Sunday, June 1, 2008

JWN: Global Citizenship

Global Citizenship

By: Joseph W. Norman

As I write this, I’m sitting at the restaurant Sayonara in downtown Lugano, Switzerland. People are walking past my small table in the back of a “piazza” (plaza) and speaking everything from Italian, to German, to French, with the occasional out of place American or neighborly European who converses in one of the many forms of English. It’s incredible to think about such variety right in front of me. Did I mention the women are beautiful here?

Lugano is like the New York City of the southern part of Switzerland. It boasts financial prowess in both its inhabitants and its businesses. For those of you scoring at home, that means the drinks are a lot more expensive; not the first thing a fresh college graduate on his self-funded twelve day graduation trip wants to hear. Nonetheless, I’m glad I’m here because it is an incredible opportunity to experience yet another culture.

For this being the New York City of Ticino (the southern region of Switzerland), it is pretty darn relaxing. Where in the United States would a fancy restaurant like Sayonara allow a young man in a pair of flip flops, grey shorts, and a long sleeve shirt have a beer and take up one of their precious tables? Not many. The irony is American pop music is playing in the background. This brings me to the point of this missive; global citizenship.

We can be anywhere we want to be in the world in an instant using the internet and within 24 hours by plane (barring inevitable delays). I think this possibility of global journeys puts a lot of pressure on a person, although this is often not the first thing that comes to a person’s mind. No doubt, it is easy to get caught up in your daily pursuits and neglect the scope of influence other people and countries can have on you. Too often we catch ourselves in this self-inflicted, narrow minded way of life and I’m right there with you!

Today it is time to reflect and take action though. We have a responsibility to learn about what it means to be a global citizen. Every person we meet, rich or poor, American, Asian, European, Russian, or African, can teach us something that can benefit our life if we open ourselves to the possibility of it.

My friends and I ate a three hour dinner the other night and it was amazing. We weren’t rushed and we weren’t expected to tip. Having worked in food service, I know that people at a table like that in America are called “squatters.” In America and Long Island where I worked, we want to turn and burn the clients so we can bring more money into the house. If it is on the waiters or waitresses minds here it sure does not show. It is crucial to experience that feeling first hand!

I challenge you to take a look around and learn about another culture. You could have a relative or a friend from another country. It may be a co-worker that just transferred from your European branch or it may be the man who produces your business cards who fled from Vietnam literally one day before the war started over there. (Thanks Nam!) No matter who it is or where they came from, please talk to them about their experience living in the culture you both live in now compared to how it is different from their previous customs.

After you do that, I want you to purchase a book on a country and culture that interests you. Read it and then go there to experience it. NOTE: Try somewhere a little more user friendly first. Please, don’t fly into the Sudan for your first international excursion, but do go somewhere that interests you.

If you’re making excuses and you “don’t have time to do it,” then make time to do it. Tell your boss and give yourself as much a preparation window as you need, but design it into your life. Say to him or her, “In November of 2009 I will be taking a week and a half familiarization trip to Costa Rica. No ands, ifs, or buts. I’m going. Let’s plan for that starting now.”

I’m not saying this because I’m a bleeding heart liberal, but rather because I have a strong conviction that we have a responsibility to learn about and connect with the other inhabitants of our world. Why? Someday your Japanese host who has remained your pen pal since your visit to his country ten years prior might become your business partner. You can quote me
on that.

That’s what our world is coming to. Want a second opinion? Read Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. Get on board with global citizenship or get left behind. As for me, I’m going to finish my trip in Switzerland with some paragliding through the hills of Interlaken, vigorous exploration of the castles in Bellinzona, and a journey through the streets and shops of Milan and Venice, Italy. Not a bad start to June.


Joseph W. Norman, resides in Macedon, NY, and is Chief Enthusiasm Officer and Editor of The VIP Profiles. He offers lectures and keynote talks on leadership, personal, and professional development and is always up for a business lunch.

Joseph can be reached at or 607.743.8569.

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