When Opposites Attract…The Big Apple meets the Athens of the South*
What is about to happen in Nashville is that (yet) another corporation, this time AllianceBernstein, is relocating its headquarters to the area. Culturally speaking, these two regional cultures are on complete opposite ends of the cultural preferences spectrum.
Ultimately, culture can be defined as: the way things are done around here. And, what happens when a relatively large group (say, a thousand plus employees multiplied by four – including possible family — to quintuple the number) carries the belief that they come from the best city on earth with America’s “financial headquarters,” world-class entertainment, restaurants, and high fashion? Especially for a receiving group which lauds its antebellum (i.e. Latin for “before the war” – Civil War) architecture.
Misperceptions on both sides can swiftly transform into absolute truths through verification of shared experiences (with those who share the same cultural perspective), thereby creating an echo chamber and justification to harbor resentment against those who are not doing things the “proper way.”
Successful transitions make it to the fourth and final phase into Acceptance, after passing through the phases of Honeymoon, Degeneration, and Culture Shock.
PHASE 1: HONEYMOON
The initial phase of assimilation begins with the honeymoon period. This varies by individual, of course, and generally lasts 2-4 weeks. The individual appreciates things which are real. Examples include the following:
- Space. While Nashville’s city size seems pretty small in comparison to NYC, New Yorkers are accustomed to living in apartments about the size of a Brentwood walk-in closet. New Yorkers will see storage space in Nashville as the size of their NY bathrooms, and wish that they had kept all of their excess belongings, such as vinyl records, sports and/or arts memorabilia.
- Bars. New Yorkers will be happy to have hundreds of funky, elegant, and/or trendy places which offer happy hour every night for those post-work drinks. You can continue to only go out to bars during the weekdays because Broadway on the weekends turns into something much like the “bridge-and-tunnel crowd” – known as “tourists” in Nashville.
- Drinks. In addition to Jack Daniels whiskey (which is fiercely delicious even for us teetotalers), New Yorkers will be glad to live in this craft beer lover’s paradise that includes local favorites like Fat Bottom Brewing and Yazoo Brewing Company.
- Snow. New Yorkers need not fear falling down a flight of subway stairs in the winter. Your kids will miss school for questionable snow, that you may never actually see. Nashville snow days means the city stops.
- Talent. You’re grateful to live in a city with such musically talented people, which is how Nashville gained its moniker “Music City.” After a while, you can’t comprehend the fact that people elsewhere have to pay to hear live music. You will eventually know someone who is in an indie band, a post-hardcore band, or is a singer-songwriter. Shows are at the Ryman, Opry, and other live music venues around town are on any given night. Even the guys who play in front of Whole Foods in Franklin are amazing.
- Rats. No more rats or cockroaches. Nashville offers New Yorkers wild turkeys, opossums, skunks, geese, foxes, and deer…Cinderella’s preferred friends.
- Parking. Except for downtown Nashville, most parking around Nashville is free. Valet is either validated or tips only. There goes the New Yorker parking spot as a status symbol.
PHASE 2: DEGENERATION
This is when the differences begin to feel taxing, leading one to feel less energy before the day is even over. Here is one major example:
Driving. New Yorkers walk, use the subway, or use another form of public transportation. You need to drive in Nashville, but if you’re from New York, you may not even remember the last time you drove a car. Couple that with Old Hickory Boulevard (a.k.a. OHB), a loop road around the entire city, and the fact that several roads in Nashville, including the OHB, can change names multiple times without warning or break and reappear somewhere else.
PHASE 3: CULTURE SHOCK
This is the hardest part of assimilation; some never make it through successfully. One of my recommendations during this phase is to consider relocating after two years, if these cultural preferences are too different from your own to bridge the gap sufficiently.
There are four primary areas between NYC and Nashville which have wide cultural gaps: Direct/Indirect, Fixed Time/Fluid Time, Individualism/Collectivism; Formal/Informal & Conservative/Liberal (overlapping twofer).
Direct / Indirect Communication
Direct communicators wish to save time and to be understood without interpretation. Indirect communicators wish to imply messages in order to maintain as much harmony as possible; the value tends to be placed on the group or “other.” Example:
Cursing. Many New Yorkers feel comfortable not only with using expletives, they will often raise their voices when making demands. Many Nashvillians grit their teeth and may tell you (and/or others about you), “God bless your heart.” Even if New Yorkers do not curse or yell, to be so explicitly clear in their requests is heard — through the ears of those who prefer more harmony than confrontation –as combative and discourteous.
Fixed Time / Fluid Time
Fixed time is the belief that time is finite; it is a resource and there is only so much of it. Fluid time is the belief/practice that there is an abundant amount of time, and time requires prioritization. Nashvillians, as a whole, are definitely a morning crowd and tend to be punctual, which will please New Yorkers. The strong difference is New Yorkers rush everywhere even if you have no reason to, you have nowhere to be; yet, you’re still in a rush to get there. Examples:
- Walking. Several New Yorkers exhibit “sidewalk rage” – upsetness when people walk too slowly or when three or more people walk in a row on the street, since they block everyone from being able to pass. You might bump into someone when you’re walking and not take the time to say “Sorry” – which also violates some other Nashville cultural preferences of Being, Formal, Collectivism, etc.
- Jaywalking. New Yorkers tend to cross streets where they are not supposed to, and before the walk-signal indicates it is okay to do so. When walking through the city, you may have adopted a serpentine route to help you to avoid waiting for the lights to change to cross the street. Even when at fault in a near pedestrian vs vehicle collision, New Yorkers believe in the “pedestrian has the right of way” rule and may even flash the driver the bird or say, “I’m walkin’ here!”
- Multi-tasking (Polychronic) & Doing. To save time (“New York minute”), a lot of New Yorkers sanction multi-tasking behavior. The intent is not to be rude. They think it’s fine to walk, talk on the phone, hail a cab, and maybe even have a bite to eat all at the same time. Most Nashvillians see that behavior as uncouth, disrespectful, and just plain “wrong.” They prefer to “Be” in the moment and take one thing at a time (monochronic). You will see how they place lawn chairs facing a mountain or green landscape for no particular reason other than to breathe in the serenity of life. You will notice how the cashier may have an actual conversation with the person in/on line ahead of you. Drivers will give you the courteous wave to merge ahead of them. New Yorkers must not make the mistake of honking.
Individualism / Collectivism
The group (collectivism) is very important to the vast majority of Nashvillians. New Yorkers (from NYC) are the most Individualistic in the country, which is not to say they don’t value the following examples, they are just expressed differently. Examples:
- Family. Nashvillians have “summer hours” – shortened Fridays – to go home to children who are off from school. They leave work to go watch their kid’s ball game or recital, and are considered “great executives” for doing so. Nashvillians have four children, on average. You will notice how every restaurant has a few large tables always ready. Meanwhile, the New Yorker may talk more often to the coffee cart guy than his/her own mom.
- Church. Nashvillians may leave early on Wednesday nights to attend bible study. The dominant churches for this area are Church of Christ and Southern Baptist. Several Nashvillians do not consider Catholics as Christian. New Yorkers must prepare for the question, “Which church do you attend?” and not say the gym or Central Park.
- Friends. Nashvillians are loyal to their friends. Friends constitute those from childhood. This has resulted into a certain degree of corporate nepotism. New Yorkers must bear in mind the labyrinthian network of a growing Collectivistic town into a city, and consider how people who have always lived in the same area might see those who readily admit to having lived in more than five apartments as transients not capable of committing.
Formal & Conservative / Informal & Liberal
- Hospitality. Southerners know how to say “please” and “thank you.” The New York, “Hey, let me get a…” is not the acceptable way to greet the person taking your order. New Yorkers must be prepared for “Sir” and “Ma’am,” and recognize that honey attracts bees.
- Elephant Herd; Donkey Passel. East Nashville is the Nashvillian blue spot. New York Liberals would do well to remember that TN is Trump country and ixnay on the presidente.
- Religion. With around 750 local churches, several national religious headquarters, and the world’s largest bible producer (Thomas Nelson), religion is a big deal in Nashville. (Bear in mind that wherever there is restriction, there is also a wild side). Nashvillian couples tend to marry early and have children early.
PHASE 4: ACCEPTANCE & INTEGRATION
People in transition generally reach acceptance after 9-12 months. This is why I recommend a staggered approach to corporate relocation.
- Relocate First. This group actually is comprised of the top half of the corporation who tested for readiness several months prior to the proposed timeline.
- Relocate Second. The next 34% (i.e. Late Majority) can relocate after the third quarter.
- Replace/Virtual. The bottom 16% or so tend to opt out. If possible, consider them for virtual employment. To hire locally, recruiters must be able to effectively articulate the corporate values and accurately paint a picture of expectations; otherwise, be prepared for (perceived or actual) internal subterfuge.
Historically, the most effective cultural mergers have been more of an infusion…blending “old world” behaviors with “new world” traditions and customs.
Start, Stop, and Continue.
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, cultural integration expert, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners. She is the author of the Corporate Looking Glass: Using Culture for Your Competitive Advantage, available on Amazon and used at graduate business schools in the USA and Europe.
We increase retention. Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.
© Rossina Gil, 2018
*The statements here are intended to be generalizations and not stereotypes. If you are a New Yorker or Nashvillian and do not fit into the generalizations made, please do not be offended.