How we can see other cultures more clearly

Are you struggling to adapt to a new culture? Perhaps you need to change the lens in your (cultural) glasses.

Hardwired behaviours

Our cultural behaviours are pretty much hardwired, especially for those of us who are monocultural. So learning how to interact with others from another culture often requires a little reprogramming. The good news is, as expats, we have ample opportunity to practise! But what can we do to help us adjust on a day-to-day level?

Shaping reality

“The lens through which your brain sees the world shapes your reality,” says Julien S. Bourrelle, the author of several books about cultural differences. “If you can change the lens, not only can you change the way your brain perceives behaviours, but you can change the way people relate to cultural differences.”

Incremental steps

Easier said than done? Yes, most probably! But don’t worry so much. Just take small incremental steps that will help with your adjustment. As Bourrelle says: “Everyone sees the world through cultural glasses. It’s not about what you see. It’s about what you perceive.” He adds that ‘very subtle differences’ can lead to a lot of miscommunication. So to avoid misunderstandings, or feelings of alienation, we have to ‘adjust’ our cultural lens.

Make it fun

Much of the time this can be fun and hopefully missteps can be laughed away. In a TED talk, Bourrelle, who is a French-speaking Canadian, shared a story about moving from Spain to Norway. In the former, he’d learned to call out “¡Hola!”  whenever he entered his local grocery. Each time, everyone in the shop would chirpily reply “¡Hola!”  So in Norway, he learned how to say hello immediately but the first time he called out “Hei hei”  when entering a store, the clerks and other customers all looked quite puzzled, as if thinking, what does this man want from us?

Much to learn

Greetings are just the beginning, of course. The treatment of personal space. Attitudes to time. How local people dress when they socialise. What really  happens at kids’ parties. There is much to learn. Depending on your background, and where you now live, you might not find adapting easy. Some of you might have even experienced a culture clash moment. Don’t hesitate to ask your Global Connection consultant about cultural coaching that will help you adjust your ‘lens’ and understand the local culture more clearly.

Watch Julien S. Bourrelle’s TED talk: Learn a new culture

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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