gas meter) for a small apartment we are renovating to re-rent or sell. The saga of the gas line is long and involved with a bit of intrigue, insurmontable problems, heart-stopping miracles and finally an end in sight.

I got to play an important role in this play, "the ENI connection" with the mission impossible of getting a contatore hooked up once the line had been installed. For my coaching certification, I had participated in a "power tools" class on "game vs. significance" so I thought I would try this tool on myself and invent a game to keep me from getting frustrated and angry (and placing lots of "significance" on the whole thing).

I dutifully signed the "contract proposal" that had arrived by post and sent it off with a 249 euro payment before calling the 800 number as instructed.

call n. 1: "your contract proposal is not registered." She rummaged around, while I stayed on hold answering emails, before throwing up her hands and asking me to call back later -- the computer terminal was down.

call n. 2: very polite and helpful, listened to my story, and discovered that the proposed work had already been executed (without our approval and prior payment as required), but to make a request for the contatore she would need a PDR number (punto di riferimento). After further discussion about where I might find that number, I said I would call back.

Then the game started: how many calls would it take to make it happen? Every call was a point and if I get to 10, I will treat myself to an extravagant massage. 8, a lunch out with a friend, 6, leisurely coffee after the pool and so. Now I could enjoy the calls -- almost hoping they wouldn't end!

call. n. 3: to the head of the workmen to ask him to check for a little tag at the end of the gas line in the little box with ten numbers (the PDR) and call me back:

call n. 4: I called him back -- oops, so sorry but he had forgotten, tomorrow

call n. 5: There is a little yellow tag, but it only has six numbers -- a mystery. I take down the numbers anyway.

call n. 6: (wow -- a leisurely coffee earned!): "The numbers I read off were clearly NOT the PDR and she COULD NOT place the request for the contatore without these numbers."

so I got in the car -- 55 minutes of traffic(up the Cassia)and four flights later, all I could find was a yellow tag with six numbers. But I learned that NO ONE in the ENTIRE building had managed to get a contatore, although the gas line was clearly there. I was in good company and going for the lunch.

call. n. 7: to the building administratore -- maybe she would know something about the PDR, she had even been present the day the gas line was brought up to our apartment. I left a message.

call n 8: I left another message

call n. 9: I left a third message.

But I got a call back from her secretary who took notes and very efficiently called back later with a 20 number and letter sequence -- clearly not the ten number PDR but I thanked her anyway.

call n. 10: One last try to the ENI 800 number. The woman was kind and listened carefully to my story. Then she opened up our file and VoilĂ  -- there was the PDR. Turns out it had always been there, for any of the previous diligent call center employees to uncover. She filled out the contatore request and here we are, happily filling out forms with lots of stamps and signatures.

Mission accomplished (or almost) and to top it off -- I get to have an extravagant massage!

What's the lesson to all this -- with a little pazienza and just enough calls, someone will figure it out.

a domani,

February 17, 2008

Pasta + cappuccino = joint venture

We had a lovely lunch at Lo Scoglio on the beach in Sabaudia today, just an hour's drive south from Rome. A family from England sat at the table next to ours and we got to talking. She is on assignment from her company in England to set up a joint venture with an Italian company based in Rome while her husband stayed back in England with their two children. She commutes back most weekends while he comes down with the kids once a month. A Grandmother helps out.

We shuddered (along with the Italian couple on the other side) as they proceeded to order: plain pasta with tomato sauce, french fries, coke and two cappuccino. My husband tried to intervene to help with the menu, but they would hear nothing about fish, clams and such. The waiter said that this was normal for the British and the Germans to whom he prefers the Russians who blindly order the most expensive item and champagne.

As we waited for our orders, I asked how working in Italy had been so far. She replied that, "We are a few months behind the roll out schedule," and that it had been "more complex than anticipated." Sounds familiar. But, once they had basically excluded the Italian management from the picture, things are moving along quite nicely.

Hmmmm. I thought to myself, I wonder how successful this venture will be once the Brits have gone home and left ongoing management to the Italian company that had no say in the start-up process.

We exchanged cards when I told her about cross-cultural coaching and afterwards I considered how I would have worked with this prototype client -- a perfect example of someone who would have certainly had a less stressful and more successful experience living and working abroad with a cross-cultural coach as a partner. Maybe she would have even dared to take the family along for the year if she had been able to count on support and guidance.

I am inspired for this new profession and the potential for helping people live and work abroad at a higher and more conscious level. Need to hurry up with classes for certification and hit the road.

a domani,

February 16, 2008

How does he do that thing he does?

This afternoon I started Barack Obama's autobiography, Dreams from My Father. By page 67 and the age of 10, he had already been around the world and back, picking up many lessons and a bit of CQ to add to his IQ that speak to his success today.

On his mother's side, he had a pair of middle-class high school educated grandparents from Kansas who migrated to Hawaii via Texas and California. On his father's side, a tribe elder, respected farmer and medicine man from Kenya. His father and mother met in Hawaii, where his father had had come to study on a scholarship, married and had Barack jr. before he received another opportunity at Harvard, divorced and returned to Kenya, took up another wife and had six more children.

His mother re-married an Indonesian student in Hawaii and followed him back to his country with Barack when he was six years old, where they lived as a family until he returned to Hawaii and his grandparents for middle school.

Those CQ enhancing years years immersed in Indonesian (not expat) life left their mark as his mother wrestled with the fine line between adaptation and defining your home-country's cultural values -- she strongly wanted Barack to grow up with an American mindset and sensed the forces of Indonesian cultural values on his young mind.

As he recounts, she would list the values he was to learn:
Honesty (that hiding the refrigerator when the tax officials come is not ok even if the tax officials and everyone else expects you to do just that),
Fairness (good grades in exchange for a TV set to the teacher during Ramadan should not be a source of pride),
Straight Talk (don't lie about liking a gift if then you don't use it) and Independent Judgement (don't join the crowd and tease another kid for a funny haircut).

As she fought to transfer Kansas ways to her son, the reality of poverty, corruption and fear of security that lay all around young Barack, bred a realistic, fatalistic scepticism to counteract her efforts. She had that undying American belief that "rational, thoughtful people could shape their own destiny" that was not reflected in daily Indonesian life. She enlisted the image of his African father, the Black American heros of the day and the civil rights movement to strenthen her case that his roots and values lay elsewhere.

In this article on, "How Obama Does That Thing He Does", University of Oregon professor of rhetoric David A. Frank unravels the mystery of Obama's spellbinding oration that leaves listeners unsure of what he said, but convinced by what he means. "Obama relies, Frank writes, on a "rhetorical strategy of consilience, where understanding results through translation, mediation, and an embrace of different languages, values, and traditions."

"Obama disarms race for white people by largely avoiding the topic. When he does talk about race, he makes sure to juxtapose the traumas experienced by nonblacks with those experienced by African-Americans, but without ever equating the two. His rhetoric is designed to bridge the space between whites and blacks so they can occupy a place where common principles reside and the "transcendent value of justice," as Frank writes, can be shared.

A little CQ can go a long way!

a domani,

February 8, 2008

Zip in and out

While in Trento visiting my older son, I filled him in on IQ, EQ and the new concept of CQ. He was thoughtful before responding, "I don't know about the first two, but I would score high on the last one." So, while flying over snowfilled fields in a bubble on the weekend, I got to thinking about how he developed such high marks on his cultural quotient.

Of course, he is privileged, growing up with an American mother and an Italian father in Rome with summer vacations in New England and winters at a truly international school. But he even stands out among his peers of similar backgrounds. When he was an assistant counselor at a summer camp in New Hampshire at 16, the Director and several senior staff members told me individually that they couldn't believe he wasn't just an American kid. My son confided his secret, he simply "zips" himself into his American suit for the duration, shedding it on return. A few years earlier, after a few weeks at a day camp in Connecticut, he had the junior cultural differences figured out. "Mom," he explained, "kids do the same things everywhere, only the American kids do them to transgress while the Italian kids do them to experiment." Quite a lucid assessment of cultural differences for a 13 year old. Since then he has moved from Rome to Trento and fit in immediately to that very different culture as well. One difference he soon noted was that parents of friends in Rome would always accompany him to the doorstep, whereas in Trento he was left on the other side of the road so that they wouldn't have to do two round abouts to be on their way. He shrugged, "it is just different." I am sure that parachuted into a remote area of China and left to his own for a month, he would have it all figured out and be accepted as an integral member of the local society. He just has that something.

I watch him and observe how he intensely observes all that is around him when in a new situation -- how people move, interact, smile, joke, get angry, introduce themselves, make friends, move in and out of peer groups. He watches. Then he slowly moves, with small steps to test the waters. As each step is reinforced and he takes another and builds cross-cultural skills along the way with confidence and respect for differences.

Americans are doers, all action and moving forward, taking control, getting things done. Maybe developing CQ is about just "being", and watching, listening, observing. Not taking action, but belonging as a goal. More than the head, it takes the body and the heart.

Any thoughts?
a domani,