New York working culture shocks #2: I (don’t) see you

Moving across the Atlantic from Hamburg (Germany) to New York City (USA) in June 2019 was an adventure all in itself. After living here for about 1 year and 4 months now, it feels right to look back and record some of my experiences. One of the biggest changes has been: Working in New York City.


Disclaimer
This is my personal experience relating to my specific company in New York. I am not trying to make any generalizations or criticize New York or even the US in general. Instead of thinking in the terms of better or worse, I like to think of things being different without putting any connotation to it.

I (don’t) see you

One of the starkest contrasts was a greater sense of anonymity, even with an open floor plan. When I first joined, we were approximately 70 employees on the top floor of an office building in the Financial District of Manhattan. I was expecting someone to take me around and introduce me to my new colleagues, which is how it would have been in the German office. Instead, I got shown to my desk and was more or less left to my own devices, everyone seemed too preoccupied with their own tasks at hand. This surprised me, but I figured that this was an exception and made an effort to introduce myself to the people sitting in my radius as well as the people I met in the office kitchen.

I also found it very unusual, that people would not make eye contact or greet one another walking by or when they ran into each other in the kitchen. If anything, people would keep their interactions with colleagues to a minimum and most likely only their immediate team members.

Similarly, I was surprised to find that the office did not have an office lunch culture. With rare exceptions, people would either bring or buy their lunch and silently eat at their desk or in the office kitchen. Even if there were several people eating next to each other, they would either be looking out of the window or at their phone.

An attempt to understand social interactions

Coming from my German background, this all seemed very rude and antisocial. With time though, I found out that this was normal. There is a high fluctuation in New York offices to begin with (At-will employment anyone?), it seems that there are new colleagues joining and leaving every (other) month. This makes it harder to find the will to invest time and (social) energy.

Additionally, our New York office is mainly a sales floor. This means, that people spend all day on the phone and interacting with clients, causing their social battery to run low in between.


This is my personal experience relating to my specific company in New York. I am not trying to make any generalizations or criticize New York or even the US in general. Instead of thinking in the terms of better or worse, I like to think of things being different without putting any connotation to it.

I truly believe that it is a privilege to have the opportunity to dive into a culture and learn more about how things are done in another country then my own. No country or culture is perfect. And by experiencing others, we get to learn and analyze what we personally admire, cherish and want to incorporate into our own way of life. So if you stay open to it, there is so much potential for growth hidden right in front of you.

How about you?
What behavior in other countries did seem rude to you at first glance?

Cover picture was taken from One World Observatory in Manhattan, New York (USA) in Dec 2019

Missing the beginning of this story?
New York working culture shocks #1: How did I get here

5 thoughts on “New York working culture shocks #2: I (don’t) see you

Add yours

  1. I feel you on temporary friendships as an expat: my previous job in France introduced me to dozens of other employees who were under similar contracts that lasted from several months to two years, which made forming friendships almost impossible to maintain. Nothing wrong with that, as I still managed to establish relationships that’ve continued to this day, but it’s true that short-lived moments with individuals make it harder to do so, whether in the US or elsewhere.

    Liked by 2 people

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