The Culture of BULA!


BULA means ‘hello’ in Fijian. I had the great fortune of visiting Fiji recently, and not only did I learn how to say hello in their language, I also learned a thing or two about culture.

As we boarded the plane to Fiji, we were greeted with a very warm and welcoming, BULA! from the flight attendants. When we arrived in Fiji, the people who greeted us in the airport belted out a heart-felt BULA! When we got on the bus to the hotel… BULA! At the hotel… BULA! The gardener, housekeeper, and waitstaff… all greeted us warmly and enthusiastically with BULA! It wasn’t long before we started saying BULA as well. To our friends, to the staff, to strangers… it didn’t matter. When in Fiji, you say BULA!

BulaAfter a day or so, we could quickly tell who had just arrived on the island. They hadn’t quite got the hang of BULA yet. They might greet you with a polite head nod or eyebrow raise when you passed them in the hall, and some looked a little scared when a non-Fijian said BULA.  Eventually they reciprocated with the appropriate BULA response.

If you have ever struggled to get your employees to greet your guests, you might read this and think the answer is to give them a fun phrase or word to say, like BULA. Unfortunately, if that’s all you do, they might say BULA once or twice, but it won’t last.

BULA is not just a word, it’s a way of life. It’s the Fijian’s way of saying hello, and welcoming you to their home. And by home, they don’t mean a building or structure. They mean Fiji, and Fiji is their family.

No one exemplified this more than Kit Kat, the humorous, knowledgeable and generous taxi driver we hired to take us around the island – to see the “real” Fiji.

Fiji - 12It was amazing to see how many people he knew, and knew well.  At the local attractions, restaurants, in the villages, along the side of the road, Kit Kat seemed to know every inch of the island, and just about every person on the island.  A skeptic might say he has a specific route and that he only knows the people on that route.  But, once you see how genuine the people of Fiji are, you’d drop that skepticism in a New York minute and bask in the happiness and positivity around you.

Okay, so that was a little sappy, but it’s not an over-exaggeration.  Their welcoming and giving nature is a part of their daily life, their way of life… their culture.

If you are a Star Wars fan, it’s sort of like the Force.  “It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”  In this case, the Fijian galaxy.

And this is why many companies efforts to change or redefine their culture takes so long or is unsuccessful – because they try to address and control the surface behaviors of their staff.  However, that’s not really where the culture is defined.  It’s much more about who you are than what you do.

And who you are, or your personal culture, doesn’t change overnight.  It doesn’t change when you start a new job or get a promotion.  Who you really are, what drives you, and what matters to you comes from your upbringing and family culture. If you find employees whose personal culture lines up with what you want your company culture to be, you are in luck.

This is certainly the case in Fiji.  Many Fijians are genuinely very nice people.  They are hired in hospitality roles to be nice people.  Win-win.

So if you are trying to change or alter your team or company culture, a lesson we can take from Fiji and BULA is that you get what you give.

  • You give BULA first, you get BULA back.
  • You give people a warm and inviting welcome, you get a warm and inviting response.
  • You give people a reason to be loyal, and they will repay you with loyalty.
  • You must do these things early, often, and consistently.

The Fijian people give in terms of their time, compassion and hospitality.  Don’t your employees deserve the same, especially if that is the type of culture you are trying to create?

Thanks for reading!


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