Third example of learning more about my own culture:

Planning

Afghans rarely plan what they will do for the day, much less the week, month, or several months from now. (I touched on this in the first Culture post.) For example, there are a lot of holidays, and different holidays have different implications (think Christmas vs Columbus Day). It is very normal for our contract staff to get an email around 3pm the day before the holiday explaining if the day is a holiday for all, day off for specific staff, work from home, or work as usual.

Here’s an example of an email that went out Monday, the 14th, around 11am:

Dear All,

The Afghan Government will be closed for holidays on 15-17 Feb and in consideration of the fact that the majority of our local staff are embedded at XXX and Ministries, the XXX management has determined Tuesday and Thursday are work from home for all local staff.

For your information:

?         Tuesday, 15 Feb is  Liberation Day

?         Wednesday 16 February is Miladul Nabi (S) –  a national paid holiday for XXX local staff in Afghanistan

?         Thursday, 17 Feb is a national holiday

Please note that:

XXXXXX

Enjoy a safe and long weekend.

Regards,

XXXXXX

Human Resources Manager

Since Fridays are the weekend, this email effectively informs the staff that they have a 4-day weekend. Each time I see these emails, I balk at the fact that they are only informed of this the day before. I wonder how do they plan, how do they take advantage of their holidays, and why don’t they complain about getting such short notice? But the reality is that they really don’t plan, they don’t have a need to “take advantage” of holidays because they don’t take trips to see family in other parts of the country*, and they don’t see anything to complain about (they are getting holidays after all).

The US is so focused on planning and maximizing that something as great as a 4-day weekend could be frustrating if we aren’t given the time needed to be organized (think sudden snow days).

Note: you may have noticed that the email actually says that 2 days are “work from home” days and I said that they have “a 4-day weekend.” This is because almost no Afghans do office work in their homes. They do not have internet access at their homes. Those who have laptops usually leave them locked in an office at work or they take them home for their kids to play on them (I know because I sit in an IT office, which has to deal with all of the problems that result on the computers). It is a common mindset that if you are not in the office you are not working (it is completely beside the point whether work gets done in the office).

*The majority of Afghans live with extended families in their homes, and it’s rare that they would need to travel to see other parts of their family (because they are in the same city). However, the big exception to this is men who have moved to Kabul to make money for their families, who live in one of the provinces. These men do travel to their home province about once every 2 months, usually around government holidays. If they are flying, it is quite easy to get tickets the day of or the day before because this is such a small group of people.

Bonus Material – We have a guy in our office who changed roles and was provided a new office in another building probably about 2 months ago. He continues to come to our office for part of each day. When people are looking for him, they look in both offices. While I was writing this post, he came into the office for 2 minutes, and as he was walking back out, we teased him that he couldn’t live without seeing us. He responded,

“Change in Afghanistan is usually very slow. You cannot just change jobs or offices suddenly. You must do it slowly. There is only one exception to this kind of change, and that is marriage, where suddenly the girl is no longer in one house and is now in another house.”

The interesting cultural feature is that in the US, most change can be very fast (i.e., change of offices, jobs, or homes), but generally relationships/marriages are a slow change.

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