Culture is an important part of our national identity. Expressions of culture include art, music, rituals, dance and many more. Our culture also defines our language, cuisine and the way we interact with others. In these ways culture makes life easier, better organized and more predictable. Moving to a new country with a very different culture can be a fascinating experience. The ideas in this article can help you prepare to experience the cultural differences in another nation not as shocks, but as pleasant exchanges.
There is a lot you can do to sensitize yourself before the move. Seek information about your destination with interest. Read books and watch movies from the region where you plan to move. Read their online newspapers. You may find a number of things that you may not understand. Do more research to find the reasons for those cultural differences. You may find surprising, and sometimes shocking information. Google and Facebook are banned in China. Arab men rub noses as a greeting. Consuming alcohol in public may be prohibited by law in your home country, yet beer festivals are amazingly popular in Europe (notably the Oktoberfest)!
This can be one of your great pitfalls in a new culture, or a source of delight to those around you, all depending on how well you prepare. You will need to meet and greet people and show appropriate social behavior. Short of a major blunder that offends someone badly, you may get along fine. However knowing the social customs of the new land can help you make friends and fit in when you most need to. No country is without its social nuances. In the western world you shake hands when you meet someone for the first time. In Japan you exchange bows and in India you put your hands together in a ‘Namaste’. The way you greet men and women differs in many nations. Dinner etiquette and dress code can be also be very specific at times.
The most fundamental part of any country’s culture is its language. All nations try to protect, preserve and propagate their language. Proving that you have learnt the language is a precondition for several visa classes in many nations. You may find that a foreign language is fundamentally different from your own. For example French is a non-phonic language, which means that unlike most other languages French words are pronounced differently from how they are written. Arabic is one of few scripts to be written (and typed) from right to left. Learning a foreign language provides you a solid primer on that country’s culture and speeds up your acceptance manyfold.
Once you actually arrive at your destination you can learn a lot through keen observation. Expose yourself to a variety of settings, events and places. How people interact in a park is different from how they behave in a library for instance. Some of the most effective learning comes from mistakes – preferably others’. Again, there may be things you may not fully understand and questions may remain in your mind. Why in some countries do pedestrians have the right of way and it is considered rude to honk? Are you expected to bring a gift if you’re invited to someone’s house for dinner? Why do Vatican troop uniforms look like colorful fancy dresses? Make sure to have your queries answered by a well informed local friend or through more research. In most cases you’re likely to find a good explanation based on the nation’s cultural history.
Not taking things for granted
You may find it difficult initially to stop viewing things through your own cultural lens. Before you can absorb a foreign culture you must let go of any rigid notions from your own. Sometimes you may observe things in the new land which may seem unthinkable from the cultural perspective of your home county. Bull fighting for example may seem nonsensically risky in addition to being a gross and systematic act of animal cruelty. However, you may moderate your opinion if you know that in Spain and other nations it is a proud national tradition dating back to prehistoric Mesopotamia
Language and culture can take a lifetime to learn. No matter how familiar you become with a culture there will be surprises from time to time. Your learning process can be accelerated if you make more connections. By cultivating relationships in the new country you can widen the variety of environments and situations you can experience. Having friends makes it easier to have your cultural queries answered. At the same time you may get the locals interested in your culture too. A cultural exchange can benefit both parties. Learn to forgive people if they sound a little insensitive, prejudiced or opinionated and consider that you may have sounded the same when you were less well informed.