Discussion Topics

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!

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Discussion Topics

Discussion Topic: Standing at the check-out counter can get uncomfortable!!!

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.

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 8.51.08 PMIt 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.
One time a cashier confused me by asking me whether I would like to charge more on my debit card so that I could get cash back by him.  That situation definitely threw me off-guard as not many cashiers are outwardly offering that service to their customers. I would guess that is more customer initiated.  Another time a cashier was trying to give me shopping tips; if I would buy three of one of the items I was purchasing, then I was to get a small discount.  Adding a bit of public service help to me, the woman just leaving the check-out counter told me in English that the discount wasn’t that amazing.6337012304_3f3f9f685d_z

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!

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