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I am currently in London having just attended the wedding of my nephew-in- law, Alexander. Alexander is of Scottish Norwegian decent, and his new wife Constance is German. I wanted to share some reflections about this European Union experience.

The pre-wedding gathering on Friday night included a dinner of fish and chips and beer – very British! The post-wedding lunch on Sunday included special German sausage brought all the way from Germany, along with pretzels, sauerkraut and pear schnapps – very German!  

The congregation consisted of people from 20 nationalities of various age groups. The wedding ceremony was held at the Danish Church in Regents Park, London. The vicar happened to be Norwegian and throughout the service he interjected some of his native language.  The ceremony included a blending of German, Norwegian and English. Hymns were an even mix of German and English, with most people making an effort to sing along to both. The readings were also a combination of the different languages that were represented, while the wedding reception again had a blend of different European traditions.  

It made me appreciate how inclusive it was to mix and match the traditions, the effort required to ensure it was done well; and importantly the willingness of everyone to participate. It reminded me of my own wedding day where we mixed and matched English and Indian traditions. It added to the richness of the happy day. 

These were both successful days in part because of the full participation of the guests who did make the effort to engage in culturally unfamiliar traditions. It also provided a great opportunity for people to engage in conversations about why different customs are performed and their significance.  It became a true exchange of cultural knowledge and understanding between people of all ages and nationalities.  

A reasonable level of openness and flexibility when exposing ourselves to new experiences is so important for bridging cultures.  How we engage in these new experiences has such a profound impact on the outcomes; whether it be a wedding, getting the most from your overseas travel or working in cross border teams.  It requires an initial level of awareness that differences exist and a willingness to engage in new situations and experiences.   

This wedding was a true illustration of how when people make the effort to bridge cultural differences the positive outcomes that can be achieved.  While I acknowledge that there is a big difference between a social occasion such as a wedding as opposed to a work environment, where people are expected to work successfully in cross border teams, the foundational prerequisites are still the same – openness, flexibility, awareness and adaptability.

I was a guest speaker this month at the Australian Human Resource Institute Conference and was interviewed for the Human Resource Magazine.  If you would like to read the article please click here.

Please click here if you would like to read or follow our Cultural Intelligence Blog

Best Wishes
Tom Verghese

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