Luke Conner, the President of the Moscow based ‘British Business Club', and Charley King, the headmaster of a large new international school — ‘Brookes Moscow' join the program.
Host John Harrison's first question is: "When you first came here and you heard about the 8th of March, did that mean anything?" Luke says: ‘I had never heard of it before, and I heard about people referring to the International Women's Day which surprised me slightly, but I very quickly learned that it is one of the most important days in the Russian calendar, and maybe one of the most exciting as well, especially for women."
Luke describes what happens on March the 8th, albeit from a man's point of view: "There are two or three areas that you need to take care of. One is the office, I am a lawyer and we share an office with a travel company, and most of the employees there are women. They aren't quite sure how to relate to me, an Englishman, they're worried that I might forget. So they make a couple of hints, for example, like giving you a present on Men's Day which is on the 23rd of February… Then there are the other elements. There's my wife, and my stepdaughter, sometimes she helps me out with a present; that makes it even more complicated; she's very picky. Then we need to provide something for my mother-in-law. Lovely lady, but she lives in Krasnodar, so we need to organize that in advance…"
John Harrison asks Charley: "As a headmaster [of an international school], you are an interface between an international world and the Russian world. What is your experience in terms of respecting an international holiday like the 8th of March?" Charley replies: "It is very important that the school respects International Women's Day, and respects that it is a public holiday. Therefore our school will not be open or running on this particular day. We found that it was very important to create our school calendar around the Russian public holidays, and to make sure we fully respected that as an organization entering the Russian market. Alongside that, prior to these particular days we will do some build up for the children in our school in terms of helping them appreciate what this day actually means. So we will celebrate Women's Day the day before; so there will be a lot of flowers and a lot of thankyou's to all the ladies involved in our offices and in our schools."
Luke adds: "This is the first time since I have been President (of the British business Club), that we have had a March the 8th-related event, and this year we are having one with Charley's school in a 5 star hotel in Moscow. It'll be slightly untypical, we are looking to add a British touch to what would have a very Russian holiday. We'll have British music, British delicacies, champagne, presents for the ladies, chocolates, flowers, things like that….It's very interesting that in this age of globalization we tend to all do the same things all over the world, we think we are multicultural but in fact we aren't nearly as multicultural as we think we are. We all use the same phones, use the same cars, eat the same food but we don't do enough to understand other cultures, so I think that preserving what is a very Russian tradition is very important. In Britain we have a lot of political correctness, in Russia there isn't so much. What's great about this holiday is that it is a celebration of Russian women with all that that entails; with their femininity, and I think that's very important and very different."
Charley says: "I think it's important to recognize that, because sometimes we take each other for granted, whether men or women, so it's a great feeling I think to stop, recognize each other's' values and input and appreciate. That may only be a very small token or gesture, or it may be as big as putting on an event to celebrate the whole day. Luke is right when he says that appreciation is really important."
John Harrison asks: "What happens if you forget about March 8th? Charley replies immediately: "You can't. For sake of argument, if you did, I think probably it would be best to move back home."
March the 8th is not the only special holidays in Russia, there are, in fact, quite a few such events. Charley says: "You have to appreciate them for what they are, respect them, and then you work your life around them….it is interesting that the parents want to know if we respect these holidays." John Harrison says that it really is a very different cultural experience here in Russia. Luke agrees: "When I first came here I worked as an expat, and hung out with lots of foreigners. I'm not saying I disrespected the holidays, I enjoyed them, but I enjoyed them as a spectator looking in. When I moved law firms and I moved into a slightly more Russian office, I noticed the buzz about particularly the May holidays and the New Year. Commercially, these are mental deadlines when you need to have everything done. If you're doing a deal in March you say, well it has to be done by the May holidays, if you are doing one in October; it has to be done by say the 29th of December…"
Happy Women's Day women everywhere!
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