By JONATHAN FINE
I had an eye-opening experience the other day when I hosted a training day at the BDA with delegates that, how shall I put this… well, they had attitudes that I would describe as old fashioned to say the least.
These dentists were from Russia and some old Soviet bloc countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and they were in London for a bit of learning but mostly for the craic, I presumed.
My presentation didn’t start well; about five minutes in, someone’s phone rang and the man from Kazakhstan nonchalantly answered it and began having a conversation at full volume, speaking over me.
A little put out, I turned to my interpreter, who looked at me with apologetic eyes before she explained to the room that people would have to step outside to take phone calls. Things settled down a bit, then a particularly disinterested-looking delegate in a Soviet style tunic asked if he could smoke.
Once I got going again, I felt like provoking the audience a bit. “Do you do anything to attract homosexual patients to your dental practice?” I asked the phone call man. The interpreter giggled but didn’t say anything. I repeated myself. The interpreter looked uncomfortable now, but went ahead and put the question to my man, and now it was his turn to look uncomfortable. “Nyeht,” came the answer.
Everyone was shifting in their seats as I turned to the woman from Russia and asked her: “How does your dental practice encourage homosexuals to visit?” She laughed and said it wasn’t a serious question. “Well,” I said, “I know you’re mean to homosexuals in Russia, but it’s only not serious if you don’t mind writing off 10 to 20 per cent of your potential patients…”
I suspect my group emerged from Wimpole Street feeling mildly irritated and confused, but quickly forgot about the strange man with white hair as they went on to see the sights.
The experience stuck with me though, because it reminded me how easy it is to assume people are all on the same page in terms of etiquette and big picture stuff. In fact, we all carry different versions of what’s proper around in our heads, and we all have our own prejudices. It always pays to remember that in marketing.