“This Isn’t What I’m Used To”

This article isn’t about culture shock. It’s about how we adapt and accept our new surroundings. (culture shock happens regardless)

Let me start with a personal story about my wife coming down to the USA from Canada.
Occasionally, she would utter “Oh, okay, that’s just not what I’m used to back home.” How do you think her more sensitive friends took this? Through a lens of “Canadian vs American”, some friends got offended.
It took some time before she figured out what was the issue, and then quickly learned not to compare.
And the differences between Canadian & American are more superficial and subtle than between say, American and Korean.

It’s important to be aware, not to compare.

I think it’s best explained by examples.

When you say: “Back home, we do it a bit differently.”
They may hear: “Back home, we do it better.”

When you say: “Our politicians could be jailed for attempting that.”
They may hear: “Our politicians are not as corrupt as yours.”

When you say: “Well, if I ever tried that back home, I would get in serious trouble.”
They may hear: “Back home, we respect the law, values & moral principles.”

When you say: “You know, we typically only consider them as pets.”
They may hear: “Damn, you all are savages, but I’ll admit it does taste good.”

Okay, maybe that last example was exaggerating, but I laughed when I wrote it.

My point is, whenever possible, try to think first how you might feel if a visitor said “back home” what you’re about to say.

Well, then, how to compare? Should I never point out that something is done differently?
— Of course you can! The crucial part is having your comparison immediately wrapped with genuine curiosity and a sincere interest in learning more.

When you say: “Wow, that’s interesting! Is that a special tradition?”
They hear: “Well, yes. {smiles} …about 700 years ago, our ….”

Sincerity – the key ingredient
With sincerity, you mean it and it shows. You start to become “one of the gang.”
Without sincerity, you sound like an arse who would sooner colonize the country for own selfish benefit.
Big difference in approach – bigger difference in outcome.

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An American who likes to move around.
I now live on the eastern Canadian seaboard. My job? A stay-at-home dad for two cute but demanding bosses. My wife? Also cute; not so demanding.
My wife and I both love travel. We met in South Korea, travelled across Australia, India, Europe and beyond. We lived in Czech Republic for four years. Many stories to tell and experience to share. If you let me, I will help you travel as we do.

6 thoughts on ““This Isn’t What I’m Used To””

  1. Jeff, have not had time to read more on your site/blog … but when I read this entry all I can say is “i like your style” and agree more than 100% … it is all in the way we say things (even in our own increasingly multicultural communities – wherever these may be).


    1. hey Deborah, thank you so much for the kind words. Great to hear.
      I just read through Hand in the Hague and plan to look through your blog. You’re an inspiration to me, so I added your site to my “blogroll.” (hope that’s okay).

      Again, great hearing from you, -Jeff

    1. Thanks Martin!

      We are keeping a positive spin on things here concerning the job. Once things become final (“finally final”), we plan to take an extended tour of Europe for several weeks, something that having a job wouldn’t allow us. 🙂

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