First impressions. You only get one chance at them. So, let’s talk how you make the best first impression, before that day comes.
First Impressions Are Important
Always good to make a good first impression. That’s true when meeting anyone. But when we move overseas, especially to places where we’re obviously the minority, people take special notice of you.
So, when we move abroad, that first impression can be huge, and lasting. Here are 7 tips to help us not embarrass ourselves.
1. Study / Research / Learn
Before you board any plane, you’re thinking about a zillion things at once. You’re thinking about a job and where to stay. You’re thinking about money, the cost of food, transportation, electricity. And what about the language…should you learn 1-10 first, or “where’s the bathroom?”. Or maybe you’re already dreaming what hot vacation spots are nearby.
First things first: learn proper greetings, ways to say thank you, sorry, and how much. Research cultural differences, like personal space, what hand to use, eye contact and many more – all these help shape that first impression.
2. Two Ears > One Mouth
The other day I heard a mother sternly say to her child: “You have two ears, but only one mouth for a reason!”
At the time, I thought “What a bitch.” But I’m a dad and felt her frustration.
Anyway, the phrase works for new expats— keep your ears (& eyes) open. The greatest opportunity for this is when you’re with new people and you watch them greet each other, and how they introduce you to others.
Listen and watch closely. Then speak or do. Or try at least.
3. When Shaking Hands, Don’t be a Dominant Braggart
Handshaking is just one example, a clear jab at US President trump. Because, to rest of the world, he is the perfect “dominant braggart.”
When you’re about to make a first impression, you might be nervous. That’s cool and totally understandable. Anyone who cares, is going to be a bit nervous. But it doesn’t mean overcompensate, go over the top with dominance and showmanship.
In general, don’t be an asshole.
4. Be Humble and Confident.
This is a step up from #3. Confidence and courage come from being calm.
If you don’t feel confident, then fake it till you make it. You’ll find, faster than you can imagine, your confidence gets very real.
5. Loudly, Slowly, Smile
I bet I have written this phrase on the site before. If I wrote “loudly, slowly, smile” before, I also probably told the story.
In South Korea, waaay back in 1996, when a sweet teen-aged student told the new, nervous TESL teacher (me), how some days I was a better teacher on some days than other days. The “good days, you are loudly, slowly. And smile.”
Proof having a calm, happy confidence works.
Speak loudly, speak slowly and with a sincere smile.
6. Speak With Your Body
Most communication is non-verbal. You probably hear that as much as “make a good first impression.”
And what about when traveling or living abroad? Wow, when abroad, the non-verbal communication takes over! Especially when we don’t understand the host language (–and they don’t understand yours).
This brings up two important points. First, be mindful of your normal non-verbal communication (stance, facial expression, arm/hands waving). Basically, what you appear to say if you were in a silent picture. Second, be mindful of how you use your hands or sounds to get your idea across (gestures, pointing). This is super useful for communicating your question or idea, but be aware some gesture innocent to you, turns out to be offensive to someone else.
When there’s a language barrier, non-verbal communication can become the only language. Use it well!
7. Never Stop Improving on that First Impression
Hey, the bottom line is, it is loads of fun living abroad, communicating and understanding others. It’s a journey of a 1000 steps.
Sure, it starts with the best first impression. But everyone you meet recognizes you’re new to their home and their ways. You’ll be given lots of latitude in improving on that first impression.
“President” Trump today pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord.
It’s astonishing, even for Trump. Essentially every citizen, business and leader in the world (yes, including the USA) believes saving the planet is a good idea. Not Trump.
Sadly, Trump, the orange man-baby that he is, continues to appeal to his redneck base. The sad little man has become even more isolated, more unstable and more orange since leaving the G-7 summit last week. While in Europe, the real leaders pressed Trump hard for an answer about the US’s commitment to reversing climate change. Unsurprisingly, Trump didn’t have the courage to give his answer then. He waited until back home. His answer: to join Syria, as the only country who doesn’t believe in the climate accord. There are 195 countries who are committed, with or without the US.
Trump Gives Another Reason to Leave, and Live Anywhere Else
Just about anywhere else you want to go, people shake their heads at Trump. He’s insanely naive, uneducated, allegedly unable to read, cowardly, and deeply dependent on praise. Yet, he continues to embarrass his fellow citizens, while the world continues to laugh at him. And while you continue to live there, people are essentially laughing at you. It’s time to make up your mind to act. Either stand up against him, or find a country that fits you and your family.
Loads of reasons why you should spend time living in another country: personal growth, career advancement and personal liberty.
Here’s another biggie: freedom from religion.
In countries like the US, Turkey, or Indonesia, religion is a vital part of the culture. And for some people, like me, we need a little break away from that, to experience life on our own terms.
Now, for Americans, what I just wrote above might sound unpatriotic, immoral, or even blasphemous and illegal. If so, see? …case in point.
Inseparable Mix of Politics and Religion
Outside of a church itself, religion is most tied up in politics.
Pretty soon, the US will vote who will be President for the next four years. The two “choices” given to Americans are: the incumbent, President Obama, and a challenger, Mitt Romney.
Ask the average American what religion Romney follows and odds are great you’ll hear the right answer: he’s a Mormon. How does anyone know? Well, aside from his stealthy wealth and charm, his religion is big news. And, if/when he gets elected, Romney will become the country’s first Mormon president, even bigger news.
Ask the average Canadian what religion Romney follows and odds are good you’ll hear another right answer: who gives a shit?
Well, Americans do give a shit because it’s not just big news, but, to the average voter, it’s practically necessary. The candidate’s religion is a prominent decision factor to liking him or not. A candidate’s religious strength provides a measuring stick to his morale character.
To Canadians, the concern is almost non-existant. For example, Bloc Quebecois party leader Giles Duceppe happens to be atheist. I’m doubtful that even 5% of Canadians know that. And fewer would care or weigh it against whether to vote for him.
About now, readers in the US are screaming at me “Hey – we got the First Amendment! We have ‘separation of church and state’.” Not true, read on.
Yes, the 1st amendment guarantees the freedom of religion, among others. But careful how you interpret that freedom. Does it mean that religion can’t be intertwined with government (you can’t tie together church and state)? No, not really. It’s more correct to say the first amendment guarantees no laws can be passed to infringe on your freedom of religion. So, we have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. And stemming from our historical roots, the US government passes laws to grant religious institutions the freedom to flourish and spread their word.
In the US, community meetings (often called Town hall meetings) often begin with a prayer. Yes, that is totally normal and expected. What the first amendment guarantees, is that you can’t exclude other religions from those Town hall meeting prayers. Meanwhile, if a candidate were even rumoured to be atheist, that would make headline news in mainstream media.
ALL 9 judges agree religion can be in a government forum without endorsing a particular faith.
ALL 9 judges agree that such a public forum doesn’t have to be religion-free.
But, only 5 felt such prayers can speak to a certain religion (read: Christianity).
Not surprisingly, the deciding majority (the 5 judges for the decision) are Catholic, while the dissenters (the 4 judges against) are non-Christian.
This should alarm you if you’re American. The decision does 2 things, very plainly:
Less separation of Church and State (more lenient on having “any” religious prayer, at legislative government meetings)
More exclusionary to non-Christian religions.
I tell ya, the US is going beyond just allowing religion in state affairs. It’s encouraging those of faith (and only one faith) to feel supported by the US.
Immediately famous as of minutes ago: the Hobby Lobby ruling.
June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court with another major ruling. Now, corporations are allotted the same “religious freedom” as individuals to the effect of denying its employees’ birth control coverage. Yes, if the company’s owners are staunchly against birth control, they can deny (otherwise) mandatory health care coverage to its employees.
How about evolution versus creationism? Did Darwin get it right, or did it happen as the Book of Genesis spells it out? Did animals evolve over millions of years or did it just take six days? What’s your belief? I’ll share my beliefs, then and now:
Back in 1997, when I met the beautiful girl who is now my wife, I was fairly religious. I didn’t often go to church, but my faith was blind and strong. I sincerely believed in creationism… that God magically created the Earth and all its creatures in just 6 days. And I told my new girlfriend what I believed.
Well, luckily for me, she was one patient young lady. Since she is a geologist (and btw, not American), you can guess that she doesn’t share the same belief that Earth was created in six days. …I’ve learned a lot since then. Thanks babe!
Before I draw the ire of many religious people … (too late), I only mean to highlight how important religion is in US culture. And that there’s little a citizen can do to escape it. For those religious people: not everyone believes it as you do….or wants to be convinced otherwise. And, as you travel the world …beware how strongly you argue your beliefs.
Again, if you are religious and you are talking with others about it, then beware your convictions will be tested or debated. Hey, who knows, you might be set free from them!
US Does Not (& Will Not) Offer Freedom from Religion
The US is one of the most religious countries in the world. In one survey, the US ranks 5th among a sample 30 countries.
Politicians are hell-bent on introducing “alternative theories” to evolution to biology class curriculums. The latest new creationism law happened in Tennessee, when its governor sidestepped debate by avoiding both signing and vetoing it. “Intelligent design” is just a new label for an old argument.
Think of Your Kids, for Christ’s Sake!
Our kids inherit our future. In 20 years, we expect (and will need) our children to run the show. For the entire next generation, all things yet to be discovered, improved upon and manufactured, will be by our children. Cool thought, right?
So, I ask you now: Do you want your kids to creatively think for themselves or blindly believe “God will see us through”?
Bill Nye, a.k.a. “the Science Guy” on TV, asks similar scary questions. In a recent Youtube video, Bill Nye pleads parents to spare their children from the oversimplified world of creationism. His argument is, if kids are forced to abandon all the evidence (fossils, astronomical distances and spans of time, minute changes in species), then those kids learn to abandon reasoning and scientific deduction. I totally agree… do you?
Like most all posts, I only ask to consider travelling outside your country. Travel and explore the world. Visit with others and get to know them, their way of life.
And, in the name of religion, why not go out to understand and appreciate all that splendour. Don’t you owe that much to Him? 🙂
If you agree with these thoughts (or staunchly disagree), would you please share it? It’s going to take a LOT of awareness to make any amount of change. Thank you in advance for sharing this with friends and family.
If you have any additions, corrections or personal stories to share, I welcome all as a comment below. Check out what others have said, and add your own.
I’m hoping the novel “The Fountainhead” is about you, how you’re like Howard Roark.
Unfortunately, odds are good it’s not.
So what’s “The Fountainhead” about? It’s about individualism.
Who is Howard Roark?
Howard Roark is the main character in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.” He’s an unwavering, uncompromising individual.
Roark stands for integrity, truth to one’s self, serving no one but himself. He stands against mainstream thought and conforming to the whims of others.
Roark is an architect, but the farthest from a normal architect. If you had to label him, you’d call him a “modern architect” because his designs run free of mainstream architecture, with no hint of borrowed qualities of classical work. I originally wrote that his architecture was opposite of mainstream, but that’s not right. He’s free from the influence of mainstream, not purposely opposite.
In short, Roark is his own man, and Roark’s work is his own work. He fights this principle with zero compromise, despite almost certain obscurity and poverty. (Spoiler: don’t worry, he wins)
The second-handers are the people around Howard. While Howard strives to be an individual, it’s the second-handers that give him shit about it. And each second-hander does so in their own way.
Second-Hander Gail Wynand
Gail Wynand appears to be a power-hungry newspaper boss, but secretly is a Roark-wannabe. Wynand is the full individual minus the courage and integrity. He’s “successful” much like some might consider Dick Cheney (a successful dick). Wynand is tested to his ultimate edge, and almost wins.
Second-Hander Dominique Francon
Beautiful potential, but meek. It’s harsh for me to call Dominique a second-hander, because she’s so close to great, but too scared to go for it. Dominique reminds me of the famous Henry David Thoreau quote: “Most people lead lives of quiet desperation.” Dominique quietly admires Roark, but rarely takes a stand. Only until she’s built up courage from years around him does she ‘win.’
Wynand and Dominique are the two figures most in Roark’s life, but there are others. One is Roark’s old school chum, a soulless parasite, a borrower of ideas seeking the fast-track. Another is a behind-the-scenes evil bastard who seeks to squelch independent thought. There are more, but these two shine as second-handers.
Our Own Second-Handers
See the connection? All these second-handers are our own. Naysayers, quiet admirers, and the power-hungry who’d rather you stay subservient.
How do you react to your second-handers?
Do you try to apologize for your beliefs? (Roark wouldn’t)
Do you conform to just the most important ones in your life? (Roark wouldn’t)
Do you lead a life of quiet desperation? (Roark wouldn’t, nor would Thoreau)
The way you stand for your own beliefs (and strive to your own successes) is what defines you as a Roark, a Wynand or a Dominique.
What About You? Are You an Individual?
Odds are good you see yourself as an individual. We all do. That’s what makes it easy to fantasize about living abroad.
Odds are better you’re more conformist than the ideal Howard Roark. We all naturally conform to some degree. That’s what makes culture shock what it is: difficult.
But to be a successful and happy expat, you must have a little “Howard Roark” in you. You have be comfortable in your own skin, comfortable not having to be like everyone else, both at home and in your host country. You must be an individual.
To find out, I’d recommend reading “The Fountainhead.” Who do you sympathize with? Are you closer to the ideal Roark or are you another second-hander? Knowing this ahead of time will help you with living abroad.