Bridging Culture in Construction

Written by LetsBuild

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In today’s shrinking world this bridging of cultures is something we are having to do more and more and it does bring with it some strange situations we have to find the imagination to deal with.

One funny example of this I had was in Paris as site-based Planner. The fit-out of a new French Head Office, for an American company with a British main contractor using French sub-contractors. The Client had an on-site Project Manager who was a New Zealand solicitor and knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about construction! Don’t ask why she was appointed; not even she knew. Anyway, I was doing my daily walkabout when she hurled herself at me and burst into tears. Turned out that a floor-layer had done the French thing; pinched her bum and tried to chat her up! I had words with them and explained cultural differences. They were so upset that they quit the job! From my own point of view this was advantageous! Meant the Client’s PM went along with anything I suggested after that!

A big problem in this bridging cultures in construction, though, is language. Now I speak French, but only the posh version of it. The lads on site were using the French equivalent of our British construction “Grunt” and I didn’t have a clue! Meant there had to be long explanatory conversations outside during fag breaks so we all ended up on the same page!

Another eye-opening example I had was in Romania. I learnt that, if we wanted to implement a design change, for example, that wasn’t just done “at our own peril” as would tend to be done in the UK unless we were prepared to wait 12 weeks for it to go through the process. . No; the application went into the Authorities accompanied by a “brown envelope” containing 1,000 Euros. Bribery and corruption! Completely abhorrent to we Brits! Eventually it dawned on me that we were getting Approval back in 2 or 3 days and it was a helluva lot cheaper and less risky way of doing things!

On site, though, the ones we have to watch out for in this bridging cultures thingy are the skilled tradesmen from different countries. Every country seems to have its own quirks and things they don’t take too seriously. The only example that comes to mind is a gang fitting the fire break. Above the suspended ceiling they didn’t consider holes through the fire walls where cables and ducts went through to be worth bothering about!

Oh! Back to France! Now in the UK we know that Clerks of Work (CoW) are just little busy-bodies that interfere. We, being very polite and considerate, do tend to pander to them a little but tell them to mind their own business if we don’t like their input. Don’t do that in France! Sure, as work progresses their CoW’s are CoW’s, but once the project is complete and ready for hand-over, what happens? The Clerk of Works turns into Judge! That’s right; a Judge as in a Court! If you haven’t taken him seriously he’ll have you re-work everything and you’ll really be hammered for Delay and LAD.


One final bit of culture we have to bridge is when we are doing commercial work. We get close to hand-over and the clients want to get their people moved in. To sort that all out they appoint someone to deal with their Change Management. This appointee is very often a lady who has never done anything like this in her life. She gets completely confused and out of her depth. What happens? Another woman throwing herself into your arms in tears! We just have to sort out her thinking for her and be supportive. When we get to the bottom of it we usually find that most her problems are caused by a few bolshie so-and-so’s. For us it is dead easy to get them to back off. We just give them a good construction-style cursing and swearing at!