Did you have a good Holiday? Actually, did you have a Holiday at all?
When you wish your colleague in the next office (or co-worker in the next cubicle) a good weekend you are generally on safe ground. But our new abilities to broadcast our messages globally to very diverse groups of people seem to be demonstrating our cultural insensitivities and blunting our abilities to target and personalise.
Hanukkah and happy holidays
It usually starts around the middle of November when I am heartily wished Happy Thanksgiving by my contacts in the USA. A few short weeks later and we’ve moved through Hanukkah and on to Happy Holidays (at least from the USA, where Holidays is a euphemism to prevent irritation amongst non-Christians that using “Christmas” might produce). The British mostly stick to Happy Christmas.
Vast swathes of people in the world are not having Christmas or any other holiday at the end of December, even many Christians – my orthodox friends have their Christmas on 7th January. I’m usually urged to buy for Mother’s Day for a weekend that isn’t Mother’s Day where I am (and taking no account of whether I still have a mother) – there are eleven months between the world’s first Mother’s Day and its last each year! – and the same for Father’s Day. In fact, something as mundane as wishing your Twitter followers a great weekend on a Friday evening overlooks those who are just finishing theirs (those in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, for example) or those half way through their weekends (those in Egypt and Israel, to name but two countries).
It’s not usually possible (or desirable or, often, legal) to know the personal preferences of each of your contacts in matters like these, but a modification of language is enough to take them into account. “For all those celebrating Christmas, we at … wish you a very good one” or “If you’re in the USA, have a very happy Thanksgiving”. I find it safer to keep my wishes personal – blanket broadcasts will always hit the wrong target somewhere along the way and can come across as attempts as cultural imposition. Passing your good wishes on to others will not usually cause offence, but when it’s for an event not being universally celebrated (and make no mistake, that’s all of them), it’s better to use caution. Blanket Thanksgiving wishes, for example, cause a Twitter mini-backlash every year. I’ve been dealing with our cultural differences for twenty years and still have to tread carefully – it’s a matter of stopping and considering when making any assumptions, as true when you’re managing data as when you’re communicating to the world.
OK, hands up, I know I’m more sensitive to this Christmas business than many – for reasons which I won’t bore you with I haven’t celebrated Christmas for thirty years – not a smidgen of tinsel crosses the threshold – though a handful of persistent souls do still send me cards. But the globalisation of communication doesn’t mean you can impose your message on all, it encompasses the need to tailor communications to fit the audience.
Oh, and what was I doing on 25th December last year? Writing this blog post and waiting tables in my better half’s restaurant. No Holidays and no holiday. Will you take note for next year? Cheers!