Tag Archives: cultural misunderstanding

What can “sh*t people say” videos can teach us about being an expat?

by Margarita

Recently a wave of viral videos hit YouTube.  “Sh*t” people said — and by people I mean every possible group out there — was everywhere.  Some of them were better than others in terms of humor, production quality, acting, etc but what was interesting about them was that these videos took stereotypes and cliches and amplified them.

I thought — why not do a similar thing?  Why not take the expat women and expat men and create a couple of videos to amplify a few things that those two groups are known for saying?  Why not laugh at ourselves?

I don’t pretend to be a comedienne and I am certainly not a filmmaker. 🙂 But I penned a script of sayings that I either remember hearing or things I’ve said myself and hired some actors.  The result was “Sh*t Expat Women Say” and “Sh*t Expat Men Say”.

The reaction was mixed.  Some people thought it was some good, old fun that allowed us all to laugh at ourselves but there were others that felt slighted (you can check out comments to both videos at the links above).  The offense some people took made me think: where do we draw the line between taking other people’s opinion and humor as just that — humor — and taking it as something else — something that offends us?

How is that similar or different to managing our feelings towards something when we live in another culture?  How do we decide what offends us and what humors us?

Thoughts? Opinions? Shares?

Remember that the FREE Expat Support Day is on February 24th!  Get some inspiration and support through a free 15 minute laser coaching session — reserve your 15 minutes of clarity here.

 

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Introducing Turkey

Turkey is one of the countries that’s profiled in the Global Coach Center Academy within the course “Living and Working in Turkey”.  In this post we interview one of the course’s co-trainers on some of the most interesting tidbits on Turkey.
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Lale Gerger in her own words: “My mother is American and my father is Turkish and I was truly brought up with both cultures.  I lived in Turkey during my elementary school years but then relocated back to Turkey in my 20s and stayed for another 11 years.  I was the first single person to ever adopt in Turkey and had to change legislation during the 5 year process.  Aside from living in both Turkey and the United States, I’ve also had the opportunity to live in Kuwait, England and Mexico.”
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Global Coach Center Blog (GCC Blog): What would be 1 to 3 tips you would give to someone who is moving to Turkey?
Lale:
1.  Turks are very friendly – take advantage of that and try to get to know the locals.
2.  Be patient; things can become bureaucratic in every day situations such as at a bank or even the post office!  Don’t forget that relationships are key in Turkey so try to befriend someone at places you visit often, it will make your life easier.
3. Be open and realistic; as with living in any country – there will be challenges and adjustments needed – as long as you can remain open to new experiences, you will have a wonderful time!
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GCC Blog: What was the funniest cultural misunderstanding you’ve experienced in Turkey?
Lale: I was fairly lucky in that since I’m half Turkish and I spoke Turkish when I relocated to Turkey in my 20s.  After graduating from UCLA’s Theatre department, I relocated to Turkey and was fortunate enough to land a faculty member position at Hacettepe University’s Theatre Dept.  One day, as I was trying to be friendly and making small talk with the head of the department, I asked, “So what have you done in the Theatre?”  In Turkish there is a formal and informal ways to say “you” – I, of course, mistakenly used the informal manner and to top it off, it turns out that he was not only the head of the theatre department but was one of the most famous actors in Turkey.  I, essentially, asked the Turkish Laurence Olivier what he did and in an informal manner at that!  Once I realized my mistake, I tried to apologize & use the more formal manner with him but he would not allow it; I think it was probably refreshing for him…
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GCC Blog: What’s the most popular proverb and why?
Lale: Proverbs are used consistently in every day life.  One of the more popular ones is: Bir kahvenin kırk yıl hatırı vardır.
Literal Translation: A cup of coffee commits to forty years of friendship.
Meaning:  Used to remind that friendships should not be taken lightly.  It also is quite telling of how the culture values relationships.
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GCC Blog: What do you love about that country?
Lale: Everything!
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GCC Blog: What do you dislike about that country?
Lale: Daily life is much more difficult – doing every day chores can become a real chore due to lack of well-developed systems. 
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The full course on “Living and Working in Turkey”, co-authored by Lale is available 24/7 at the online Expatriate and Cross-Cultural Academy for self- or assisted study.  Download it here.

An American in France

There have been quite a few famous Americans (and other expats) in history that decided to either settle or live in France for long periods of time.  Today many follow their example and in this blog post we interview Michael Barrett, an American who is now living in France.

Global Coach Center (GCC): How long have you lived in France and how did you come to live there?

Michael: I’ve lived in France now over four years in a row but longer than that over my lifetime. I lived in Paris as a baby and toddler for three years as my father worked here on assignment. My family always had an interest in France so it influenced my decision to study the language and culture in middle school, high school and then in college. My first trip back to France was with the French club of my high school in 2003. During my sophomore year (2nd year) at the University of Notre Dame, I studied abroad in Angers, France 2004-2005, where I lived with a French family, studied in French, traveled and made friends from all over the world. It motivated me to come back.

I followed that with an internship at Sciences Po Paris in 2006, and then after graduating in 2007, I moved to Lyon to be an English assistant. I met my French girlfriend there, pursued graduate studies in communications in Grenoble for two years, during which I worked at AmCham France. In July 2010 I was hired as a Digital Project Manager at New BBDO Paris, and advertising agency. I’ve been here ever since, and I also manage the site Americanexpatinfrance, write for several websites and am involved with the expatriate community while keeping a close group of French friends. I plan on applying for dual citizenship soon.

GCC: What do you love most about living in France?

Michael: My girlfriend, my French friends, the rich culture and gastronomy and history, the diversity of the regions and their characteristics… close proximity to other European countries. A generally balanced approach to life and work…their healthcare system –although it’s not perfect.

GCC: What frustrates you?

Michael: Generalizations about America and its culture, strikes, lack of convenience here (the US is a culture of convenience)…although I’ve gradually come to accept these cultural differences with the traditional French shrug of the shoulders. Every country has its own pros and cons.

GCC: What would you have liked to know that you didn’t before coming to live in France?

Michael: To know how to (try to) master the inner workings of the French civil service bureaucracy and its paperwork, implicit messages (not explicit) and assumptions that you know everything if you don’t ask a question. But I’ve learned how to manage that, too.

GCC: What are three tips you can give people planning to move to France?

Michael:

  • Learn the language and about the culture as well, as this will not only enrich you but also show a genuine willingness on your part to the French that you’re making an effort and reaching out.
  • On a related note, be open-minded. This is not America, and there will be some culture shock and things and approaches that are done differently. They have a different perspective here on many things, so approach it with curiosity and don’t be afraid to have friendly debate with French coworkers and friends (make French friends), as long as it’s not on taboo subjects (money, religion) – those are for closer friends usually.
  • Take a look at practical matters in detail – education, healthcare, taxes, driving regulations, housing – hopefully your employer or organization can help you with these matters. Better to be well prepared than land here and figure out as you go along. That can add to frustration. I’d be happy to advise on questions or refer you to an expert in a field that I don’t master as well. 

About Michael: Michael Barrett is a 26 year-old American with roots in Chicago and Washington D.C. working as Project Manager at New BBDO Paris, a PR firm in Paris. He writes a must-read blog for expats called American Expat in France.

Global Coach Center recently launched an online cross-cultural course — “Living and Working in France” which:

  • provides you with a foundation of what France is all about;
  • through the Culture Mastery 4 C’s Process™ helps you understand the gap between your way of thinking and the French way of thinking;
  • provides extensive tools to negotiate the difference; and
  • blends cross-cultural information with a coaching approach to understanding and becoming successful in any culture.

Download the “Living and Working in France” here.

What’s to like and … not to like about the US?

Guest post by Jennifer Kumar

People from all over the world want to visit or move to U.S.A. There are many good things about the US, but also some not-so-good things about the country that is my birthplace that is useful for newcomers to understand to help with adjusting and settling in.

 

Emergencies are Easy to Report

I like that 911 is a well-known three digit phone number that can be utilized for emergencies in most parts of the US. 911 can be used to report fires, medical emergencies, crimes and other emergencies. There is no need to have a long list of hard to remember numbers when 911 can be easily dialed at any time. Once 911 or the emergency number is called, in most areas and cases a police person, ambulance or fire truck can report to the scene within a reasonable amount of time.

Rise of Mega-Grocery Stores

Although I love shopping in mega-grocery stores, I know that with each one that opens, the smaller, inner city mom and pop stores that serve those with limited mobility and finances are run out of business. Those that continue to exist are forced to sell items at higher prices than these mega stores and are also known for carrying more ready-to-eat, processed and frozen foods.  While dairy, frozen and breads are often found at these inner city marts, perishables like vegetables and fruits are a rare find. Unless farmer’s markets are available in cities, people with limited transportation living in inner cities with access to such mini-marts are in deteriorating health. With the high prices found in inner city marts, the residents resign to eating ‘fresh’ fast-food at places like McDonalds which feeds more per dollar than the mini mart, and more than the bus or taxi fare to the mega-groceries and the pain of carrying  home all the groceries on the bus.

Personal Travel is Easy, Public Transportation Can Be Challenging

I like that I can get in my car and drive from ‘sea to shining sea’ in a relatively short period of time due to the good road infrastructure that connects the US. However, I know that in encouraging the use of the personal car, public transportation is in decline. Unless one lives in a major metropolis, finding good public transportation within and between small towns and cities can be challenging. Though there are Greyhound busses and Amtrak trains for long distance rides, they have limited connectivity. Depending on the rider’s final destination, there may not be public transport from the bus or train’s drop off point to the final destination. Keep this in mind while taking ground transportation.

A Multicultural Nation Which is Monolingual

I like that the US is known for attracting people from cultures around the globe. In the US, a person can meet someone from a remote country or a popular country and learn about their culture and traditions. Also, when there are enough people from that country settled in various parts of the USA, we find restaurants, cultural organizations and ethnic stores that anyone can visit to learn more about diverse, global lifestyles. Although I like that Americans are all united by one language- English, I dislike the fact the fact that most Americans do not see a practical need to become fluent in another language. Americans may get forced to learn a second language in school or college or want to do it for fun for brief international travel, but a typical American will not use a language other than English to navigate around 95% of the country.

For newcomers to the USA on business, pleasure or family visits, knowing a little about the benefits and disadvantages of the US and it’s lifestyle will prepare you for what to expect so you can plan around the challenges to have a comfortable stay in the U.S.A.

For a more complete guide to adjusting to life in the US, please check out our cross-cultural course “Living and Working in the US”, co-authored by Jennifer Kimar.

 

 

Cultural Misunderstandings… can you relate?

Guest post by Stephen Milner

Some time ago I found myself working in Bucharest, Romania. It wasn’t that long after the overthrow of Nicolae Ceaușescu and the culture in which I found myself living was very alien to me. McDonalds had not even opened there yet. Thankfully I was working with quite a few British Ex. Pat. who could point me in the right direction in finding my way around.

After being there for a few weeks I’d got myself an apartment near the centre, it had good Metro and Tram links and wasn’t very far away from The Dubliner, The Irish pub in Bucharest. It dawned on me quite early on I needed to get some Laundry done, so I asked some of the Ex. Pat. community where to go. Easy, they said, about 300m past The Dubliner, on the same side of the road was an excellent laundrette.

That evening I set off with my bag of Laundry, and exactly where it had been described was a Laundrette. I went in, and though I didn’t speak Romanian, I had troubled myself to learn one or two words.

“Bună seara,” I announced as I walked in and smiled.

The woman behind the counter replied with a long string of Romainan that meant nothing to me. I smiled again, opened my bag and placed the laundry on the counter. The woman separated all the clothes into differing types, detailing each item in a notebook. When the itemisation was complete the woman began another long string of Romanian. It was clear she wanted something.

I got out my money, and asked her how much. She wagged her finger at me, she didn’t want paying. I explained that I didn’t understand, and more Romanian issued forth. She repeatedly tapped the the notebook, her finger on the price. She must want paying! I couldn’t see the amount written clearly so I took the notebook to turn it round to read it. The woman grabbed the notebook and a wrestling match began over the counter for possession of the notebook.

It was during this tug of war that several thought passed through my mind. The first thought was that most of my clothes were in this woman’s possession, the second thought was that I was in this situation way above my head and finally I vowed that the next time I was going to do something “new” in an unfamiliar culture I would make sure I discussed it with someone from that culture, rather than an Ex. Pat.

Finally I decided to give up. I let go of the book, apologised in my broken Romanian and decided that I would simply leave, and come back tomorrow with one of the Romanians I worked with to explain the situation, and find out what was wrong.

The apology worked a treat. The woman calmed down, and beckoned me back with her arm. She picked up a pen, and pretended to sign the book. And then it dawned on me. I had to sign. In fact, signing for just about everything, I very soon came to realise, is part of the culture in Romania. Thankfully a positive response to a polite apology is also part of the culture as well.

The next day, after everyone had had a good laugh at the situation, I made sure I learned enough about the language and the culture to be polite and respectful to others. Something I never regretted doing.

Stephen Milner is an experienced board director and inspirational leader with energy, enthusiasm and a passion for generating business growth in several functions including IT/IS, e-commerce, logistics, supply chain and retail.  You can reach Stephen through his LinkedIn profile here.

Introducing the USA

The US is one of the countries that’s profiled in the Global Coach Center Academy within the course “Living and Working in the USA” In this post we interview one of the course’s co-trainers on some of the most interesting tidbits on the US.

Jennifer Kumar, cross-cultural coach, is the co-creator of two cross-cultural training programs: “Chasing the American Dream: From Take Off to Landing” a comprehensive pre-departure preparatory course for students planning to study in US and “Living and Working in USA” – an online multi-media cross-cultural course for those planning to live, work and study in America.

Global Coach Center Blog (GCC Blog):  What would be 1 to 3 tips you’d give to someone who is moving to the US?

Jennifer For short or long stays in United States of America, there are a few etiquette rules that will be helpful for a wide variety of situations. These tips have been selected based on some of the cross-cultural misunderstandings I have coached foreigners adjusting to American culture in.

  • Tipping

There are many service professionals in USA who require to be tipped. Not leaving a tip will be offensive and is rarely if ever done even by Americans. A 15% tip is given to wait staff at restaurants that serve you at your table, restaurant home delivery drivers, hairdressers, barbers and taxi drivers. If the service was exemplary, leave 20%, if it could have been better leave 10% and if it was horrible leave two cents (two pennies). This communicates you have not forgot to tip, but that the service was pathetic. Tips are calculated based on the total of the bill before tax is added. Check your bill as some restaurants add in gratuity. In such cases, additional tips can be left if the service was exceptional. For other service professionals like bell hops, coat check attendants and valet parking attendants ask your trusted American friend as this can vary from place to place.

  • Greetings

Generally, when passing strangers on the street, someone will smile and ask “How are you?” Greetings may be more common in smaller towns than big cities. Americans do not expect long answers to this. An answer of “Fine, and you?” suffices. Don’t forget to smile. It will put Americans at ease. Some Americans feel uncomfortable if a greeting is without a smile and may ask, “Is everything alright?” If this happens, one can answer, trying to smile, “Yes, I am thinking about what I have to do today. I hope I can finish it all!” Attaching such an answer to work, Americans will understand the upset or stressed look on your face and generally will not ask more probing questions.

  • Eating Out

If your American friends or coworkers ask you to join them for lunch or dinner, assume you will pay your own bill. This is called ‘going Dutch,’ and is quite common. Unless the person inviting you insists on paying (even after you politely refuse and attempt to pay for yourself); you will pay for yourself and your own tips. Expecting your American colleague to pay for you may make them think you like them romantically; especially if you are the opposite sex; which must be avoided at all costs, especially if the person asking you to join is your coworker.

These three tips can be encountered any day whether an expat worker, international student or trailing spouse trying to fit in and socialize in American culture. If you’d like to learn more about American professional, on-the-job etiquette, social and cultural etiquette look into the course “Living and Working in USA”; a multimedia cross-cultural training with video, podcasts, worksheets and self-introspective activities. This course is designed to expose you to various elements of American culture and compare your cultural traits to those of Americans to understand how you will be able to fit in and make the best impression.

 

 

 

The low point of a Culture Shock experience – judging the other

In our day-to-day life we often pass judgments on other people without even noticing that we do.  We judge and we compare ourselves to others.  We compare achievements; we compare appearance; we compare education and intellect; we even compare social behavior and social acceptance.  Remember Susan Boyle?  Remember how everyone judged her by what she looked like, by what romantic experience she had (or didn’t have), and by the dream she dared to have (in her age and with her looks!).

It’s similar with cultures.  We judge each new culture and its people from the point of view of how it compares to our own.  That especially becomes true if are in the grips of Culture Shock and nothing is going right.  However, each comparison is ultimately an illusion – an illusion that creates either a superiority or inferiority complex.  Both these complexes contribute to misunderstandings between people; prevent them from truly knowing each other, and make it this much harder to build bridges and friendships.  If you judge someone to be better than you, how easy is it going to be for you to establish the connection?  Or, if you judge that person to be worse than you, would you even want to make a connection?  The process of judging doesn’t only make you feel bad, but it also robs you of an opportunity to open your mind and soul to an experience that can change your life.  It stops you from enjoying new things from an “uncluttered” — from judgments — perspective.

Being in judgment is one of the horsemen of apocalypse as identified by Dr. John Gottman in his research on successful marriages  and in his book, 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.  Gottman says that allowing this horseman to run rampant and allowing it to persist in a marriage pretty much dooms the marriage.   It’s similar with cultures.  If you keep judging a culture and its people, you’ll never “make friends” with it/them and, thus, you’ll never adjust enough to live a happy life there.

So stay judgment-free.  Consider everyone and everything as it comes into your life – new, exciting, and full of possibilities to explore.

And if you need any help with this and with Culture Shock, have a look at our Culture Shock Tool Kit E-book where we offer 3 tips on how to manage Culture Shock (some tips are based on Dr. Gottman’s research).  Available in English, Russian, Spanish, and French!