Silicon Valley is mecca to many Australian technologists and entrepreneurs but some find moving across the Pacific Ocean an unexpected culture shock.
One entrepreneur-turned-marketing executive was surprised when HR pulled him aside for hugging a friend in the workplace cafeteria.
He highlighted the experience as one example of a conservative, “politically correct” culture that lashed out when two Australian developers made the mistake of showing off an app called Tit Stare at TechCrunch Disrupt last week.
As the executive works for a listed company, he spoke to Business Insider Australia under the condition of anonymity.
Here’s what surprised him most about living and working in the US:
Americans are more conservative than TV shows and movies suggest.
- I first moved to the US in 1996 after selling my company. Prior to the move, my exposure to US culture was via TV and movies. Thanks to Baywatch, and I thought that the US was a really open-minded country. What surprised me the most is how conservative and religious people are in the US.
- Breasts are pixelated out on TV, along with giving someone the finger, and pictures of women in bikinis are considered porn by many. I grew up on the beach in the 80s when many were topless and nobody thought anything. Meanwhile, it’s perfectly okay to see someone decapitated on a TV show, even for kids.
Work and social life are kept surprisingly separate
- What still surprises me with the Bay Area, where I have lived for the past 6 years, is a lack of socialising, especially outside of work. In 3 years at my last company nobody ever had a BBQ or dinner, and I did not meet anyone’s family.
- Many people like to maintain a strict separation of work and family, and some people I know could be characterized as “robots” at work.
- Another executive who had his team over to his house for Christmas drinks was later told not to host team functions at his home ever again. It turns out someone on his team had complained to HR about feeling uncomfortable at the event.
There are unspoken rules you need to learn fast
- I was spoken to by HR at a Fortune 500 company for hugging a colleague in the cafeteria. I had known her for 10 years and we were close friends and she initiated the hug – I was simply told that hugging was not acceptable behavior. I wasn’t reprimanded as such, it was more “hey, you’re an Aussie and may not know the rules – we don’t hug here”.
- An Italian executive wore speedos to a company beach party and was told not to wear them again. I think HR is telling people that harassment is anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, to protect the company from lawsuits.
The executive notes that culture varies from company to company, with technically focused firms typically more conservative than others.
People from the start-up world tend also to be more friendly and helpful than people in large corporations, he says.
“I absolutely love the USA and love the passion of the people here, especially the passion to do something that changes the world,” he adds. “The valley is extremely culturally diverse and I have met some of the smartest people ever.
“I really miss the beaches in Australia and the great food, [but] my wife and I have both learnt to cook Aussie staples like meat pies and sausage rolls.”
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