From Lamar Ross
Your cultural nationalism can do more to prevent successful adaptation to expatriate living than probably any other cause. Why? If you tend to view every action and relational interaction with the natives of your adopted country only through the eyes of your own cultural upbringing, much of the day to day life will be misinterpreted and lead to conflicts.
I do not mean to imply that most expatriates demean the lifestyle of their hosts with any malicious intent, but it is inevitable unless you learn enough about their culture to understand why they act as they do. Mutual comprehension is based on shared values and shared knowledge. By definition, we as expatriates do not generally share the same values and knowledge as the members of our host country. We are culturally illiterate in their ways.
This explains why there are so many stereotypical comments made about the residents of our adopted countries. Often when compared to our value system they appear to be lazy, stupid, incompetent, or just don’t understand how to value things as we do. I would like to think that this statement is an exaggeration, but having read some of the comments made by expatriates on some of the Google groups about their hosts, I know that it is not far off.
I have probably used this illustration before, but it demonstrates the difference in values well. A farmer in the Andes offered an Indian a new pair of pants if he would work for him for three days. At the end of the three days he gave him the pair of pants. Needing more work done, he told the Indian that he would give him another pair of pants if he would spend one more day doing another needed task. The Indian refused.
The farmer could not understand why he would reject the offer since the Indian could get an additional pair of pants for one third of the effort he had made for the first pair. The work ethic and capitalistic attitude of the farmer was in direct conflict with the value system of the Indian. Asked why he would not accept the offer, the Indian’ reply was: “I don’t need but one pair of pants.”
Likewise, when we impose our value system (mentally speaking) on the inhabitants of our host countries, we are demonstrating our own ignorance of their values. Their actions will be based on their values and not on those we think they should have. So, if you wish to adapt more quickly to life abroad, you should spend as much time as possible becoming culturally literate in your expatriate destination’s way of life. It takes a certain amount of detachment from our own culture to do so, but the results will certainly be worth the effort.
Dr. Lamar Ross, a cultural anthropologist by training, has a special interest in training individuals for expatriate living and providing information on unique travel destinations. He is an author, educator, photographer, internet entrepreneur, and international traveler. He has lived in the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and India and has traveled extensively in 29 different countries.
He presently splits his time between the U.S. and the Republic of Panama. He speaks both English and Spanish fluently and has a basic ability in several other languages. For more information on expatriate living, check out the blog Expatriate Traveler Notes. Check out also his Everything Travel Blog
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