Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gift exchanges

What's inside? Is it ticking? (double entendre with black humor)

During our last cycle, a U.S. Army captain observed to me how poorly we understand the cultures of the people we are working with. To illustrate the point, he discussed how we don’t understand the process of gift giving and exchanging. The Iraqis we work with have found ample opportunities to offer us gifts. Frequently, at the end of each cycle, the brigade we have trained will offer us gifts as tokens of gratitude and friendship. I’ve received battalion and brigade banners (small size), small boxed sets with pens or watches, and once was even offered a saber. Now granted, by the standards of gifts, these things are fairly simple and inexpensive (poor MSG Merrell was even given a watch with a broken face!). I think only about half of the watches I’ve received even work. And that really doesn't bother me. These folks are dealing with a world far more challenging than mine, and even a non-functioning watch requires resources from folks that aren't typically rolling in cash. But I’ve given next to nothing in return. I did get one of the brigade commanders a letter of commendation from our commanding general, but that is not exactly a personal gift.

The contractor I work with, BLP, gets this. They have special dinners for the officers one or two times during a cycle, and even a special celebration dinner for the whole brigade towards the end of a cycle. They even provide gifts to the brigade that the brigade leadership then gives out to exceptional performers in the brigade during the end of cycle graduation. They do a pretty good job with this.

So I’m working on my cultural competencies so I can offer the next group’s leadership something more than the remains of the last few care packages I’ve received. Let me know if you have any good ideas of things I can share with them- little pieces of Americana that lets them know, “I’m thinking of you!”

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