Monday, 3 March 2014

Expat faux pas

Becoming an expat means that you are entering what can sometimes feel like a completely different world. You have grown up with your family and you have had similar life experiences as those of your friends. 

Everyone around you has had the same bedtime stories, fairy tales, traditions, eating habits and customs—yes, you name it and the people who have grown up with you will most likely understand it. The thought of moving across the world and leaving your comfort zone can be daunting – but a little preparation can mean you’ll be well equipped to keep any embarrassment to a minimum…!

Language learning is definitely an easy way of embarrassing yourself, but do not let that dismay you from trying. Learning a foreign language can be very rewarding and will eventually allow you to immerse yourself into a foreign culture to a much a deeper level.

Image source: Creative Common/Jason Bachman

In the UK, when a child loses a tooth, they’ll put the tooth under their pillow for the tooth fairy to collect (normally, in return, the tooth fairy will leave some money). In Greece, children throw their teeth on the roof of their house for luck! If you throw teeth on the roof of your house in the UK, your neighbours may just find you to be the oddest person they’ve ever met.

In Indonesia and many other South East Asian countries, people point with their thumb as it’s rude to point with your index finger. In Thailand, use the whole of your hand, not just one finger, to direct attention to somebody.

In many European countries, when counting with your fingers; your thumb is number one, index finger is number two, etc. In the UK, when signalling that you want two of something—ignore your thumb and use the peace sign (just don’t turn the peace sign around as that hand gesture is deemed to be extremely rude).

In Spain, Los Tres Reyes Magos (The Three Wise Men) play a significant role during Christmas. Children even believe that The Three Wise Men bring gifts and leave presents under the tree (Santa does exist too but supposedly his presents are never anywhere near as cool). When walking about the streets in Spanish cities, you will notice plenty of decorations with Three Wise Men including hanging puppets from the windows or balconies (they don’t come down a chimney—they come through the window).

In Thailand, do not show the soles of your feet to people nor should you touch somebody’s head. Furthermore, it’s not very common to shake hands since greeting one another is normally signalled by placing your two hands together like in a prayer which is called a wai.

In Russia, Father Frost gives children gifts on New Year’s Day.

In France, there is a lot of kissing! Kisses on the cheek when greeting the opposite sex is very common and different places in France can mean a different number of kisses. The trick is to never pull away until they pull away, otherwise there will be that awkward moment when someone goes in for another kiss but they have been left abandoned.

There are plenty of opportunities for social disaster when living life as an expat. The good news is that in most cases the faux pas simply embarrasses you, whether you do not know something or you do something that makes a group of people around you fall into a fit of laughter. However, learning about foreign traditions and customs can be the most exciting aspect of becoming an expat—so if they’re laughing, at least you can be happy in the knowledge that your lack of know how is brightening up somebody else’s day….!

1 comment:

  1. Yes, even within the English language it is easy to commit faux pas. My most embarrassing was in Ireland when I asked for a ride instead of a lift.


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