“Authenticity is the greatest form of communication.” – Mike Frank
In my department at Cisco, The Bureau, we’ve been swapping stories on our greatest “learning moments.” By “learning moments” we mean those experiences that constantly replay in our minds because we cannot bear repeating them again in real life.
My most memorable “learning moment” occurred in June 2006 when I started traveling as a conference speaker in Singapore. At that point I hadn’t traveled much outside of the US. You could say that I was still getting acclimated to new cultures and climates.
After one speaking engagement I was invited to high tea at Cova Cafe. I immediately translated that in my California brain to mean, “Wanna grab coffee?” Given that it was 110 degrees with 70% humidity outside, I couldn’t wait to get out of my speaking clothes: black slacks and a long sleeve button-down shirt. I kindly asked the people inviting me if I could meet them at the cafe because I wanted to change into something more comfortable. They looked at me funny but given that I was a guest, they were polite and said, “Sure.”
I threw on my typical California summer wear, a tank top, shorts and flip-flops then hopped into a cab and said, “Cova Cafe, please.” It was the first time a taxi driver ever rolled their eyes at me but I assumed it was because of my American accent (Singapore was once a British settlement.) We pull up to Cova Cafe and let me tell you it was not a “cafe.” It was more like a 5 star restaurant. I walked in and saw the photo below:
Now just imagine all those chairs being full and bustling with Singaporeans dressed in business formal wear. Now imagine all those Singaporeans staring at the clueless young American girl who just walked into this fine establishment wearing the new hip get up from American Eagle’s summer catalog. Yeah, bad.
Just as my face turned tomato red and my palms got clammy, I saw someone waving me to their table. It was in the back, of course. Though I tried to discreetly ninja walk my way to the table, a few stares accompanied by whispers and giggles still found me.
As soon as I sat down I turned the neatly folded napkin in front of me into a makeshift white skirt hoping it would bump me up to business casual on the wardrobe scale. Alas, I wasn’t fooling anyone.
Today, whenever I hear or see the words, “high tea” or “American Eagle” mentioned it sends shivers down my spine. What about you? What’s your favorite learning moment? Please feel free to share in the comment section below…