“Strange” customs?

How tolerant are we of the immigrants in our workplaces?

By 
Paul King, Editor

Recently, while conducting a survey of readers about issues and challenges they are facing in their jobs, I touched on the topic of human resource issues. I threw out an assumption that stated, in part, that operators are hiring some employees “who may bring, or try to bring, strange customs into the workplace.” My point was to indicate that workforces throughout the industry are becoming more diverse. I quickly received a reply from a reader who put me in my place, so to speak.  This is what she wrote:

“Calling them ‘strange customs’ is part of the problem. We need to recognize that we are living in a world that is rapidly changing, and if we are going to be successful we need to honor all customers and employees. Training is needed to better understand each other, new employees and new customers.”

First of all, shame on me for using the phrase “strange customs.” A better way to say it would have been: “customs that may seem strange to Americans.” Many Americans are arrogant about our “superiority” and often are condescending about things we don’t understand. We tend to dismiss some customs or modes of dress, for instance, either as “silly” or as things that have no place in our society. “If you want to (fill in the blank), go back to your own country. You’re in America now.”

It is interesting to note how easily people can forget where they came from, or what their ancestors faced when they were immigrants—and, technically, everyone in this country is a descendant of immigrants.

It’s also ironic that some of the same people who believe that new immigrants should turn their backs on their heritage and quickly assimilate into “American” culture would probably go ballistic if someone were to suggest that we ban such things as Polish Heritage Days, Greek festivals or (gasp!) the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Our reader is absolutely right, and in the coming months we will be examining how operators deal with immigrant workers, including how they themselves become educated about these “strange” customs and how they handle them in the workplace. We’ll be soliciting your views, and I’d love to hear from you.

Keywords: 
human resources