Those of us familiar with The Office and its influence on the American television show by the same name will find what I have to say very interesting. Even if you have not seen either show, I hope that my experiences in a new professional environment help to illustrate the many similarities and differences that these two cultures exhibit.
Heading into my first day interning in the UK I was expecting to feel very out-of-place and have quite the learning curve ahead of me in this new professional environment. However, with the warm and supportive welcome that I received from my colleagues I soon feel into a rhythm. I soon felt comfortable to freely contribute idea, while having to restrain myself from talking too much or too enthusiastically so as to fit in more with my colleagues.
Despite my comfort with my British work environment, I am still aware of small differences in the work culture I am now a part of. In comparison to the very collaborative, bubbly workplace I came from in Florida this past summer; my current office is much more reserved and individually focused on tasks that only collaborate on high levels.
When I first sat down at my computer in the office I was immediately struck by the first major difference in workplaces; the keyboard. Even a month later I cannot correctly type my email without a quotation mark instead of an “@” symbol. Even typing this now I am having trouble switching back to the use of an American keyboard. The differences in keyboard format extend to the shape of the enter key, which spans two rows and is skinnier in the middle to accompany an extra key in the UK.
While the keyboard is in itself enough to set any self – respecting intern into a tizzy, I was determined to investigate the differences in social culture in the workplace as well. Having been placed in a large meeting my first day I was able to see how my colleagues interacted with one another. The reserved nature of their conversation made me feel uncomfortably out of the norm as the (I’ll admit it) obnoxiously loud, socially awkward American.I have found the reserved nature of my British colleagues to extend into their accomplishments as well. There is very little public acknowledgement of accomplishments in the office. However, I find that there is plenty of food and socialization centered around its consumption under the occasion of acknowledging a birthday or other accomplishment.
Sitting in the office on Friday afternoon I was reminded of my foreign identity when the discussion of One Direction came up in relation to a current initiative. My colleagues then asked me which boy bands are popular in the United States right now. Being the completely wrong person to have this question fielded to, I consulted Google and reported accordingly. This further cemented my reputation in the office as the somewhat quirky Minnesotan. The specific classification of my identity by American state came from a colleague who, upon my first meeting him, recognized my accent (of which I am hardly aware of) from the famous movie, which had a majority of its scenes filmed in the land of 10,000 lakes. I, being the person I am, immediately made the clarification about the geographical error of the movie and my relation to Forgo, North Dakota.
My view of the differences and similarities between UK and US workplaces is somewhat skewed since my boss is a transplant from the United States. I also spent much of the first two weeks of my internship traveling around the city to various meetings, so I was not able to directly observe the office culture.