Living the Confused Expatriate Life, Part 3
By: Ms. Hala
I have to admit, being part of a management team in a growing industry in this part of the world has its perks. Even though I’m technically an “entry-level” manager, I’m the only female ever to hold a managerial role in this company. Females in this company are about 10% of the entire workforce. So I think that in itself is a huge perk.
I’ve been warned one too many times by colleagues with the phrase, “You’re not in America anymore. Welcome to the Middle East. This is how things work.” Yet I would always remind them that in my opinion, professionalism is universal. You can’t convince me that the lack of professionalism is the reason behind the Middle East’s successful economy despite the rest of the developing world’s economic downfall. It was the lack of professionalism that caused US taxpayers to bail out stupid big banks whom brought our economy to a recession. So yes, I’m in the Middle East – thanks for the warm welcome – but that shouldn’t mean professionalism is dead.
Ummm… to some extent. You see, it’s not necessarily where you are working in the world but whom you are working with in the world. Yes, certain cultural etiquettes need to be understood and respected. However, many misinterpret these etiquettes to their advantages. Sounds a little too familiar? This is when I discovered that half the staff, a mix of various languages, nationalities, levels of management, are scared of me.
Yes, scared. Lack of professionalism is the culprit here.
Here’s the spiel, I manage the logistics of this global division. I deal in large part with clearing and transporting agents, Qatar customs administrators, and global suppliers in over 15 countries including the USA. On one lovely day unlike today, I realized that the term “professionalism” to some extent did not exist in the eyes of some people I deal with on a daily basis. I was only about 3 months into my position and the idea of how my job was to deal with extremely unprofessional people hit me, hard.
What the hell am I going to do? How the hell am I going to make it in this industry? How the hell am I going to even last in Qatar?
There I was on the phone with the most incompetent person representing the clearing and transport agents behind the delays for our division in receiving units sitting at the ports for days. Paying customers threatening to cancel sales. Sales team members freaking out fearing losing those sales. Managers scrambling to meet their goals before month end just two days away. Our division simply trying to, you know, do business!
It was just me between my division and this incompetent imbecile whom was oblivious to the importance of his work for us. He kept going on and on with this bullshit, one lie after the other in the most unprofessional manner I’ve ever dealt with in my entire working life… I couldn’t take it anymore.
I hold two masters degrees in business, I have multiple years of experience dealing with people of all personalities and here I was unable to take this waste of oxygen anymore. I became the very thing I feared being in my career… unprofessional.
I just held that phone with a tight grip and gave it to this imbecile, cursing and screaming amongst a culture of appropriate and polite manners. “If your fucking company can’t get my shit done on time, I have 20 other cheaper and more competent companies that can! Don’t fucking bullshit me man because I don’t give a fuck! Just. Get. My. Shit. Done. Now! Do you hear me?”
The man on the other line just froze, sniffled and broke down like a two year old kid. He would get it done he said, by the end of the day. I slammed the phone, took a few deep breathes, checked I didn’t break the phone, then placed my hand over my dropped jaw… the entire office within sight had heard every single word I said. I turned around to one of my sales managers applauding me, “YES! It’s about time someone showed them who’s boss! They are always screwing us over!”
I just giggled in disbelief as I whispered, “I made him cry.”
Some had their jaws dropped while others laughed, “you made him cry?!” The rest continued to give me this wide-eyed stare, unsure what to make of me anymore. Conversing what had just happened, this apparently wasn’t the first time these agents had been delaying work fulfillment. They were behind lost deals and damaged goods in the past. Then, my boss called me into his glass office.
“What the hell is going on out there?”
“Ummm, I was on the phone with what’s his name trying to figure out what was taking them so long to get our units delivered. And honestly,” I was trying to find that professional lady, she’s here somewhere, I know it. “I couldn’t help it when he started BSing me so I just gave it to him pretty bad till he cried. I know it’s-”
“You mean bitch!”
“Hey!” I responded, that the professional lady was now lost forever, for the rest of the day maybe. “This ‘mean bitch’ just saved your ass there. You’re fucking welcome!”
My boss just laughed, “Good, thanks! Please keep me posted, we need get these units to our customers ASAP. We have to meet our deadline and goals in the next couple of days.”
“We shall, we shall.”
The rest of that day, everyone gave me odd wide-eyed looks. Everyone asked me what happened, whom got the wrath of the American. In a few hours, our work was cleared, units were delivered, everything was good. It shouldn’t have taken me being unprofessional, was the thought at the back of my head. By the end of the day, I was shown an invoice by one of our accountants, “are we responsible for these fines?”
Of course things didn’t end there, it got worse. The agents had sent us an invoice for their incomplete services, dated days before the shipments even arrived, with fines they racked up leaving our shipments for days at the ports. When I brought this to the management’s attention, they had a fit.
“We need to review all their back invoices.”
“This is a matter of principle.”
“Hala should be in charge of reviewing all these invoices before they go to the accounting department.”
“Right, she deals with them daily, she would be the authority approving whether or not we are responsible for these fines.”
A little irked, I shot an email to their head honco on vacation for like the millionth time that if I didn’t get a corrected invoice, they wouldn’t get paid a dirham (that’s pennies in Qatar for you American folk). He of course complied by sending me the imbecile to my office to “clear things up” the next day.
Everyone slyly watched as the guy again started with his bullshit and knowing I might just explode, I took a deep breath, and with a loud but very calm tone, “Listen man, don’t fucking start with me again. You guys fucked up and left our units out there for days. You need to own up to that, period.” I found her, I found the professional lady again, and this one is awesome! “So you either get me the corrected invoice by the end of the day today or it’s free. Plain and simple, OK?”
He just stared at me and when he teared up, he walked away because he had to “take care of work.” No yelling and screaming, just slightly loud and straight in the face. Professionalism at it’s best, I thought, until I looked around again to the wide-eyed faces. It was official, I was the scary person in the office.
“I heard she pushed him against the window, threatening to throw him over if he didn’t get us our stuff.”
“I heard him cry when she yelled at him… why did he even come to the office?”
“I watched her scare him straight while she sat there casually. He’s so much taller than her and he is scared of her. A girl!”
“Now she knows how things work in the Middle East.”