I started studying the Pakistan culture, language and dress a few months before we left. I went on the internet, interviewed anyone who knew anything, hopefully dusted off my language skills and started shopping. So many people told me not to worry about it and that no one would care one way or the other.
But I cared. The philosophy of “meet people where they are” in business extends to culture. Although I knew I would be accepted as I was, the gesture of respect for the places I travel and the effort toward a deeper understanding are important elements of not only building, but sustaining relationships.
As a guest of Pakistan, we were not disappointed. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left, we were shown the utmost kindness, service and support. The TiE Islamabad team and everyone that surrounded them were the pinnacle of organization, professionalism and hospitality. Throughout the next 12 days, they helped us navigate and acclimate, and educated us on the breadth and depth of the country, both historically and culturally. As anticipated, they did accept us, just as we were.
At the same time, they, and everyone we encountered, appreciated the small efforts and gestures to meet them where they were, as a country and a culture. I received validating comments all along the way that reassured me that my attempts at dress, language and custom were appreciated.
The comment made the first day, said with some surprise, that I already dressed like a Pakistani with my long dress and dupatta (scarf), and the face of the guard taking my departure ticket as we left the country lighting up when I murmured “shukriya” (thank you), made me feel my efforts were not in vain. There were plenty of people in jeans, slacks and shirts, and I was told multiple times that I could have dressed however I liked. Most people said “thank you” instead of “shukriya” to one another and knew nearly flawless English. Still, they smiled with acknowledgement and appreciation as I perfected my salam alaikum/walekam assalam, adopted the phrase “InshAllah” and bought and wore my first kameez and (real) dupattas. The short term effort we can put into learning more about a single person or an entire culture can make all the difference in the quality, depth and sustainability of a relationship. We did not go into Pakistan as the StartUp Cup to make speeches, hope someone listened and leave.
We went to Pakistan to make a difference, build relationships and join their journey toward growing a stronger economy in their country. I know they would have taken me as I am, but I also know the seemingly minor gesture to meet them where they are strengthened our bond in where we are.