A to Z of Successful Expatriation™: H is for HUMOR

When I think of the importance of humor while an expat, one story always pops up in my memory.  When we were living in one country, we once went out to a restaurant with a group of friends.  There were about six of us and, when a waiter brought only one menu to the table, we politely inquired after a few more copies.  He looked at us as if we were crazy and said: “Why?  They are all the same.”

We still laugh today when we remember this story.   Since then there have been many more stories and times when looking at things through the lens of humor was essential to staying sane.  And that’s why I chose humor for an H in the A to Z of Successful Expatriation Series.

Humor makes frustrating and stressful situations a lot easier to handle.  It almost creates an instant vacuum effect where all your anger and stress get sucked out of you and replaced with a feeling of lightness and a belief that it’ll all work out somehow.  Since exasperating situations tend to happen a lot more often when we live in a foreign-to-us culture, humor can become a tool to use on a regular basis.

So next time you find yourself in a frustrating place, think of your favorite comedian/comedienne.   What would he/she laugh about here?

I conclude with another story told by a close friend – a story that still leaves tears in my eyes because I laugh so hard every time I hear it:

“I was living in another country and at one time desperately needed to buy a pair of sandals.  I spent days, if not weeks, looking around for a pair I would like and finally came across something that looked promising.  As customary, the store only had one sandal on display, the one for the left foot.  I tried it on, liked the way it looked on me, and asked the sales girl for the second one.

“We don’t have the second one.  We only have this one,” the sales girl said.

I just stared at her. “Come again?  You don’t have the one for the right foot?”

The sales girl shook her head.

Exhausted after several days of search and annoyed that this time it didn’t result in a purchase either, I said “Why would you display it if it’s not a pair?!”  I didn’t really expect an answer.

The sales girl stood there quietly for a moment and then said: “So, are you going to take it?”

What have been your stories when you were able to treat frustrating situations with humor?  Share them please!

For all the letters in the A to Z of Successful Expatriation™ click here.

And remember to check out our on-line courses on Culture Shock, Expat Know-How and on Cross-Cultural Training at the Global Coach Center Academy!

Copyright © 2010 by Global Coach Center.
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4 responses to “A to Z of Successful Expatriation™: H is for HUMOR

  1. That is so true! I’m a very easy going person and this has helped enormously when traveling abroad. I remember one time that I was in Budapesh, by that time I could fairly manage 4 languages but being there I couldn’t understand anybody. While in a cafeteria, I had to signal for the food I wanted. The server was exasperated with me, me with the situation, I got the wrong food but it was delicious anyway and enjoyed so much my experience. I will never forget the lesson on empathy and thankfulness for facing communication obstacles with a light heart.

  2. I think H could stand for health; now more than ever an international health program is important for assignees.

  3. I love your attitude. Humor really does help.

    When I lived in Tibet, all (I mean it 99% literally) dialogues with local males led to sex in about three sentences. I was practicing the language and didn’t really care what they were saying as long as they were talking. But sometimes I just couldn’t help giggling loudly as the logic of the local nomadic studs didn’t go beyond “Why not? It’s good!”

  4. This post if indeed very funny. Expats need a much stronger sense of humor than most.
    I don’t have one particular story in mind, I just recall how many times I’ve pretended to understand someone by nodding when they were actually asking me a question… Oops.

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