Well congratulations, you’re adapting! If you read my other articles on the 4 stages of cultural adaptation, you’ll know that it was a rough road to get to stage 4!

This is not the stage of “everything is finally wonderful” … this is the stage where you have begun to settle and can be comfortable where you are. It’s the “this place isn’t perfect, but I feel at home!”

It took me over a year to reach this stage. My first two years were pretty rough. Cultural adaptation is not without its ups and downs. There are times where you will feel frustrated with your host culture, but now you know how to deal with it in a healthier way. You know that criticising the host culture doesn’t help. You may be getting better at the local language, at least you can chat to some neighbours and watch the news. Maybe you’ve made some great local friends and have figured out how things work. And when things don’t work the way you would like them too. Whatever victories you’ve won, remember that there will be more and more along the way.

Rise and fall

When you have lived in one culture all your life, you don’t realize that there are rises and falls in your day to day life at home, too. And you certainly don’t blame them on the culture of wherever your home is. That doesn’t even go through your mind! But now you are in a different culture, you know that there are alternative ways to do things, and sometimes those ways are “better”, or just “preferable” to you.

Edward Hall, a renouned anthropologist said that “Culture hides more than it reveals, and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants” … one of the amazing things about living in new cultures is that you begin to see your own culture in different ways. You begin to realize that what you do, what you thing, how you react is also culture!

Choices

Now that you feel you are finally “getting it”, remember that there will be setbacks. And remember that you do not need to accept or even like all aspects of your host culture. You are not a native, and never will be!

I’ve lived in Portugal for 29 years. People often say to me “I can tell you’re not Portuguese because …” Even though I have lived more than half my life in the country. 90% of my friends are Porgueuse, I decided to go back to University and am studying education — in Portuguese — my lanugage skills are advanced, but, you can tell I am not 100% Portuguese … and I am completely comfortable with that. I have my own uniqueness to bring to the table. No matter how much people accept you, reminding you that you are not native is not an insult. It’s just an observation. Don’t feel disappointed by that — you have your own contribution as a non-native. There is nothing inferior — and often times, you may be ahead of the competition for that very reason. You will stand out, and that can be an advantage.

There are aspects of Portuguese culture than totally irritate me. That’s fine. There are aspects of Portuguese culture which irritate a lot of Portuguese! And wherever your home country is, there will be things about home that irritate you. These things do not define you — and they do not define everyone in your host culture.

Choices about culture will be underpinned by your own personal or cultural values. You do not have to compromise your values to adapt to a different culture. Let’s look at a couple of simple examples.

  • Maybe your host culture is a wine drinking cultura, but you do not drink. This is a personal choice. It’s fine to refuse to drink wine, even though locals may try to press you or say they will be offended if you don’t try it. Just smile and tell them that you don’t drink. That’s absolutely fine. However, if you invite locals to eat a meal at your home, you may need to serve wine with the meal even if you don’t drink it yourself. I often see Americans serve Coke and soft drink, and locals can interpret this as a judgement about their culture. Instead of building a bridge, you are building a barrier.
  • Traditional local foods you just do not want to even look at or try. All our cultures have our strange foods we like to eat … you don’t have to eat things you don’t want to. But you’ll have to learn how to navigate that in a sensive way. Ask locals how to get out of having to eat things you really don’t want to eat. But, you’ll win hearts if you try 😉
  • Being vegitarian — this is a difficult one. You’re going to have to figure it out. Being invited to a barbaque is going to be tough. You may have to take some veggie burgers to share … again, this is something you’ll need to have conversations about. Don’t just assume.

These are just three simple examples of where you might have sensitive issues that would be easier to navigate at “home”. The big key is that you don’t want people in your host culture to think you are judging something about their culture. Friends of mine put their kids into a local school, which went mostly well, but on her blog the mother shared about being “contaminated by local culture” because her kids came home from school very roudy (like the local kids). “Contaminated?” Saying that is not going to help you make friends! Don’t judge. But decide where your boundaries are.

Going home …

In another article I’ll talk about step 5 of the 4 steps … Yes, I can count …

When you go back home, there’s a new step called RE-ENTRY. It deserves significant attention because it is sometimes the neglected phase and can bring huge challenges for your adaptation.

See you soon.

Neil Mason — Intercultural Trainer & Coach

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