Thursday 10 December 2015

Travelling on Business

I have a sad tale from a reader who travelled on business to a traditionally macho nation. She was there for some weeks, long enough to get to know some of the men there, also employees of her multinational employer. I shall call the two principal men Hans and Franz although this was not a German-speaking country.

Hans was a cheerful chap with a steady girlfriend, but also apparently the sort of man who complains that other guys get all the girls.

Franz was charming, handsome and, according to Hans, was one of those guys who gets all the girls.

To make a long story short, Franz began to flirt with our heroine, whom I will call Sally, in a way that shocked her. To paraphrase, "Do you always talk to female colleagues that way?" she demanded. "Only when I like them," quoth he.

This carried on for a bit, Franz oozing charm and handsomeness, and Sally trying to figure out if he was at all serious when he said he wanted to kiss her. One day she and Hans spotted Franz with another girl. "Something's brewing there," said Hans, and Franz and the other girl disappeared. Who knows where?

But Franz continued to make his flirtatious remarks, including that he did not want to talk, he wanted to kiss, and when Sally was preparing to go home to her English-speaking country, even though they have never really had a serious conversation, he asked her if she would like to be his girlfriend.

Sally was shocked, doubtful, thrilled. No-one had ever asked her to be his girlfriend before. But being a practical woman, she asked how that would be possible, as they live so far away. He suggested sexting. I'm not sure what Sally said to that--I suspect she let it slide. At any rate, Franz gives sexting the old college try when Sally gets home, she tells him off, and that is that.

Except that Sally really misses him and wonders if she should contact him to apologize and explain, and if she made a terrible mistake in not agreeing to be his girlfriend.

And my head fell into my hands, for I had got Franz's number when I read the part of the story in which he said that he wasn't interested in talking. But to be frank, I had half Franz's number, thanks to Hans' subtle English-is-his-second-language warnings.

Talk about a culture clash. I wonder if innocent Sally confused player Franz as much as he confused her.

I think women from English-speaking nations should be taken aside and warned about men from non-English speaking nations before business trips.* It should be banged into our heads that not all countries have the same codes of office conduct, and not all men take them as seriously as the men in our offices.**  A Single woman travelling alone who is leaving in a few weeks is still a Single woman travelling alone who is leaving in a few weeks.  If that Single woman is travelling to a country where having sex with as many pretty women as possible is a national past-time, she is more likely to be hit on by male colleagues than she would be at home.

Manager: Franz, I hear from head office in London that you made sexual overtures to Sally.

Franz: Ah, Sally. So sexy, so foreign.

Manager: Did you score?

Franz: (long pause). Alas, no.

There are useful little books for business travellers, and I highly recommend that everyone who works with people from other countries read them. For example, the behaviour of one of my foreign colleagues in the theologate seemed to me so odd that I read a business travel guide to his country, and much was made clear.

The fact is that although all people belong to one great family called the human race, and we all share a lot in common, we also have significant cultural differences, and some of them--a lot of them--pertain to sexuality. One piece of evidence is the national indicator for virginity loss by age 15. In Canada, roughly the same number of boys (24.1%) and girls (23.9%) have had their first "sexual experience" by the age of 15.  In Israel, however, it's 31% of boys, and 8.2% of girls. Could there perhaps be a stronger sexual double standard in Israel than there is in Canada? Hmm....

Grandmothers fearlessly used to warn their granddaughters about men from other countries, and my own grandmother warned me against Italian men before I went to Italy, predicting that my bottom would be pinched black and blue. Well, maybe that was true in the 1950s, but nobody pinched my bottom in Italy in 1998, 1999, 2010 or anytime since. I suspect Grandma was seriously out of date.

But that said, the whole world is not London or New York or Toronto and so we shouldn't be caught off guard when men do not act like most men born in London, New York or Toronto. When the elevator boy at your resort in Egypt (France, Italy, Greece, Brazil, Turkey, Poland) tells you that he has fallen in love with you at first sight, he is lying 99% of the time.

The older I get, the more amused I am at the idea of foreign elevator boys, foreign seminarians, foreign owners of grocery stores telling me that they are in love with me, but then I'm happily married.

It's not so funny for women who are lonely and wish they did have a boyfriend, let alone a husband. The battle between good sense and wishful thinking must be very bloody when an American/English/Canadian woman is suddenly romanced by a handsome man from a macho country where constantly hitting on women is just what men do there.  And unless marriage is a ticket out of poverty, marriage to Foreign Woman is almost never on their minds. The goal here is not marriage. The goal here, if it is not just flirtation for flirtation's sake, is sexy fun bedtime with as few complications as possible. Thus your ticket home makes you even more attractive.

Update: There are two heroes in this story. The first is Sally, who strove to remain professional. The second, of course, is Hans, who tried to balance loyalty to his pal Franz with warnings to Sally.

*That said, the most devastating film about bad workplace behaviour I ever saw, The Company of Men, was set in the USA. That though was about men who were vicious woman-haters, not men who think women are like fine wine and other valued comestibles.

**That said, not all the men in our workplaces are so good about that, either. I've heard some eyebrow raising stories about British workplaces.


  1. Sigh. Cut Sally's phone line and interwebs, so she cannot contact Franz. Perhaps let her get in touch with Hans first, who can regale her with a few home truths about what Franz has been up to and with which girls and how many, since Sally left.

    Seriously though, I agree with the heroism awards, and sympathise with poor Sally. Clearly, her joy at being found desirable by handsome fella Franz overrode all the numerous alarm bells that must/should have been going off in her head. Yet she still did not give in to sleazy Franz. Big props to Sally! (and in doing so she just helped all single women around the globe to redefine a tiny bit the standard of expected behaviour from men).

    I had feminist women friends who came back from Latin America shocked at how blatantly and aggressively the men flirted with them. Latin women may be so used to it they just roll their eyes, but even tough Anglo gals were unsettled by it...

    Interesting the dynamics Franz used - he clearly upped the ante when his flirting wasn't enough to get to the bedroom, with first a girlfriend status offer as time ran out and then sexting. Perhaps Sally did confuse him; she certainly frustrated him :)

    And as for Anglo office standards; we had a notorious case recently where an engaged office gal in her 20s had a fling with a male superior in front of tinted office windows at night. They thought their escapades were private; the patrons at the pub over the road disagreed, and several filmed it and posted it to social media and newspapers. Result: man's marriage on rocks; girls engagement over. Those office codes may actually be there to help. Needless to say, there was never any prospect of a long term relationship, just like with Franz. A salutary tale.

    Did Sally lodge a sexual harassment complaint against Franz? She should have, especially with the sexting. But then, I suppose she was still possum in the headlights over his girlfriend offer...

    I'm sure you gently read Sally the Riot Act about Flirty Franz' worldwide...

    Southern Bloke.

  2. Hmm. Since Sally does not have to work with Franz now, I personally would not recommend a sexual harassment complaint. It sounds easy and logical--"Make a complaint!"--but in real time, it can blow back on the woman (or man). Sad to say. And see my imaginative portrait of Franz' manager. Suddenly I remember a story about some guys from Saudi Arabia visiting a friend's office in the UK. They stared at the women the whole time, and when invited to ask questions, one asked, "Does your husband mind you working?"

  3. Hmmm. I suppose, assuming Sally does not have to make return trips to work with Franz and Hans again. I know blowback on harassment complainants is real, but if no-one complains, what progress can be made?

    Perhaps Hans and some local buddies can impress upon Franz the inappropriate nature of his behaviour? But that assumes they are aware of the cultural distinctions themselves...

    Eeep - the Saudi example is disturbing. I can only hope your friend said their husbands were thrilled their wives were using their brains to help the household income.

    Have a nice holiday :)


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