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  Wednesday, February 22, 2006

  Planning horizons in Russia and the Netherlands: a wedding example

Just came back from a week-long meeting of multicultural project crowd (context)... One of of the big things regarding project management in this case is about recognising cultural differences of the project partners and establishing working practices that work across those differences.

There is a lot there to reflect upon, but for now I'd like to focus only on one aspect of it: time-frames in relation to planning. The example I'd like to use is a bit personal - it's about wedding planning.

Last January we were looking for locations for two wedding parties - in Moscow and in Enschede - for beginning of May. The reactons of restaurant people were surprisingly similar. In Moscow they were laughing - trying to book a restaurant in January for May didn't make much sense to them. In one case they were not sure if the place would exist, almost everywhere they were not prepared to discuss the prices saying that everything could be different in May.

In Enschede restaurant people were surprised as well - we were too late to start looking for a location :)

I guess that the reasons for those differences are not because restaurant business is so different in Russia and in the Netherlands; it represents a deeper cultural differences in relation to long-term planning.

In the Netherlands you have to plan well in advance. It's more easy to get used that with busy colleagues you will not have a chance to schedule something for coming two weeks, than learning to plan a dinner with friends two months in advance (recently I did :). People also tend to rely on their schedules and to get irritated when something has to move to another moment.

In Russia its different. You can try making longer-term appointments, but usually it would be "let's call each other closer to the date and see". Things are changing fast and everyone knows that planning for the future doesn't make much sense ("Man proposes, but God disposes" says everyday wisdom). Uncertainty is part of the equation and any changes in schedules are tackled as something usual.

As a result planning horizons are dramatically different. The "fun" starts to happen when there is an event with both sides involved. Russian people could suggest rescheduling an internationa project meeting one month in advance, while Dutch people have to plan it half a year before to be able to make it. Or a wedding with Russian and Dutch guests (in Russia an everage wedding is planned and prepared 2 months in advance, while in the Netherlands it's 12)...

Could you imagine how scared I was when 2,5 months before the date the wedding register office in Moscow decides to move a working day from Wednesday to Sunday because it's more convinient to work before a national holiday and not after it? It wouldn't cause any problem if I would be in Russia/with Russians only, but our Dutch party had to be booked earlier and our Dutch friends booked their tickets to Moscow already...

More on: cross-cultural life 

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