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culture shock: cultural differences across the world as told by our ambassadors

We pride ourselves on being a hotel of the people; indeed, it’s the modern, mobile traveller that puts the ‘m’ in citizenM. You’ll find our hotels in key European cities, across the Atlantic in New York and soon in Asia too. Yet our ambassadors – the people that keep our hotels running – come from all over the world.

In today’s global village it’s not uncommon to find Mexican expats in Paris, Hong Kong natives working in London, or New York to be the new-found home of young talent from Morocco. As Gandhi once said: “the whole world is one family.”

In the spirit of diversity, we spoke to seven of our ambassadors hailing from across the globe about cultural differences, shunning phoney stereotypes and cool customs they've found while making a home in their exciting new cities. 

 

1.Breanna Whetstone

Working: citizenM Tower of London
From: Richmond, Jamaica

What stereotype about your culture is definitely not true?
That all Jamaicans are black. The majority of Jamaicans are of African descent, but there are also descendants of Chinese people, European and East Indians in Jamaica, which is cool!

What stereotype about your culture is spot on?
That we love to dance!

Something you would never hear a Jamaican person say?
“I’m not hungry” or “I’m early!”

Something you would totally hear a Jamaican person say?
“We’ve got time, no rush.”

Tell us the most unusual custom from your country?
Probably the fact that we’re incredibly superstitious – if we have a dream about a number we will play the lotto with that number as a form of good luck.

What’s the coolest tradition?
At Christmas there is the Junkanoo celebration where men dress in scary costumes and dance in the street parade.

What’s the biggest cultural difference between where you’re from and where you are now, in London?
I think the speed of things. In Jamaica it’s very relaxed – there’s no rush unless there’s a party! Whereas in London, everything is very fast and everyone’s always rushing!

 

2.Benjamin Hernandez

Working: citizenM Paris Gare de Lyon
From: Mexico

What stereotype about Mexican culture is definitely not true?Ponchos, sombreros and laziness! People haven’t worn those since the early 19th century. 

Something you would never hear a Mexican person say?
“I love what Tex-Mex cuisine has done with our traditional dishes. They’ve added so much flavour to Mexico!”

Something you would totally hear a Mexican person say?
“Ahorita!” It’s a time-based expression which is supposed to express immediacy, but depends entirely on the context. We usually use it as a temporal wildcard that could be referring to ANY amount of time between the next minutes, hours, days or weeks.

What’s the coolest tradition?
Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). It’s a holiday when Mexicans remember and honor their deceased loved ones but it’s not a gloomy or morbid occasion. Rather, it is a festive and colourful holiday celebrating the lives of those who have passed on. We visit cemeteries, decorate the graves and spend time in the presence of deceased friends and family members. We also make elaborate altars in our homes to welcome the spirits.

What are the five most common ingredients you use in your cuisine?Corn (more than 60 varieties), beans (more than 70 different types), fresh or dried chilli peppers (more than 60), green and red tomatoes and onions.

What’s the biggest cultural difference between where you are from and where you are now, in Paris?
The French have long, complex and rigid administrative formalities. Too much bureaucracy for even for the simplest process!

 

3.Nattanan Possel

Working: citizenM Schiphol Airport
From: Phetchaburi, Thailand

What stereotype about your culture is definitely not true?
That all Thais know is how to massage and do Muay Thai boxing.

What stereotype about your culture is spot on?
That we eat all the time!

Something you would never hear a Thai person say?
A direct insult.

Something you would totally hear a Thai person say?
“Mai pen rai” – which is a Thai for never mind, it’s OK or no problem. In Thailand you hear this all day.

Tell us an unusual custom from your country?
One can’t use feet to point at something as it is considered rude and disrespectful.

What’s the coolest tradition?
During Thai New Year in April, we splash water on one another to celebrate and wish each other a happy new year.

What’s the biggest cultural difference between where you are from and where you are now, in the Netherlands?
Thai people smile a lot but here in the Netherlands, people might think you want something from them. Thai people avoid showing strong negative emotion or anger in public and try to avoid confrontation at all costs. Here people are direct and show all kinds of emotions.

4.Shania Yau

Working: citizenM Tower of London
From: Hong Kong

What stereotype about your culture is definitely not true?
It’s often said that people from Hong Kong are stubborn, but we’re not – even though I am from Hong Kong!

What stereotype about your culture is spot on?
The pace of life is so FAST in Hong Kong. The way they walk, the way they speak!

Something you would totally hear a person say in Hong Kong?
“Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up! We have no time!”

Tell us an unusual custom from your country?
When it’s your birthday you ask someone to help you to cut the cake – it’s superstition. We say that it’s bad luck not to.

What’s the coolest tradition?
During Chinese New Year, one of the most important rituals is the giving and receiving of Lai See [red envelopes stuffed with cash], which means wishing all the best to everyone.

What’s the biggest cultural difference between where you are from and where you are now in London?
Hugs and kisses! In Hong Kong, a smile, a hello and a handshake is enough when greeting someone. But In London, people greet each other with at least a hug or a kiss. I prefer London, it’s much more intimate.

 

5.Mike Chen

Working: citizenM Amsterdam
From: Taipei, Taiwan

What stereotype about your culture is definitely not true?
That people eat cats, dogs or strange foods.

What stereotype about your culture is spot on?
People are shy, modest and super hard working.

Tell us the most unusual custom from your country?
Ghost Month comes around once a year, and it’s a time when the spirits of the underworld are free to roam the land of the living. This in itself is not all that unusual – it’s the things that locals cannot do during this time that visitors often can’t get their head around. No moving house, no going out alone at night, no whistling – especially at night – and no swimming either.

What’s the coolest tradition?
If you’re invited to a wedding, you will be presented with a red envelope, sometimes referred to as 'red bomb'. You will be expected to bring money to the wedding, which you place in the red envelope. This entitles you to a wonderful 10-course meal during the wedding party and you’re not expected to bring any other gifts.

What’s the biggest cultural difference between where you are from and where you are now?
Taiwanese culture is more hierarchical – first impressions are very important. More children still live at home with their parents, and all three daily meals are equal. People in Taiwan tend to be more superstitious, too!

6.Mohamed Alami

Working: citizenM New York Times Square
From: Chefchaouen, Morocco

What stereotype about your culture is definitely not true?
That all women wear headscarves.

What stereotype about your culture is spot on?
Moroccans are so generous, especially when it comes to food! If you’re on a train in Morocco and the person next to you is eating, he’ll be happy to share his food with you – and even happier if you accept!

Something you would never hear a Moroccan person say?
“I don’t like football.”

Something you would totally hear a Moroccan person say?
“Inshallah” which means if God wills it! Moroccans are never in a hurry – there is time for everything.

Tell us the coolest tradition?
Every family makes and eats couscous for lunch on Fridays.

What is the biggest cultural difference between where you are from and where you are now, in New York?
NYC and Chefchaouen [the Blue City] are complete opposites. New York is a diverse city with a huge international community – you find people from every country in the world here, and in my opinion that what makes it the greatest city on earth! On the other hand, I have a special love and respect for my hometown Chefchaouen. People are so kind and everyone knows each other. And even if people don’t know you, they will still invite you to enjoy Moroccan tea with their family.

7.Fiorella Aguayo

Working: citizenM Paris La Défense
From: Lima, Peru

What stereotype about your culture is definitely not true?
That we’re all good dancers. I don’t know how to dance, it’s embarrassing.

What stereotype about your culture is spot on?
That you should never turn down someone who’s offering food, and only empty plates are allowed!

Something you would never hear a Peruvian person say?
I had enough (whatever). Limits are not our strong suit.

What’s the coolest tradition?
We have a historic relation with mysticism. My grandma used to pray and pass an egg over my body at the same time as a way to heal me from bad energy and emotions.  

What are old people like in your country?
Depending of their origin, they can speak quechua which is the ancient language of the Incas. It’s really hard to learn it (I’ve tried) but there are words that come from quechua that we use on a daily basis like poncho, chullo (beanie) or calato (naked).

What’s the biggest cultural difference between where you are from and where you are now?
We’re much warmer back home. We can’t keep our feelings to ourselves, so we are touching each other all the time and saying how much we love one another. I hug everyone! In France people are much more reserved and not as tactile. Here at citizenM we’re huggers though, I feel at home.