How to culturally adapt like a pro

When moving abroad, many expats often underestimate how much culture shock actually impacts upon their mental and physical health as this often means changing cultural practices, values and norms. You’re always going to meet those annoying people who can adapt like chameleons to any situation and make it look effortless. However if, like me, you tend to stick out like a sheep in wolf’s clothing, struggling to adapt to a new culture can make settling into your new life abroad that much more challenging. Here’s a few tips and tricks that will get you blending in with the locals in no time.


Establish yourself

First things first, establish where you are on the Five Steps of Culture Shock scale. Are you still in the ‘honeymoon’ period of your new life abroad, or have you began to question every decision you’ve ever made while in the ‘rejection’ stage? Or maybe you’ve already reached ‘deeper adjustment’? Wherever you find yourself, being aware of exactly what it is you’re struggling with and why you’re feeling the way you do is the first step in helping you to overcome your difficulties.

Dress appropriately

Forgive me for sounding just like your mother, but this can actually be quite important, particularly if you move to a fairly religious country where a dress code is implemented. While most societies are more tolerant on foreigners, you’re not going to earn yourself any brownie points by waltzing around in short shorts and flip flops – regardless of how hot it is. You don’t want to be treated like the one person who didn’t get the memo about the party not being fancy dress…

Stop queuing

Or start. It depends where you go. One of the most stressful experiences I’ve ever had abroad has been queueing for ice cream in Venice with a bunch of Italians. As a true Brit I must have let about ten push past me before I’d had enough and went native. Equally, I have many foreign friends who are just as baffled by the UK’s obsession with queuing for everything, be that for the bus or the guy giving out free puppies on the street. While this may seem trivial, it’s surprisingly easy to offend someone by not abiding with correct queuing etiquette and it’s a small step that can go a long way in helping you to fit in.

Learn the language

Again, this may seem obvious but you‘d be surprised how many expats get by abroad with minimal knowledge of the language of their new homeland (this mostly applies to native English speakers because English is spoken everywhere, obviously). This is also the main reason why expats tend to stick together abroad; it’s a lot quicker and easier to make friends when you don’t have to double-check what you’re going to say at the start of every sentence, but making a bit of effort can go a long way and you may find yourself conversing with the locals in no time.

This also comes in useful when trying to get any admin done, as you can guarantee that whoever you encounter at the bank/post office/phone company that day won’t speak your native tongue, even if seemingly everyone else in the country does.

The world is your stage

You can act your way out of any situation, darling, and sometimes the best way to fit in really is to just ‘fake it ‘til you make it’. However, you’ll know if you’ve taken it too far when you grow a fancy mustache and start calling yourself Giovanni. First off, you’re not Daniel Day Lewis and most locals also love learning about other cultures so you don’t have to go completely method for this to work.

You shouldn’t have to lose sight of your own values and identity to fit in – when in Rome you don’t have to do everything the Romans do – but it has been proven that the more you mimic the habits and customs of the locals, the more you’ll find them come naturally to you.

Image: japp1967

Kat Ashton

Kat Ashton currently resides in Madrid. She is a harsh critic of anything that contains fennel and spends her time reading, writing and dreaming about the intangible world of ideas.

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