The Western Ignorance

I’m a member of a Facebook group for hostel receptionists. In it, people from all over the world share stories about weird guests and incindents.

Today, someone wrote about how frustrating it is when asians say ”yes, yes, yes” to everything even though they clearly don’t understand. I agree, this is frustrating, same as it’s frustrating when you’re having trouble communicating what you’re trying to say to someone who doesn’t speak English very well.

One thing though: this is your ignorance, not theirs!

As someone working in the tourism industry I find it crucial to understand that the people you meet – the guests you are hosting – come from diffent cultures. You could argue that they’re the ones visiting your culture, so they’re the ones who should adapt, but people fail to realize that by visiting your country they’re already taking a big step. It’s not as much about adapting and changing your ways as it is about having an understaning of the fact that our cultures are differernt. They’re just taking a trip and might only just be learning and realizing about the many cultures that exist outside their own. You’re working with many cultures every day, so if anyone should understand this it’s you, not them.

The example of asians saying yes has a simple explanation: in many asian cultures it’s considered very bad to ”lose your face”. You have to say yes, because showing that you don’t understand is unthinkable, a cultural no-no. Saying yes is the right thing to do. In western cultures it’s the opposite: saying yes when in fact you don’t understand is not the right thing to do at all!

Rather than sitting there at your reception desk, annoyed at the asian in front of you who says yes when you ask if they want to pay by cash or card, consider the fact that this person is in fact not understanding you so perhaps YOU are doing something wrong. Stay calm, polite, smile, and explain it nice and slow, use hand gestures if needed. They are visiting your country, so show them by example what great people you are and what good western service means.

In regards to people who don’t speak English very well, think of it this way: it’s not because they’re stupid or slow in their heads, it’s because they speak another language.

I want to end this post with some advice that sadly way too many receptionists fail to follow:

  1. Always smile. Constantly. Even on the phone you can hear if a person is smiling.
  2. Stay happy. It makes smiling so much easier and it prevents it from looking forced or fake. Happiness is contageous and will show in reviews about staff friendliness.
  3. Be chatty. You’re in a social line of work, so stay social.
  4. Read social signs. It may vary from culture to culture, but you must be able to read a person in order to understand what to tell them and how to do so.
  5. Be informative. The people who step in to your work place have usually never been there before. Some might not be very used to travelling. They may have no idea what to expect. They dont know the check-in procedures, they don’t know where the rooms are located, and they don’t know when, how and where breakfast is served. Don’t expect them to, it’s your job to inform them.
  6. Treat each guest as a brand new individual. Just because you’ve said it a hundred times before doesn’t mean that this particular person already knows. If this is tiresome for you and annoys you, it’s time to quit your job! You’re in the wrong business.
  7. Be polite. I’ve come across way too many receptionist who appear rude, tired, annoyed at your precence. If you don’t want to be there, then why are you?
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