I work for a global company with almost half a million employees worldwide. While this makes for a work culture that can be incredibly rewarding through interactions with colleagues from almost everywhere, there can be situations that can leave you, for lack of a more eloquent expression, saying, “WTF?”
I work in business development and had been chasing a lead on a Saudi Arabian company associated with the oil & gas industry. I hadn’t heard back anything for a long time, and had written this off as a dead account.
I heard back from my counterpart in Saudi Arabia quite recently and he was ready to engage the customer in a conversation around our solution. Soon after our last correspondence over e-mail, he messaged me mysteriously on our internal instant messaging tool and asked to have a conversation off the record.
He began with how he had shared the information deck I had sent across a few months ago, which included my name and e-mail address at the end, with the customer. After seeing my name, the guys from the customer side started asking questions about me, my name and whether I was Iranian. While my colleague was telling me this over instant messenger, I wondered, “Where is this conversation going?”
To save face, my colleague decided to fabricate the truth and say I was German. He had no idea where I might be from, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to admit to me being Iranian. He then politely went on to explain that Saudi Arabia and Iran were at war with each other, and they trusted no one. And especially at the refinery, there was a lot of red tape and secrecy, and anyone who could be on the enemy side was treated with suspicion. To add insult to injury, he asked me if I could excuse myself and if another team member might be available to do the presentation to the customer?
I (even more) politely explained that I am Bangladeshi, adding that I wasn’t sure if that made me better or worse than Iranians (he assured me that “Bangladeshis were cool”), and that I did not work for the Iranian government. However, I could make sure that a colleague with a very German name would be available to attend the meeting. He apologized profusely for this awkward situation, and asked me to not talk about this with anyone. (But blogging is acceptable.)
Needless to say, I was baffled. Baffled because it was the only time that someone had accurately identified my first name as being Persian. (My last name is Arabic.) But after I got over my initial shock, I lapsed into a wonderful fantasy of being a Bangladeshi-German-Iranian spy (triggered by the imagination of a good friend who I had shared the story with), peddling secrets between Arab states.
Move over, James Bond. There’s a new act in town.