Welcome to The Bicultural Podcast.
This episode will give insight into
- Nadya’s story about being bicultural
- Differences between British and South African audiences
- Experiences of Israeli culture
Hi Nadya, how are you?
Nadya Nicola (00:33):
Hi, Janina. I’m well, thank you. How are you?
Janina Neumann (00:36):
I’m very well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to have you on my podcast.
Nadya Nicola (00:40):
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Janina Neumann (00:42):
So tell us a bit about yourself.
Nadya Nicola (00:45):
So, my name is Nadya. I am originally from South Africa, but I have lived in the UK for over 20 years now. Not necessarily that you can tell from my accent. In South Africa, I qualified as an attorney, but I wanted a change of tack. That was one of the reasons for emigrating. And so when I came here, I studied again and requalified and started working as a consultant at Accenture. And then I moved onto working in training and development, and that ultimately led to a career in writing, which I now do. And I consider myself now a specialist in communications.
Janina Neumann (01:33):
Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your business?
Nadya Nicola (01:38):
So because of my background in law and having practiced as a solicitor, I felt that it would be the most appropriate for me to target my communication skills to the legal profession. It’s also something that in my experience, lawyers aren’t actually that brilliant at and could do with a bit of support. What I do is I focus on smaller firms, sole owners, and up to say three partners or a partner and a couple of fee earners, to help them market their firms and to let people know what it is that they do, and to stand out from their competitors. I also help them to sort of formulate in their own minds, what is their USP, what they have to offer, why they are special, who they are targeting, what it is in particular that they want to do for their customers. And yes, I find that quite a useful exercise. I think that once you’re clear on those things, that selling yourself becomes a lot easier. So that’s what I try and do to help lawyers who are not necessarily specialists in the marketing side of things.
Janina Neumann (02:59):
That’s a fantastic niche. And just from my experience, I’ve always found that bicultural people are actually fantastic at putting themselves into other people’s shoes so they can actually communicate with their clients better. So I can see how those skills are really valuable in how you help other people. So that’s fantastic.
Nadya Nicola (03:23):
Yeah, that’s an interesting perspective. I’ve never thought of it that consciously, but you’re right in that I consider myself always having had to be a bit of a chameleon and sort of, you know, fit in and it makes you hyper-aware of how other people communicate because you want to communicate yourself in that way in order to make yourself understood. And you have to learn it deliberately. It’s not like when you’re born into a culture where it’s automatic, so you’re quite right. You learn to listen to these sort of cues that you wouldn’t necessarily have to do or know how to do if you weren’t bicultural.
Janina Neumann (04:05):
Yes, that’s what I certainly found as well, particularly because you want to integrate well into the culture. So you do have to understand how they communicate, but also to not perhaps stand out when you don’t want to stand out.
Nadya Nicola (04:23):
Janina Neumann (04:25):
So when did you become bicultural, Nadya?
Nadya Nicola (04:29):
So I find that a really interesting question because again, that’s not something that I have been conscious of. It’s not like the transition happened from one moment to the next, and I thought “Now I’m bicultural”. I found the first move I made, that I was aware of, was when I was six years old and we moved from South Africa to Israel. In a way, it was expected the culture shock because it was a different language. And I knew that the society would be entirely different and being bilingual in Israel, sort of set me apart as someone who was bicultural. So that was, I suppose, the beginning of my consciousness as being bicultural would be from around the age of six. The interesting thing is that when, as an adult, I moved to the UK, we went back to South Africa when I was 10, and I grew up in South Africa, and then as an adult I moved to the UK at the age of 10, and at that point, I was not expecting to experience that biculturalism again, because having been raised as an English-speaking South African, and with a very English flavour to English-speaking South Africans, I expected a seamless transition into British culture thinking that I was already immersed in that culture.
Nadya Nicola (06:09):
And that was when I really became aware of being bicultural, because that was a big shock to my system, finding out that, in fact, my culture was very different from the British/English culture, despite the, well, again, what I thought was a common language, because there were a lot of things that are not common.
Janina Neumann (06:29):
Yeah, that’s really interesting.
So could you tell us a little bit more about some of the differences between the cultures?
Nadya Nicola (06:37):
In a way it’s funny, South African culture is very outspoken, very blunt, honest is how I would put it. I find the English culture, certainly the way of communicating, let’s say, rather than culture, it’s a way of communicating. I would say is much more obtuse and opaque. So for example, if as a South African, I would say “That’s interesting”, that genuinely means that I find this thing interesting, and I would like to discuss it a bit more or read up about it or something like that.
Nadya Nicola (07:18):
I found in the UK that referring to something as “interesting”, particularly if you’re in a business meeting, meant that this thing was totally ridiculous and never to be looked at again. So I was in my early days in this country and working in this country, I got stuck a lot in these sorts of misunderstandings if you like, and this refers back to our earlier point about having to learn the language in order to not stick out. I found myself once being referred to as “A breath of fresh air”, which I thought was a tremendous compliment. In fact, I still choose to take it as a compliment, but I suspect that’s not how it was meant, but in English speak, what they were saying is “You’re different”, but it’s rude to tell someone that they’re different. So you say, “Oh, you’re a breath of fresh air”.
Nadya Nicola (08:05):
Another thing, for example, even with my family. My husband’s English, and sometimes I find communicating with his family challenging. For example, I’ve learned now after, you know, 11 years of marriage, but like, I’d say to my sister-in-law, “Will you guys come around to us for dinner on Friday night?”, and she’d say, “I’d get back to you”. So Thursday phone, I say, “You haven’t got back to me. Are you coming for dinner tomorrow? Aren’t you?”. And she was so surprised that I had pursued this at all because as far as she’s concerned, she’d said “No”. But I hadn’t heard a “no”. I’d heard, “I’ll get back to you”. Yeah, so things like that, but you know, 20 years on and I’m learning, I’m getting the hang of it. Finally. Slowly.
Janina Neumann (08:56):
Well, when I say “That’s interesting”, I honestly mean “I find that interesting”. So I’ve also heard “You’re a breath of fresh air”, and you’re right, they probably did mean I’m different. But then also, I think being business owners, I think you need to be different because, you know, the client can’t solve their own problems with their own thinking because otherwise, they would have solved them already. So they actually need a new way of thinking.
Nadya Nicola (09:26):
Yes, yes, I agree with you. Absolutely. And now that I’m much older and wiser and more confident in myself, I quite enjoy being slightly different. I quite enjoy having a different perspective, and a more international take on things. I can draw on all these different cultures that I’ve had exposure to. And I do believe that that enriches my offering to my customers, and just generally, you know, in my life. But yeah, you know, like when you’re 20 something, you don’t want to hear that you’re different, you want to know that you fit in.
Janina Neumann (10:05):
I certainly felt that when I was growing up in the UK. Yes, as a teenager, all you want to do is fit in. And only when you start to grow up, you realise, actually, you don’t want to fit in. I think every teenager goes through that, and it’s a bit more challenging sometimes when you’re trying to integrate into a different culture, because you don’t know what to do.
Nadya Nicola (10:30):
Yes, how to fit in, how to make yourself fit in quite.
Janina Neumann (10:33):
So what is a great way to build a relationship with someone from South Africa?
Nadya Nicola (10:39):
Just be yourself, just no airs and graces, no obfustication. Just say what you mean and mean what you say. I think that’s really what’s most appreciated.
Janina Neumann (10:53):
So do you think, when it comes to business in South Africa, do you think things are a lot more straightforward when, for example, conflict arises?
Nadya Nicola (11:06):
So I left South Africa before I established myself there in a business sense, but I did work there. I qualified as an attorney and I practiced law for a couple of years while I was there. And I can honestly say that there is a level of efficiency, I know South Africa is not necessarily known for its efficiency, so it is ironic. But just being straightforward, being blunt, saying what you mean, and also because everybody communicates like that, you learn not to take things personally. There’s no like ruffled feathers just because I said, “You’re doing it the wrong way”, you know?
Janina Neumann (11:50):
Nadya Nicola (11:50):
And it’s so much easier just to hear “You’re doing it the wrong way. This is how I want it done”, then to hear, “You know, what you’ve done is really interesting”. You know, I find it really quite challenging, you know, like I mean, I’ve had bosses who would take 20 minutes to get to the point, you know, and I’m sitting there dying and thinking, “Just tell me what you want”.
Nadya Nicola (12:12):
So in South Africa, you don’t have that. In South Africa, they tell you what they want. They tell it to you there and then straight, and I think there is a level of efficiency there, that’s you know, very commendable. Saying that I think that British people, people who were born here and immersed in this culture, they do understand it. So like for example, if their sister-in-law had said to them, “I’ll get back to you”, they would have understood that that was a “no”.
Janina Neumann (12:43):
Nadya Nicola (12:43):
So I think there’s an element of me making it inefficient because I don’t get the lingo, you know?
Janina Neumann (12:50):
Yes. That’s a great point actually because that’s how you would take it. You know, you would understand that, between the lines, that they’re saying “no”.
Nadya Nicola (13:01):
So for them, it is an efficient way of communicating. It’s just me those’s inefficient.
Janina Neumann (13:09):
You’re certainly not alone.
Nadya Nicola (13:15):
That’s good to know, thank you.
Janina Neumann (13:20):
How South Africans build trust, do you find it’s more relationship-based or do you find it’s more task-based? What’s your experience been?
Nadya Nicola (13:30):
I think relationship, I think this very open and honest communication is very useful in building trust. I also think that there’s a physical element. Like for example, when I first moved to the UK, I started working here immediately as I arrived, and I became quite good friends with lots of people that I worked with. Some I never ever got invited to their homes to this day. And some, I did eventually, after we spent many hours eating lunch together, having drinks after work together in some neutral setting, eventually after a year or two of this like back and forth, I would finally be invited to their homes. I find South Africans quite different in that sense, they are much more open in terms of having people over to their homes, and opening their lives, if you like.
Nadya Nicola (14:28):
Because once you’ve seen somebody’s home, you know a lot more about them, don’t you? It’s quite an exposure in a way.
Janina Neumann (14:38):
Nadya Nicola (14:38):
I have found the South African culture, and Israeli culture as well for that matter, much more open house type thinking, as opposed to the British friends I have where we generally meet on neutral territory, like at a park in the summer or a restaurant or a theater. So yeah, I think that also contributes a lot to the building of trust, getting to know one’s families, one’s children, that’s very common in South African business. Getting involved in sort of people’s lives outside of just the pure transactional sort of relationship.
Janina Neumann (15:22):
Yes, I can imagine that because when you know how they communicate with their family, for example, you understand what type of person they are perhaps. So you can actually build a better relationship with them.
Nadya Nicola (15:36):
And you see a different side of people because I think the way I am with colleagues, for example, is quite different. I mean, obviously I’m still me at the core, but I’m quite different with colleagues, for example, then I am with my husband or my children.
Janina Neumann (15:51):
Nadya Nicola (15:53):
They bring out different things in me, I suppose, and my headspace is different when I am at home from when I am in the office. So I feel like there’s an advantage of people getting to know you in another dimension, in an additional dimension, which also, again, helps to build trust, they get to know you better. Therefore, hopefully, like you better, trust you more.
Janina Neumann (16:24):
Yes, and I do think it is an advantage. I think a lot of people might shy away from that because they might feel like, “Oh, they perhaps see me in a not so good light”. But I suppose, you know, for example, if you got stressed about something at a family dinner and they saw how you reacted, perhaps they would actually understand, you know, why you react in a certain work environment, they wouldn’t then understand it’s just because you’re stressed. So they would perhaps take it less personally how you communicate with them, which actually is to your advantage because people have a better understanding.
Nadya Nicola (17:03):
Yes, yes, exactly. They sort of get to see the whole person rather than just one bit of them.
Janina Neumann (17:08):
So could you tell us a bit more about Israeli culture?
Nadya Nicola (17:15):
So the Israeli culture is very similar to the South African ironically. So going back to what I said, right at the beginning, I expected a culture shift when I moved from South Africa to Israel, more than I did when I moved to England. And in fact, the reverse is what happened. So the Israelis are also, I mean, unbelievably blunt, they actually make the South Africans look quite English. Really there’s no such thing as not expressing a thought, you know.
Janina Neumann (17:42):
Nadya Nicola (17:42):
There is this idea that if you have a thought in your head, it has to come out your mouth, you know, there is no filter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked in the street where I’ve been shouted at because my shoelaces were undone. You know, some prophet has told me that I’m going to fall. I can’t explain, like the Israelis, maybe it’s because they’re constantly at war or, you know, there’s always a sense of threat, but they really, they live for the moment. I find some other cultures and again, back to the English culture, there’s a sense of people just existing. I never find that in Israel. In Israel, people really live, you know, they take advantage of absolutely every minute that they’re alive and they do something with their time and they do something with their energy and they, you know, they make the most of it out of everything, and at times it’s quite overwhelming. I mean, the way I say it, it sounds very positive, and to a large extent, it is. It can also be very overwhelming and quite exhausting. But if you are ever lucky enough to spend some time in Tel Aviv, and I really recommended that you just, you absorb this energy almost by osmosis, it sort of seeps into your skin, and you can actually physically sense, like feel this energy that exists around you. And I’d say that’s the biggest cultural difference, the sort of high-octane, high energy sort of way of living. Like I said, which can be amazingly good fun, particularly for three days at a time, but bloody exhausting to actually live in.
Janina Neumann (19:24):
I think I felt similar things with having Persian friends round, you know, they live also for the moment and they actually spend a lot of time together and build those relationships up and they are full of energy as well. And you know, I can, from that perspective, I can relate to how it can sometimes be exhausting, because you want to give your full-self. But sometimes, you know, for me, for example, I’m sometimes a bit reserved as in I try and filter my energy whilst, I don’t know, they have such an energy for life and it’s really inspiring because uplifts you, you know.
Nadya Nicola (20:06):
It does, it sort of almost makes you better for having been there. Yeah, I mean, it can be very exciting, but it also can be very draining. But also bluntness, the openness with which they communicate, the openness with their homes, you know, all of those things are all extremely familiar to me and comfortable with because of my South African upbringing. It resonates with me, it’s what I know so, you know, there’s no such thing as, keeping different aspects of your life siloed. You know, people just don’t do that. Your life is your life and it’s, you know, and it’s all in an open book, and take it or leave it sort of attitude. Yeah, like it could be a bit much sometimes, but quite refreshing as well.
Janina Neumann (20:58):
Yeah, it is refreshing. And just coming from a German culture, they tend to compartmentalise. So work is work, and your home life is your home life. I did find that when I first opened my business, I kind of struggled with that because I didn’t, you know, people would try and get to know me, but then it’s almost like, I didn’t know what I would want to tell them about me, you know, what I do in my spare time. But then I realised, it’s actually really important to share a bit more about you because it makes sense of why you do the things that you do, and they understand the passion behind what you do. So I think it is really important to open up, even though it might feel a bit odd at times.
Nadya Nicola (21:46):
Yeah, and look, of course, there are things that are private, and I’m not suggesting for a minute that you know, that you need to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets.
Janina Neumann (21:54):
Nadya Nicola (21:54):
But there is an element of, in order to be successful in business, if you want someone to buy from you, you have to let them get to know you a bit.
Janina Neumann (22:03):
Nadya Nicola (22:03):
Because they’re not going to buy from you if they don’t know you. You know, especially the kind of work that you and I both do that requires relationship building. It’s not purely transactional. Like here’s my widget, buy my widget thank you, you know, that’ll be two pounds fifty. You know, it’s a lot more complex than that. It’s relationship building, and it’s trust, and it’s an ongoing relationship. It’s not a one-off for that kind of business, for that kind of product or service, one really does need to establish some kind of, you know, relationship based on knowing each other.
Janina Neumann (22:40):
I totally agree. And it’s so much about actually understanding the other person. So the more you can communicate with them on how you’d handle things, which sometimes, you know, you have to open up, the better you can do the job and the better you can actually build that trust in the long run. So I definitely agree with that.
Nadya Nicola (23:03):
Absolutely. It’s reciprocal, of course. Yes, it goes both ways for sure. So I’ve pretty much covered it. For anyone listening, I’d like to say, if I do offend you with my bluntness or my openness, I do apologise, absolutely not intended. I would never knowingly ever upset or insult anybody, and I’m getting much better at knowing what not to say, but still, things slip sometimes. So apologies in advance if that ever happens. But yes, on that note, I have to say that I’ve had a very, very happy time. It sounds like I’m just moaning about the UK the whole time, and that’s not the case at all. I’m very happy here.
Janina Neumann (23:46):
Well, I’ve never felt that you misunderstood me, and you’re such a lovely, warm person. And actually, like we said, you know, being bicultural and having these experiences makes you a better communicator. And the whole aim of this podcast is to give people insights into other cultures so that they can understand them better, and perhaps also sometimes adapt their way of communicating.
So Nadya, if people loved listening to you, how can they best connect with you, and how could they work with you?
Nadya Nicola (24:25):
So, so firstly, thank you very much for the lovely things that you just said. If you need any kind of help with any kind of business communication. So you know who it is that you want to target, but you’re not quite sure how to speak to them in their language. If you are looking for funding and you need someone to help you with their presentation to funders, or if you’re looking to create some kind of company presentation. Anything that requires any kind of communication, written or oral communication, I am very happy to help with that.
Nadya Nicola (24:59):
So, Janina, I’ve also loved chatting to you. And I just want to say that as soon as it’s safe to do so, and we can meet in person, I am definitely looking forward to meeting you, and enjoying some of the Persian food that you’ve learned to cook.
Janina Neumann (25:14):
Yes, I have learned to cook a lot of Persian food during lockdown and yes, of course, my house is open to you.
Nadya Nicola (25:23):
That’s one of my favourite cuisines. And also I’d love to meet you in person, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you online.
Janina Neumann (25:29):
Likewise, it’s been so fantastic to connect with you and to learn so much more about you. So I think that would be a great way to meet.
Nadya Nicola (25:36):
Great, it’s a date.
Janina Neumann (25:39):
It is. Thank you so much for today, Nadya. It was wonderful to speak to you.
Nadya Nicola (25:45):
Thank you for having me.
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