The Bicultural Podcast

"No one wants to be pigeonholed with their identity" | Interview with Janina Neumann

September 28, 2020 Janina Neumann, Tiffany Dawson Season 1 Episode 10
The Bicultural Podcast
"No one wants to be pigeonholed with their identity" | Interview with Janina Neumann
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In the tenth episode of season 1, Tiffany Dawson interviews Janina Neumann, founder of The Bicultural Podcast and owner of Janina Neumann Design.

This episode will give insight into

  • The founding of The Bicultural Podcast
  • Janina's story about being bicultural
  • Differences between British and German audiences
  • Experiences of being a bicultural person

Listen to Tiffany's interview on The Bicultural Podcast here.

Read the podcast transcript here:

If you enjoyed this episode, please don't forget to review, subscribe and share with others :).

Janina Neumann (00:00):
Welcome to The Bicultural Podcast. The Bicultural Podcast celebrates bicultural individuals and gives insight into cultural differences to help you improve business relationships. The podcast is presented by myself, Janina Neumann, a bilingual creative, social entrepreneur, and business owner.

Tiffany Dawson (00:24):
Hello Janina. I am, well, I've been very excited to be on the other side of the interview table with you today. How are you doing?

Janina Neumann (00:35):
Yeah, I'm very well, thank you. I'm really excited to be interviewed and be on the other side.

Tiffany Dawson (00:41):
That's great. I hope you're not nervous?

Janina Neumann (00:44):
A little bit.

Tiffany Dawson (00:47):
Well, then let's start off with, for any of your listeners who haven't already heard your other episodes or know much about you. Do you want to give us a quick introduction to who you are?

Janina Neumann (01:01):
Yes, of course. So I'm Janina Neumann. I'm a bilingual graphic designer, social entrepreneur, and business owner of Janina Neumann Design. I'm bilingual and bicultural, so I identify with the British and the German culture. So I was born in Germany, and then I moved to the UK for a few years, and then moved back to Germany, and then I've lived here in the UK for most of my life.

Tiffany Dawson (01:33):
Amazing. I think, like many of your listeners, I'm really, really keen on hearing more about your own bicultural journey as well today. But I guess to start off, I'd love to know why did you create the bicultural podcast?

Janina Neumann (01:51):
That's a great question. So I always felt like that I could relate to people. And I also saw, especially during the lockdown period, I wanted to reflect on things a little bit more, and I really found that there needed to be a tool that promoted inclusion, and I really wanted to contribute to that. Because obviously during lockdown, we were all inside and we were kind of relying on our neighbours and I was thinking about, you know, when we would approach our neighbours, and I was thinking, actually, I don't know a lot about my neighbours. And then I started thinking if there were any barriers that I felt like I couldn't approach them.

Janina Neumann (02:43):
And sometimes it's simple things like, I don't know how to start up a conversation, you know, it's easier when something happens and you have a chat about something with your neighbour and that's how you build your relationship. So I really wanted to create a tool that celebrated bicultural individuals, because, from my experience, there actually are some great things to do with biculturalism. For example, you can relate to other people a lot better, you can put yourselves into their shoes, you can switch perspectives. And actually, I found that those are probably the tools that helped me to connect with my neighbours better. Because, you know, when you know your neighbours, you actually feel more part of your community. And also you feel like you can go and reach out to them if you're having a bad day or you just need some help, but also feeling empowered that, you know, life's good. And during lockdown, I'm sure a lot of people reflected on the important things. So I'm sure, this is a starting point, and you know, I reached out to some fantastic business owners who felt the same way. And the real aim for this podcast is to celebrate these bicultural individuals, and also give insights into cultural differences. So you can improve your business relationships, but perhaps also connect with your neighbours better.

Tiffany Dawson (04:22):
I totally agree with everything you've just said, especially with connecting with neighbours in this past period. I probably personally haven't ever spoken to so many neighbours in my lifetime as over the past couple of months. You mentioned how biculturalism helps you to connect with other people. Do you think being bicultural also helps you to connect with others who might not be bicultural?

Janina Neumann (04:50):
Yeah, that's a great question. I think I can connect better with other people who aren't bicultural mainly because, I don't know if you've been in this situation before, but when someone says something, but you have experience of that culture and you might say something, you know, slightly controversial in the way that you don't agree with them, how they see the culture or someone's viewpoint. So this has a great application, you know, with non-bicultural people, just about general things about how they see a situation or a problem because sometimes culture doesn't come into it. It comes into it in the way that you might judge different things based on your experience rather than on your culture. So just being used to sometimes saying things that not everyone agrees with, you know, actually helps me empathise with that other person and kind of finding a common theme of how to resolve things, rather than it going into the direction of "I'm not going to speak to you" or "you have that viewpoint, I have this viewpoint", and then everything's concluded. I try and approach things as in, "Oh, tell me more about that". And then people start to unravel the layers of their thinking but also realise why they feel so passionate about their viewpoint.

Tiffany Dawson (06:21):
Yeah. So it sounds like being bicultural has helped you to make less assumptions about other people, but to actually, you know, be curious and to question them more.

Janina Neumann (06:36):
Yes, I think so, and also, you know, with the movements that are going on at the moment, I think it's really great to actually always think about why you think certain things. I've certainly realised I sometimes jump to conclusions, and then when I think about it, I think, "Oh, it's probably because of this happened or I heard someone say this", and you know, and then you realise you don't actually know a lot about whatever they've said or where they've come from or like just general experiences. It's just really interesting about just being aware of your perception in general, whether it's cultural or your experiences about what you've heard because I think being surrounded by different people in our lives, you know, there might be someone who has a very strong viewpoint about something and you just take it on board, but you don't actually question it until you're in that situation where you use your viewpoint to go and judge someone. And I think it's really important just to be aware of that and just to reflect on whether you need to ask more questions.

Tiffany Dawson (07:54):
Yeah, that's such a great reminder. I guess that's something that I definitely need reminding of every day. So I'm really glad that you've created The Bicultural Podcast to, I guess, highlight some of those thoughts and feelings that people might have.

Janina Neumann (08:13):
Yes, we all need to be reminded about it, and you know, obviously, myself included.

Tiffany Dawson (08:19):
Yeah, totally. Now I know that you ask all of your guests on your podcast, "When did you become bicultural?", and I'd also love to know when you realised you became bicultural.

Janina Neumann (08:36):
When I first moved to England, when I was about four years old, I learned English. However, I'd completely forgotten about it, when I moved to the UK again, when I was nine years old, and I had to learn English from scratch, you know, and I think maybe after one or two years, I felt like I became bilingual. It's quite a difficult question about when I became bicultural because when I went to high school, that's quite a big shift, I think for anyone's life because you are trying to fit in all the time, making friends and you're trying to assimilate yourself to others. And because I was still trying to kind of develop my British side and understand the British values, I think I only became bicultural when I was 13 to 14 years old, where I really understood, okay, this is how you do things in the UK. Living with my German parents, you know, when I went back home, you know, I used to speak German to them all the time, and obviously have a different experience of living in England, but with a German environment. So, it was quite interesting, but also I hadn't realised until I started my business in 2016, how I was really trying to fit in, like to the point, you know, when people asked me where I was from, I really wanted to like show off my British side rather than talk about being German. And I think that was mainly because I always used to get pigeonholed, and I probably still do, you're either like British or German, and I really wanted to shy away from that.

Janina Neumann (10:44):
And it changed when I started my business because I actually started to work on bilingual projects, like designing marketing material, but also typesetting reports in English and German. So I actually became aware that it was actually a real strength to have both viewpoints, and as any business owner will know, you know, as you grow your business, you find your authentic self because that's who people want to work with. So these layers slowly unraveled, and I really understood actually you can be bicultural, and just because some people in society think you have to be either this or that, you can actually be both.

Tiffany Dawson (11:31):
Wow. That's incredible. I love that. I guess going back, firstly, to you know, when you were at school age and you were trying to fit in, do you recall any kind of like embarrassing or frustrating stories that you had trying to switch between cultures?

Janina Neumann (11:50):
I mainly found that people have certain perceptions of Germans. And I found that you know, when the kids would be interviewed by the teacher about why they said certain horrible things, you know, it actually came about that they heard it from someone else, probably from an adult and the adult probably wasn't thinking, and they'd picked up on it, you know. I didn't notice such differences. It was more like, you know, being able to speak English fluently, and actually that was a real motivator to perfect my English and do well at school. And that was a real driver behind things. I just wanted to do as well as everyone else was doing and, you know, I think that was partly to thank for, why I got great results for GCSE because I just wanted to, you know, speak it and understand the British culture while as everyone else did. But yeah, with cultural barriers, not as such, it's more like linguistic barriers at that age.

Tiffany Dawson (13:13):
Yeah, and then how about when you moved into starting your own business, or even when you started your career, was there a shift in your thinking towards, you know, "Hey, I can actually leverage some of these strengths from biculturalism"?

Janina Neumann (13:34):
Yes. So it was mainly during my university studies, so I did a BA in graphic design at the University of Gloucestershire, and the course was fantastic. It really allowed you to think freely, and sometimes it is uncomfortable to ask these questions about why things are going wrong. And, you know, I became quite passionate with different things, whether it was like climate change or looking after a certain minority group. And it just gave me some time to like do some critical thinking. And I actually realised that it was okay to be different and to think differently. And it was actually rewarded, to be honest, in the way that you would have had a better outcome, which then again solved like the problem better, and in the end gave you better marks. So actually it was very much encouraged to be a bit more critical. Yeah, after I finished university, I decided to set-up my own business, mainly because at that time I couldn't find a design agency that did what I wanted to do. So I decided, "Oh, I'm just going to set up my own business", and obviously, have so many people who've helped me get there. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, so they definitely helped me get my mindset right when things were difficult. And just as I started to attract different clients, they asked for different things and slowly, you know, I realised that I could really help other people with my way of thinking, but also my skillsets of being fluent in English and German.

Tiffany Dawson (15:37):
Firstly, that's incredible that you've finished uni, you decided that there was nothing out there that really suited you, and you had the confidence and courage to go out there and just start your own. That's, yeah, that's way more courage than a lot of us would have had finishing university. Well done.

Janina Neumann (15:57):
Thank you. Yes, I also think that it's naivety that helped me get started.

Tiffany Dawson (16:07):
Well, I think any business owner would agree that some level of naivety is needed in order to get through some of those tough days.

Janina Neumann (16:18):

Tiffany Dawson (16:18):
And it's interesting also that you mentioned, you know, at school we're almost taught that we should all think the same. You know, if you're writing an English essay, there are always outcomes that are correct. You know, you can talk about a movie or a book in the correct way. Whereas as soon as we get to university and working life, we are rewarded then for thinking critically and differently. So it's always interesting to reflect on how school might not always prepare us in the right ways for the real world, but that's a whole other topic we could talk about another time.

Janina Neumann (16:59):

Tiffany Dawson (17:01):
Now I would love to know what have you observed are the differences in engaging audiences in Germany and the UK?

Janina Neumann (17:14):
You know, it's really interesting to reflect on that because, you know, for someone who isn't bicultural in the way, like English/German, might see the differences a lot quicker than I might do in a situation. But actually talking to people and understanding why they feel like there's some, for example, conflict or they don't feel so close. It becomes very apparent to me about why they feel that way because, in that kind of situation, I would usually morph myself into the other culture. So I don't experience those differences as much as others. Although saying that, you know, I have found that my British side comes out when I go to Germany, especially when, you know, you're trying to get on a bus and no one queues. I mean, if Germans find efficiency great, surely queuing would be the most efficient way to get on a bus, but, you know, I don't understand that concept sometimes. But, yes, in terms of differences, so Germans are usually more direct than British people, but they try and solve problems quicker in the way that they get to the root of the problem. Whilst in the UK, we need to make sure that the other person is comfortable, you know, if you were too direct, they might be taken aback and it makes them feel uncomfortable, so you probably wouldn't get to the problem as quickly as you'd like to.

Janina Neumann (18:59):
What I found really, for example, persuade others, so for example, that might be in your marketing material, Germany has more of a principles-first approach, and to be honest, I noticed that you know, reflecting back on conversations with my dad, he would always question where I built my theory from, like what evidence did I have, like who did I listen to, more than what the actual outcome was. And it was just really interesting, because we obviously talk about different communication styles, for example, you know, in DISC, but actually, you know, culture does influence those behavioural styles at some level. So in the UK, my clients love case studies and understanding the process, and feeling reassured about what's going to happen. I think that's mainly because the UK is more relationship-based, so they need to understand a little bit more about you to trust you, but also the way you work, which obviously is highlighted in the case study, Germans tend to trust people based on how successfully they complete a task. If you don't respond to emails or you don't deliver a project on time, you know, you're not seen as very trustworthy. But saying that, in Germany there's actually quite a lot of family businesses or larger organisations think they are like a family business, so they have family business values. So interestingly enough, 91% of all companies in Germany are family-controlled, this was done by Familienunternehmen in 2017. So actually that makes quite a difference, because although trust is created on how many tasks you complete, it's really important also, that they trust you like on the relationship-side as well.

Janina Neumann (21:23):
So, that's when it gets interesting because there's a tendency in Germany to compartmentalise. So, when you're at work, you see that person as your colleague. So you would go into problems a lot deeper and question why they've done things, whilst in the UK you might, you know, work together, but you also might talk about family. Whilst that's not really the case in Germany, it's more, you know when lunchtime starts and you have a break, that's when you open up about your family life and talk to others, perhaps like you would with a friend. So in England, it's more of a mixed style, whilst in Germany, it's more about you're at work or you're off work, and these are the topics that are okay to talk about. So that's been really interesting.

Tiffany Dawson (22:27):
That is so interesting. I guess I never really thought about different cultures in that way. I thought it was really interesting when you mentioned that DISC profiling is definitely influenced by your culture. I guess I never really thought about it, but that makes a lot of sense. And also that I very much related to your story about, you know, Germans being more direct, and in England, where you might not necessarily solve a problem as quickly, because you need to get the other person on board. I know when you interviewed me on your podcast, we had a similar conversation because Australians are also more direct than the Brits, and I may have gotten myself into a little bit of trouble because of that before.

Janina Neumann (23:24):
Yes, but on that note though, you know, I had a conversation with someone and, you know, they said they actually liked the directness and actually, you know, when they noticed that I stumble, because I'm trying to hold back my directness because I'm thinking of a way to say it in a more indirect way. You know, I stumble and actually the stumbling makes the person more uncomfortable than if I actually said what I thought, you know, because they can see it, and obviously they've picked up on my behaviour and how I usually talk about things. So it's good to not hide that though, because people, like us as well, we pick up on how people say things, you know, once we've had a conversation with them, we read emails completely different. We almost mimic their email with their voice in our heads. And I think it's important to remember that, you know, there are ways of doing things, but also if you're trying to tone down something too much, you know, you just create more confusion.

Tiffany Dawson (24:40):
Yeah. So I guess the key is to, just to always be yourself.

Janina Neumann (24:45):
Exactly. Definitely.

Tiffany Dawson (24:48):
It sounds as if you've got a really good grip on, you know, being able to identify what different audiences are attracted to. So you mentioned people in the UK, you know, while you're running your business, you find that they love case studies because they like being reassured and they're more relationship-based. Whereas, in general, in Germany, it's a little bit different. It's more about, you know, proving that you can complete tasks. So I guess being bicultural has also helped you to not just notice what different cultures prefer, but I guess, it would also help you on a person by person basis being able to identify what each type of person would like.

Janina Neumann (25:32):
Yes, definitely. I actually had a great conversation with someone about that this week, and you know, she really summed it up really well. So she said that actually when you just meet one person from one culture, you can't really make any assumptions, because they might just be like that. But as soon as you have like a group of people, you can start to observe how they interact with each other and how there's like this group culture. And I suppose that's how, you know, culture in organisations has formed, you know, as soon as you have certain individuals together, it's about, you know, group harmony and about how they interact. So yeah, I think that's really important to also, you know, realise that. But I think that gives you the opportunity to actually approach someone a little bit more.

Janina Neumann (26:33):
And, you know, when you meet someone, whether it's your neighbour or someone's friend, just, you know, be curious and not think, "Oh, no, I have to behave in this way because I've heard this about their culture". You know, it is important that they reveal that to you, because you don't know whichever culture you think they're from or you know, that they're from, you don't know how much that's actually influenced in the way they speak to you. Because they might have been, like I was as a teenager, you know, completely taking on the British side and not really showing my German side, apart from to close friends or family. So I think that's really important to remember that, to see them as an individual, but when things feel slightly off or you want to improve things, you know, just reflect back on their culture, but also ask them, "Oh, why did you say that?", or "Is there something I can do to help you?", you know, just human ways of connecting with people.

Tiffany Dawson (27:46):
I think that's such a great point that you've made that, you know, we should be aware of other people's cultural differences, but to not assume that they are the stereotypical German or the stereotypical Brit, because you just never know what their personal experiences are. Now, we've covered a lot about, you know, your experience with biculturalism and the differences between Germany and the UK. Is there anything else about your experiences as a bicultural person that you would like to share?

Janina Neumann (28:23):
I found that, because I have quite a few friends and loved ones from different cultures, I'm starting to become a bit more multicultural in my identity. Like I start to see things like, actually, this is a better way of doing things. Recent example is in Germany, we like to plan things and we like to plan things because we want to make sure that the person has the best experience. So, you know, when my partner's cousins came unexpectedly, you know, I felt a bit overwhelmed because I felt like, you know, I hadn't prepared everything just right for them. But, actually, they're Persian, and it's really important to them that they actually see you, you know, it could be anywhere as long as you're together, you're having a good time. So actually I've realised that things don't have to be perfect, because they are very much interested in spending time together and that things get resolved as they go on and they help each other. It's about the conversation rather than everything being perfect. So that was a good lesson.

Tiffany Dawson (29:43):
Aww, that's really sweet that's the thing that they prioritise over everything else, just being together. I love that. I also loved that, you mentioned you are bicultural, but you know, people from other cultures, so you're feeling more multicultural yourself. So I guess in a fact, in a way, people who aren't bicultural can also become socially multicultural.

Janina Neumann (30:15):
Yes, and I think even people who perhaps aren't bicultural, they might have a way of dealing with other cultures that is perfect, you know, that they're really inclusive, you know, they have a very multicultural outlook on life. And it's really important not to forget about these people, because like I said, you know, no one wants to be pigeonholed with their identity. I think it's really important to be friends or be associated with someone because of their values, and whether they form those values through like culture or their family or their experiences, it's connecting with them. For example, you know, even though I have a lot of friends from different cultures, that's why I'm not friends with them. I am friends with them because I love their approach, and I love that they've seen other things around the world that I wouldn't have, and they have different viewpoints, you know, when I bring something to the table about why something's happening. But then again, it is sometimes good to be reminded about that they might not know what I know about that specific situation and vice versa, you know, there are sometimes things, you know, we can't experience everything.

Janina Neumann (31:45):
So it's really great to have, you know, friends who can chip in with their knowledge and, just talk about a different viewpoint, and I think that should be encouraged in business as well. But it takes confidence to say how you feel because as human beings, we tend to want to group together and have one way of thinking. And it's a bit unnatural sometimes to say something else, even when you have really good intentions.

Tiffany Dawson (32:20):
Yeah, and sometimes I guess, being bicultural almost forces you to talk about your different points of view because you almost have no choice.

Janina Neumann (32:33):

Tiffany Dawson (32:33):
So I guess for anyone who's listening, who is not bicultural, don't feel left out, because you definitely can have all the benefits of being bicultural just by accepting and being curious about people from other cultures. So thank you so much for all of those insights today, Janina. I've written down a lot of notes myself. I feel like I've benefited a lot from what you've said today. Now you talked about, you know, your work as a designer, I'd love to know firstly, who are the people you work with and how can they connect with you if they'd like to find out more.

Janina Neumann (33:14):
Yes, certainly. So, for anyone who'd like to connect with me, you can connect with me on LinkedIn or you can send me an email. I'd love to hear what you think about the podcast and whether you have stories to tell, and you'd like to be a guest. I would love to hear from you. My business is called Janina Neumann Design, and it's a bilingual design company. I mainly work with the public sector, charities, and social entrepreneurs to implement design for social change. And sometimes these social entrepreneurs actually come in different forms. So for example, I've worked with a life science company, and they do things in an obviously scientific way of delivering social change in the way that they help make our lives better. So the way I can help really is through my three core pillars.

Janina Neumann (34:18):
So that's vision, message, and value. So the vision pillar is focused on helping organisations define their goals for their creative project. The message pillar is built on managing cultural differences, building trust within the community, and designing a creative showcase. And the value pillar is focused on working inclusively, decreasing negative economic impact, so that will hopefully lead to growth instead, and building community wealth because we're all in this together. No matter where you are in the world, we need to make sure that our communities are strong and that we are there for each other.

Tiffany Dawson (35:01):
That's amazing. I can see how all of your values, that you talked about before, are all packaged neatly up into your business. Now, thank you so much for sharing your insights on your experiences of being bicultural today. I know your listeners are going to get so much out of this episode, and it was so lovely to chat to you.

Janina Neumann (35:23):
It's been an absolute pleasure. And for those who loved listening to Tiffany, we've recorded an episode together. So that's Tiffany Dawson, founder of Tiffany Dawson Coaching, and her work in diversity and STEM is fantastic. So please do connect with her, and listen to our episode.

Tiffany Dawson (35:47):
Hooray. Thank you.

Janina Neumann (35:49):
Thank you, Tiffany.

Janina Neumann (35:54):
So I hope you've enjoyed this episode. Please don't forget to subscribe to The Bicultural Podcast. Thank you for listening, and "bis bald".

Welcome to The Bicultural Podcast
The founding of The Bicultural Podcast
Janina's story about being bicultural
Differences between British and German audiences
Experiences of being a bicultural person
Thank you for listening