Most over-qualified refugees who come to accept lower job status in the United States still face further difficulties -- many stemming from cultural misunderstandings.
Robert Revere, executive director of Senior Employment Resources in Annandale, tells of a Virginia woman who contacted him in search of a gardener.
"She didn't want to hire an Afghan because she had heard they were all communists. We finally convinced her to interview this very cultured gentleman, about 50, who had been a high school principal in Kabul and had had a hobby of gardening and beekeeping.
"Out of respect for his new employer, he reported for this gardener's job in a three-piece suit. And he'd hook his thumbs in his pants pockets and bow from the waist when introduced. She was horrified and he didn't get the job."
Recognizing cultural misunderstandings goes a long way toward easing difficult transitions, says Lewis Griggs, coauthor of Going International: How to Make Friends and Deal Effectively in the Global Marketplace (Random House, 1985, $19.95). To help the "executive immigrant" adapt to the United States, the San Francisco-based Griggs and coauthor Lennie Copeland recently produced two films, "Working in the U.S.A." and "Living in the U.S.A," pointing out typical cultural collisions:
*Language. It is classic behavior for Americans to raise their voices when speaking to foreigners. Instead, use simpler words, speak clearly and slowly, and don't use euphemisms and slang.
*Competitiveness. In a job interview, Americans will brag about what they have accomplished. Southeast Asians and Chinese will understate everything: An expert will say he has little experience.
*Business. Foreigners must realize that Americans believe business is business -- "We don't establish any rapport or respect first and we're willing to do business with people we don't even like," says Griggs. Foreigners expect more than just business; without any socializing first, they may assume something is amiss.
*Time. Punctuality and not wasting someone's time are important to Americans. In most other cultures, things are not done as quickly; important things demand more time to honor them.
*Form versus substance. While Americans try to create an atmosphere of relaxation and informality, many other cultures see formality as a sign of respect.
Says Griggs, "You choose the tool that is appropriate to another culture. You don't have to become part of that other culture. But if you understand it and are capable of participating in it, we'll all do better."