Guest Blogger: Alexandra Alexis, an American/Finnish Electro-pop artist residing in NYC
If you’ve ever asked an American how they’re doing, you know that the answer will consist of “I’m Great” or “work is keeping me busy.” Even on a bad day you’ll still get “I’m hanging in there.” You’ll never receive the defeated answer of “life sucks, my cat died, I can’t pay my rent and I don’t know who I am anymore ever since my boyfriend cheated on me.” Americans don’t admit defeat very often, at least not to anyone else except their closest friends; it’s sort of unaccepted in the day to day business world. The funny part is, turn this question around on a Finn and you’ll get an “I’m ok” or “pretty good” on a regular, perfectly great day.
So why is this? Are we Americans just lying to each other, trying to make each other think business is booming and that we’re all making some major power moves, that YOU’RE not. Well the answer is YES. Anyone living in NYC who is let’s say looking for a job will confirm this fact to you. You cannot apply for jobs with the “I’m ok” attitude. In a cut-throat city like NYC where everyone is always looking for a little extra income, you cannot just send out resumes with all your wonderful college experience and expect a flood of offers. You’ve gotta WOW and PIZAZZ! You’ll need a cover letter that breaks down your interest in cooking and how you learned to make a killer curry while backpacking in India and how adopting your dog “Rufus” from your local animal shelter has changed the way you look at life. You’ll also need some amazing references; most people put down their friends, and then give them a script of what to say. Hey you’re going to be competing with Ivy League graduates, who speak three languages fluently and four if you count conversational Italian.
There is also another flip side to all of this enlightened non-sense. Americans are promoters of positive energy; they (as well as myself) believe that thinking positive will get you more positive results. This includes possibly saying “I’m great” to tons of business colleagues, acquaintances and hey why not the homeless man at the corner; because maybe saying it enough out loud creates something different, an anomaly in the pattern, just maybe when we promote our business and talk about its wild success, the person we’re talking to will actually throw us a bone and say “hey let’s have lunch next week,” or a meeting, or maybe they’ll ask for your card. I cannot tell you how MANY times a week this happens to me. People, in NYC especially will buy into anything as long as it’s packaged nicely and the pitch sounds good. They are open for giving things a try with anyone that seems like they’ve got their stuff together and good things going on. Positivity most definitely presents opportunity.
In Finland this positive thinking in my experience has had mixed reviews. Some see me as a driven go-getter with a zest for life, someone who doesn’t take no for an answer. Others see me as a subtle annoyance who doesn’t know when to quit, or when TO take no for an answer. Hey blame my American childhood upbringing. I remember I was 5 years old and had to do a school presentation about what I wanted to be when I grew up, as if a 5 year old could even fathom a career outside of princesses and ponies. Well in all my confidence I got up in front of the class and announced that I wanted to be Miss America. Nobody laughed, everyone listened intently even though to my unknowing, being Miss America wasn’t a real job. After the presentation my teacher pulled me aside and said “Alexandra you can certainly be Miss America, just know that it only lasts a year and then you have to do something else.” She left me with these encouraging after-thoughts, never telling me that I couldn’t do it or that it was unrealistic. Cool, I thought, I’ll be Miss America and then I’ll be a Pop Star. Well, I never made it to Miss America, but if I would have wanted to I’m sure the “I’m great” attitude would have gotten me there.
In Finland even small talk can be seen as insincere or shallow, so grinning from ear to ear and announcing to the world that “I’m freaking fantastic” has been something I’ve drastically cut down on. I tend to “under-dress” to meetings, smile less, speak slower and keep my body language to a minimum. Finns however have this air of authenticity something you don’t come across everyday in NYC. You’ll never have to second guess details regarding deals in Finland, when something is promised, their word is golden, and believe you me they will come through on their word.
So which way is the right way? I think it’s a balancing act. You need to act accordingly depending on the culture you’re dealing with. You need to always be mindful and respectful and sensitive to the fact that “the American way” might not always be the ONLY way. Hey after all I have nothing against doing business in a sauna and bonding with potential co-workers over a drink or drinks, which is commonly done in Finland. I’ll leave you with something that a bitter and painfully negative man in the music business in Finland once expressed to me. He said “I don’t get New Yorkers, they always smile, they always say they’re great, and that life is SOO great, why do they say that?”
I answered “Because it IS.” Stay tuned for more.
Alexandra Alexis, an American/Finnish Electro-pop artist residing in NYC