Cross-cultural encounters of the first kind

Before you dive ‘feet first’ into any kind of social engagement in your host country, the coach and author Patti McCarthy advises getting a feel for how locals typically issue invitations and socialise.

Too chic for Down Under

“For many years, I lived in Australia, where casual social gatherings are the norm,” says Patti, who lived all around the world as a child and adult. “Once, a French neighbour invited us and lots of other couples over for a meal. She had laid the tables immaculately. She served Champagne, petits fours and elegantly plated cuisine. Subsequently, no one ever returned a dinner invitation to her. She was mystified. But the reason why is that she’d intimidated all the laid back Aussies with such a formal soiree!”

Easy to make missteps

“As guests in a country, expats have to reflect and consider the local culture. If we don’t, it’s very easy to make a misstep in social settings,” adds Patti, who has also written a book called Cultural Chemistry: Simple Strategies For Cultural Gaps. “Do I open this gift in front of a guest or not? Should I bring wine to a dinner party? Well, in many other countries you might, but you probably shouldn’t do so in France, where it could imply you don’t trust the host’s tastes!”

Issuing invitations

“Even issuing invitations can go wrong for newcomers. Back in the UK, I remember a woman, who had just relocated from South America, wanted to invite her new neighbours (whom she had never met) over for food and drink. She put notes in the letterbox of every house on the street. This is common in her homeland but very odd for the UK, so no one came. When such well-intentioned gestures backfire it can be very upsetting. The woman from South America might have felt unwelcome in her new home as a result. But at the heart of this story, there was simply a cultural gap she had not foreseen,” says Patti.

Meeting others halfway

“You can still find ways to express and celebrate your own culture. But first, you need to accept that locals will do things differently. Once you understand the local culture better, you will feel more sure-footed and be better placed to meet people halfway. Remember that the map is not the territory and you always have to dig deeper to discover the culture of your new home.”

This article was originally published for the thousands of expat partners that Global Connection supports around the globe. It is reproduced here in its original form.

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