Cultural diversity, Personal Development, Stories from life

Drinking tea in the city of God

“He drinks a lot of tea!”

I was in Baku to evaluate our project. The question I needed to answer was, is our project partner doing the job he had agreed to do according to our agreement; is he effective in his work?

I asked this question of two types of people.

  • Type 1: Ex-pats. Foreigners who had only been in Azerbaijan a short time and didn’t know the culture that well, but who knew our project partner and knew what a Western organization like ours expected.
  • Type 2: Locals or foreigners who had lived in the country for a long time and knew the local customs well.

When I asked the type ones the question, they hemmed and hawed a bit then said that they were unsure if he really was doing that good of a job. “He just doesn’t seem to be that effective, he doesn’t really seem to ever get down to business,” they would say. “How so?” I asked. “Well the only thing we ever see him do is meet with people and drink a lot of tea. He doesn’t really do much!”

“OK,” I thought and noted in my notebook, “Not effective, drinks lots of tea.”

Type twos smiled when I asked them the question. “He’s incredible. He does a great job and is very effective!” “Oh,” I said. “How so?” “Well, you see he takes time to meet with people and he drinks a lot of tea with them. He does so much!”

“Ok,” I thought and grinned as I noted in my notebook, “Very effective, drinks lots of tea.”

In my travels around to the, so-called developing world I have learned that it is more effective to drink lots of tea than to get right down to business.

I think that this philosophy also has a lot of merit in the, so-called, developed part of the world. Perhaps we all could benefit from little more tea and a little less “get down to business.” 🙂


5 thoughts on “Drinking tea in the city of God

  1. I used this very blog post in a conference today. I read it aloud in full to an audience of 20+ people to make the point that people matters more than processes, structures, business. Thanks for making this story available 🙂


  2. Since drinking tea is one of my favorite pursuits, I love the connection you make between tea drinking and effectiveness 😉
    On the serious side I appreciate the post for three reasons: 1) It illustrates how people can easily jump to conclusions if they (I) don’t make efforts to understand cultural differences. 2) It shows the importance prioritizing people in work that involves people! And 3) it reminds me how fundamental it is for work within human rights and peace to make spaces for dialogue…!


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