In the last post, I have explained the role of environment in triggering the feelings of surprise and confusion among others we get when we move to a different place.

In this post I want to explain how the next level up in the neurological levels pyramid, Behaviours, is the most striking in terms of culture clash and culture shock but how it is also the first level we can act upon because we can choose our behaviour.

When you go to a new place, what people do, eat, how they speak, what music they listen to will be different. Sometimes the differences in behaviour will be minimal, sometimes it will really be like being on another planet. The gap with your own behaviour may be huge. It is completely normal to be surprised and at first unsettled by these new behaviours, however much you may have read about some of them before.

But your next step will be crucial for the success of your expatriate stay. You need to perform in that new society, both on a professional and personal level. You need to find the right balance for you between closing yourself out of the surrounding society, spending as much time as possible with fellow expatriates, and “going native” .

When it comes to behaviours:

  1. Notice, don’t judge. When you see a new behaviour, notice it, how it differs from what you expect but do not judge. It is very easy to label negatively the behaviour, and worse still the person carrying out the behaviour: stupid, gruesome, disgusting, ridiculous or whatever. It is easy to think our behaviour would be better, the only right one.
  2. Ask and accept. Do not hesitate to ask clarification about the meaning and origin of the behaviour. Being curious is positive. Whatever the situation, accept the behaviour for what it is.
  3. Explain how it differs from the behaviour you would expect in your own culture. Begin a completely non-judgemental discussion.
  4. Adapt your own behaviour. But stay comfortable. Do not copy behaviour for the sake of copying. But being more in line with others’ behaviours is the first step towards integration, harmony and understanding.

Following some of the local behaviours will help getting more familiar with your environment. However, in terms of the neurological levels, it is a bit like putting plaster over cracks. You may follow behaviours similar to local people but inside, the feelings of loneliness, misunderstanding, frustration, isolation, maybe depression will grow if you do not look after the levels above. It will be like acting.

In my next post, we’ll be looking at the capabilities. This is your ability to understand and adapt. Understand your and others’ cultural preferences, how they impact your life and how and whether you have the ability to change them.

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