Discussion Topic: The people are so nice here! (A thought while traveling) Is everybody in the world really that nice?
March 26, 2013
While traveling to a new place, you are bound to have many encounters with the locals. Being that you probably don’t know everything there is to know about a country and its language and culture before your trip, it is always an exciting adventure exploring and interacting with the people who live and have grown up there. The first time that you arrive in a foreign country, one that you have never visited before, you become very aware of each little encounter you have with a local.
From the taxi driver who brings you from the airport to your hotel to the first cashier that you meet at the nearby corner market (when you stock-up on some drinking water), you start to make new connections to help you figure out or better understand the new culture that you are now experiencing.
Do you ever find yourself saying to your friends/family…”The people there were so nice.” ?
Granted you might be on a trip somewhere where the local people aren’t nice, in your eyes, but as an experienced traveler that seems to be a rare occurrence. If you have been to many countries and experienced numerous cultures firsthand, then you have probably seen the pattern for yourself: around the world…everyone does indeed seem to be nice!
So, you must be wondering, why are all these people in the world so nice?
It just might be that you are interacting with a local (who you later think is soooo nice) whilst experiencing a personal culture shock moment. For example, when you are lost in a foreign city and you ask people for help/directions. Most people in countless cultures will go out of their way to help you find your way. And not just the person you originally asked for help, but soon there are other passersby that join in to help you out as well! Surely after that encounter with the locals, you will be thinking “boy these people are so NICE here!”
Another culture shock moment for you will happen at some local grocery store. While you are shopping around, not having a clue how to read the ingredients labels or even realizing what some of those strange food products actually are, a local employee (or even a local customer) will start to interact with you. While they are asking you if you need any help, you realize that the local person can speak a little bit of English. The employee then starts to show you around the store, answering any specific questions about some products you are interested in buying. After you make your purchases and leave the store, you might be thinking “that store worker was so helpful and nice helping me out in English!”
It is possible that during these potentially embarrassing and stressful moments during your trip, when a local comes in to “save the day” and bring some clarity into your day’s travel, your brain starts to make conclusions that everyone in this country is so nice. And what a great thought about the world! Of course when you get the chance though to sit down and have a longer chat with a local at a cafe or something, you then find out that the he/she might just think the opposite of his/her own people. He/She might be thinking that the people in the city are not always so nice!
Of course, being that you will only interact with less than .1% of a country’s people during your trip, you cannot necessarily say that all people there are nice. The people you see during your trip are just a glimpse really of all the people you would encounter if you actually lived there.
It is very possible that these people you do have encounters with are nice to you for other reasons, not just only because of the kindness of their heart. Maybe they have money on their minds. As a taxi driver, you might want to be nice so that the tourist will call him/her later when they want to go back to the airport. As a store worker, you need to be nice to customers so that they will stay longer in your store and hopefully buy lots of things.
But it is not just money that can make people be nice to you, it might be because they want to leave a good impression about themselves and their country. Some countries don’t have the best reputation or high status in the world, so the more the people show their nicest side to you, the better image that you will have about their country and tell your friends about their country (maybe your friend might want to make a trip there as well).
There are other reasons for sure.
The big question then is if those locals (from the country you are traveling to) go and make a visit to YOUR home country/city. I wonder if those locals will think YOUR people are so nice and welcoming!
If you have a culture-related story to share about your experience living abroad, send us a message here and we will see about getting your story as a guest author on our International School Community blog!
January 30, 2013
How much do you need to say when you are going through the check-out line? Not much usually. Just get your items through the scanner, swipe your credit card, bag your goods up in a reusable bag that you brought and then you get on your way.
It is not always that easy though. Every once and awhile you get a cashier that decides to have a chat with you. If you don’t know the local language so well, then situations like this can become a challenge for you. Sure you know the word for “receipt” and “thanks”, but when the cashier strays from those simple words, things can get a little bit uncomfortable. How embarrassing when you can’t understand what is going on? How even MORE embarrassing it is when there are many people (locals) standing in line waiting for their turn and rolling their eyes at you?
Even if you do know the local language, it is not always an easy thing to speak up in public. One colleague of mine just mentioned to me that even after 20 some years of living and working in her host country, she specifically plans the right time to go to her local bakery. She prefers to go during a time when there are less people there; when they are not so busy. Even know she is highly proficient in the local language, she is still uncomfortable at times yelling out her order when everyone around maybe judging her on her pronunciation, etc. It is not always fun to let all the locals know that you are not from their country/not a native speaker. Whether the other people in the bakery even care or notice, this is a very common feeling to have when living abroad.
Unfortunately you can’t live you life in your host country trying to avoid all linguistic encounters with the locals. You must eventually go through a check-out line and you will eventually have a cashier trying to tell you things.
Not all linguistic encounters with the cashier (while living abroad) though end up in embarrassment for you. Some situations might end up being quite funny. They might be quite memorable for you and a good experience; giving you a good story to share with your other expat friends. One time in Spain, I was checking-out at a grocery store. As the cashier was ringing up the items I was going to purchase, she motioned towards a one liter bottle of Fanta. I thought she was trying to get me to buy it. In turn, I told her no. But the cashier kept on trying to give the bottle of Fanta to me. Finally, I realized that she was trying to just give it to me for free as it was a special promotion (it was a new flavor of Fanta…pineapple!). I told her “OH, es libre!” Of course, some people around me and the cashier laughed a bit at me. The word libre does me free, but it is the word free that you would use like when you unlock a cage of a zoo animal and letting them be free. I should have used the word gratis.
This comical situation is what happens all to often to expats. You are in a situation that you weren’t prepared for ahead of time. Because of the unpreparedness, you get nervous. And because you are nervous, your brain does not think too clearly to either try and understand what was being said to you or get the words that you know in the local language out in the correct manner. It is all part of living abroad I guess. How boring and monotonous to go through a check out line in your own home country, when you can go through multiple check-out lines in your host country and experience the unexpected?
If you have a culture-related story to share about your experience living abroad, send us a message here and we will see about getting your story as a guest author on our International School Community blog!
December 27, 2012
When we choose to live abroad we accept that things in our life situation will be different for us. There will be many things that will be good changes for us and for sure there will be some things that will not be so good and might make us feel uncomfortable. The amount of things that will be different for you depends on your personal background growing up and also where you end up living. Since we all grow up in different countries (and also from different parts of that country) and have different cultural backgrounds, our perspective on what happens to us when living in our host country is definitely going to be varied and different.
One thing that might happen to you when living abroad is that you might find that the locals tend to stare at you a lot. Mostly because you look may look different to them, surely that is what they might stare. You would probably be staring at people that look different from yourself in your home country as well. We don’t necessarily like to admit it maybe, but some might say that it is human nature to stare at other who look characteristically different than you.
But also, there might be a cultural norm difference that comes into play as well. In some cultures it might be commonplace and even accepted to stare at another person in public. Even if it is commonplace for them, it still might make you feel a bit uncomfortable…as it is not a culture norm for your home country. It can be especially uncomfortable if you are getting stared at every day during your life living abroad!
You may start to miss being one of the crowd from you old life living in your home country, making you want to move back sooner than later. You might think twice about getting onto a public bus knowing that it will be jam packed with only locals that enjoy peering and leering at you.
On the other hand, you may welcome the staring and find that you quite enjoy it…being the center of attention. No one stares at your in your home country when you go shopping at your grocery store. No staring might make those weekly visits more monotone and uneventful for you.
But what typically happens most of the time, is that you get used to the staring and start to not notice it so much. It hard to ignore it though when the staring escalates into touching of your hair (if your hair is a radically different color to theirs) or them talking to their friends/family about you in front of your face while pointing at you. The boundaries and cultural norms of how you can interact with strangers in public (that you may be used to) may not exist in your host country culture and it is something you should be aware of and be prepared to experience!
Human being all very inquisitive people, just like many other animals on our planet. We like to figure out things and find out where we belong in a small group, a community, a city, a family, etc. Part of that figuring out where we are and how we fit in most likely involves the staring tactic!
Feel free to leave a comment about your experience being an expat and living abroad in a foreign country. Do the locals tend to stare at you? If you currently live in another country, please take a moment to leave a comment about the host country locals on our website – www.internationalschoolcommunity.com
November 19, 2012
How important is your hair to you? For some, it is quite important! Many of us, once we find a good hair stylist, we stay with that person for awhile. Why take a chance on another salon and stylist and receive a potential “bad haircut?” Others like the challenge of finding the perfect stylist to do the perfect haircut, so they hop around trying new ones every time they need a haircut.
In your home country, you can just make an appointment or walk-in to any hair cutting salon and get your haircut by a hairstylist who most likely will be able to speak to you in your home language; easier to avoid a bad haircut when you are able to communicate exactly what you would like. Well at times, it can though be a little bit challenging communicating what you would like in your home language too I suppose.
Now, living in another country, things can definitely be a challenge and quite different. You maybe are now not able to go just anywhere to get your hair cut. You may also be presented with some big challenges with communication. Some big cities around the world would for sure have stylists that can speak your home language (English we will say for the purposes of this article), but paying the potential very high price for a stylist that can speak English may not be the best option for you. In other cities you will just have to get your haircut speaking (or not speaking) in another language which can be quite the experience (and nerve-wreaking)! If you are highly proficient in the host country language, then maybe it is not a big deal. However if the host language is new to you or you lack the correct hair-cutting vocabulary, it is can be a challenging experience.
If you don’t know the language, you are left with two options: one is to just go into a salon, point to your hair and make lots of gestures, and just sit there…no talking. Well there is talking going on, you are speaking English and stylist is speaking their language…but no listening comprehension though is happening. Another option I suppose is to invite a friend or colleague with you that can speak the language to be your interpreter and hopefully stay the whole time that you are in the salon.
The trust factor has to be high when getting your haircut in another country, but I suppose that there is always a trust factor involved when you are getting your haircut disregarding whether you can speak the language or not.
Now on to price!
Are you living in a country where haircuts are 1-2 USD, the same price you would pay in your home country or are you living in a country where an average haircut is way above what you would normally pay back home? It is nice to pay hardly anything to get your haircut. Some guys get their haircut every 3-4 weeks, so that can add up in some countries in the world. In China, it is definitely possible for a guy to get their haircut for 1-2 U.S. Dollars. It may not be in the nicest salon on the planet, but it will get the job done. Also in China if you pay a little bit more money, they will shampoo and wash your hair as well. They have an interesting system devised for this. Typically when you sit down one employee will put a little bit of shampoo on your hair (remember now you are still sitting in the normal chair that the hair stylist will give you your haircut in…with dry hair). The system involves slowly adding water to the shampoo as they work it into your hair. It all works very well actually as no water or shampoo falls down. If you are luckily, the whole lathering part is actually a very nice head massage. That same employee will then take you over to the sinks to wash out the shampoo. When that employee brings you back to your chair, they move on to another client to shampoo their hair as another employee (the actual hairstylist) comes over to start cutting your hair.
This experience is all nice and wonderful, that is if you can get yourself in the door of the salon. In a not so fond culture shock moment for you, it is possible you might be turned away when you don’t speak the language. Sometimes to clear up any confusion on anyone’s part, it is always good to get a set price for your haircut before you sit down in the chair. If you know how much haircuts are going for in your host city, then there is usually no problem with agreeing on a price for your haircut (usually a calculator is shown to you at this point). However, if you don’t know what the going price is, sometimes you can feel like your a getting ripped off. Even before there is a discussion about price, you might feel unwanted or turned away. The reason is not always known, but the lack of communication is just too much for some people and even a smile doesn’t help.
I used to make that one goal of mine. How many different countries can I get my haircut in? One time in Botswana, I was in a rural location. I saw a 3-walled wooden shack that had an image of some people and the words hair cut on a sign. I went in to get my haircut with the help of my local tour guide. He got a haircut first actually and then it was my turn. My tour guide explained what I wanted, but that didn’t even matter. The guy cutting hair said that he had never cut a white man’s hair before, so he didn’t know what to do! I just told him to buzz it all off then, since he did have clippers.
It turned out to get a great buzz-cut and a fun, memorable cross-cultural experience.
Now it is not so bad to get your haircut in a shack, but what about just outside on a busy street? While traveling in Delhi, I found that getting your haircut in the street to be quite commonplace. How great to live in a country where you can give haircuts outside all year round? I’m sure the stylist will do their best work too as there are many eyes watching around him/her and they all could be potential future clients!
So what’s your strategy to get a haircut in the country you live in? What language do you speak in? How much money do you pay? Share your cross-culture haircut stories!
August 16, 2012
“How many suitcases should you bring home?” says an international school teacher who is traveling home for either summer vacation or winter break. Inside though you know what you will end up doing during your trip back home, even though that you it might cost you in the end when you pay for the extra weight of your one suitcase or when you pay the extra fee for an additional suitcase on the airline you are flying on. Too bad that many airlines are now only allowing one suitcase, even on international flights!
The allure of home products is too strong though. When living abroad as an expat, it is almost vitally important to have things that are familiar around you and in your new home abroad. Sometimes I open up one of my kitchen cabinets and because of the many home products that I see, it could be me opening a cupboard in my old home in my home country. Surely the first and second year abroad you might do this, stocking your cupboards full of home products, but doing this your third or fourth (or tenth or more) year…. is it time to “let go?”
I heard one international teacher say that after eight years of living abroad she now refuses to buy products at home when she can find the exact same thing or something comparable in her host country. That would most likely save her in the long run on baggage fees, even if the project is a little bit more expensive than in her home country. Sometimes though we just want to have our favorite brand that we were using all the time when we lived in our home country, even if we can find something exactly the same (minus the brand name that we have “grown to trust”) in our current placement. This is the dilemma then, to buy or not to buy??!
This year I personally decided to only take one suitcase back home for the summer. Well if I am being completely honest, I still did bring a carry-on travel backpack…in the hopes that I could squeeze in a few more of my favorite things to take with me on my flight back home. It was very difficult to limit myself. I keep on repeating in my head “Can I get this where I live now?” If the answer was yes, I reluctantly didn’t buy it.
It is fun shop in other countries. Exploring grocery stores in other countries is one of my most favorite things to do actually (though I find it equally enjoyable to shop in my old grocery stores at home too)! You never know what you will find. Well actually you do end up seeing some products from your home country in foreign grocery stores, but countries obviously have many of their own products. As you try new products, you are bound to find new favorites.
Sometimes if you see products that look familiar, they have a different language on the packages. Some even try and display messages in English that seem a bit funny to you. I’m not for sure the Lays company would put the same phrase “best with cold drinks” on their United States packages…maybe though. Also, foreign countries have people with different tastes, so you might find potato chip flavors like Chilli Chinese with Schezwan Sauce and Seaweed Pringles….probably wouldn’t be popular flavors in United States. One thing that is hard to find living abroad is proper potato or tortilla chips; that aisle in a United States grocery store is a long one with many different brands and options.
Another factor to consider when buying foreign products is when you are trying to read the ingredients; this is where many international school teachers draw the line. Many, many people nowadays need to know exactly each thing that is in a product, and when you have to do this in a second language (in which you likely only know a few words in total) you might find yourself being drawn to bring back more of your home country’s products. Knowing the ingredients is very important. Sometimes even on imported products in your host country, the country itself covers up the English ingredients list and puts a sticker over it listing the ingredients in the host language. It is can be frustrating for sure!
Interesting story….I just witnessed an international school teacher lug up three boxes of home country goods to her apartment. When I asked her where did she get these boxes, she said that you got them from somebody who works at the embassy of her home country. After living abroad for awhile and meeting embassy workers, we all know one of the perks they get. They can order home country products in bulk and the embassy will ship it over for them. I guess this embassy worker had extra and enough to share with an international teacher! I didn’t see all the different kind of products that were in the boxes, but I do know that I saw some box of those Duncan Hines cake boxes! You might be able to find easy to bake cake mixes in your host country, but this just might be one of those projects that is only available at grocery stores in the United States.
Go ahead…continue to go home and stock up on all your favorite things. However, don’t forget to keep your eye out in the local grocery stores where you are living. Try a few new things every 1-2 weeks. There are most likely some amazing products that you didn’t know about beforehand. Some things though you just might want to pass on, like whatever kind of meat this is in the display case and what ever kind of product that is in this stand. Sometime the risk is too great to try out new (and strange) products and foods!
If you are an international school teacher, please share what you stock up on when you return to your home country! How many suitcases do you bring home?
Search Our Blog: