Last week I spent some time in Prague for the first time. Before I travel somewhere new, it's usually my habit to invest some time and energy in preparing to understand the place I'm going to and the people there. To get a sense of the language forms and a feel for the culture.
However, the week running up to the trip was just so busy (and the main purpose of the trip was to deal with a very international set of people) that I did not undertake my usual level of local preparation.
If this was a marketing pitch, I should have a list of the disasters that thus ensued. However, in fact, everything passed off very smoothly overall. Everyone was very friendly and the setting, whilst subtly different, was similar enough to other parts of Central Europe to enable me to extrapolate from other visits to the region.
All the same, I definitely noticed a difference in the levels of stress (higher) and confidence (lower) that various parts of the trip presented me with. Cultural preparation is as much about arriving at the critical moment in the right frame of mind as anything. It is not just about avoiding disaster, but creating a platform for success. Most people have the ability to perform under stressful circumstances, but orientation can help both remove distractions (by providing a framework for understanding differences in behaviour and situations) and allowing you to spot opportunities (through understanding the ritual element of what is going on.)
I'm resolved to make the time for more of my own preparation in future. Next stop: India. Bangalore and Mumbai in the first week of September. My family roots are in West Bengal, so it's clear that there are plenty of differences to think about.