Respect. When you move into another culture, there are things you will love about it (usually), and things you will . . . not so much love about it (usually). It may take a little time for those to show up and define themselves. Vital to making the most of living in another culture is treating that culture and its people with respect. That doesn’t mean that you cannot be clear in your mind about those things that are obviously wrong, such as sex trafficking or mistreatment of others. But culture-moving often brings stages where you just think these people are crazy or stupid, and you cannot see that those areas that annoy you the most may not cover moral issues, but cultural habits.
Living in Argentina
When we first moved to Argentina, I was a young housewife, and I was irritated at the way the women mopped their floors. (I know, but it seemed like a big deal back then.) I said something like, “I will never mop that way!” At some point, I saw that using a damp floor cloth flipped over a squeegee was a much quicker and more efficient way to clean than my American-style mop.
In January each year, I found that it was typical for the stores to run out of ketchup. You can see that I was concerned about the important things in life. It was so aggravating that the people in the factories took the very hot month of January and/or February off for vacations and such. Why would they do that? Didn’t they understand how much profit they lost by not keeping ketchup on the shelves for people like me who hadn’t known to plan ahead?
As the years passed, however, I saw how wonderful it was to be in a culture that valued time with family and friends above the almighty dollar. Besides vacations, this applied to time in the middle of the day for siestas, when children came home from school for lunch, and shops were closed in our town. I also eventually saw that it was a better use of time to take a break during those hot months and times of the day anyway, as productivity was at its lowest then.
These are two small examples of areas where cultural misunderstandings can take place. It was easy to assume, especially from the second example, that the Argentines were lazy or had no business sense. Actually, they simply had different priorities. It is wise to hold back judgment in areas that do not involve moral affairs, and learn to respect that your new culture has its own reasons for doing things its way. You may even find yourself adopting some of those ways as your own.
Guest author: Joan Perkins
(The author and her husband have lived overseas for almost 25 years. What an amazing life!)
Share your overseas experience with us by writing to email@example.com.