Do chopsticks seem illogical to you? Is squatting to use a toilet too unfamiliar to fathom? Have you ever felt your worldview being threatened while traveling or living abroad?
You’re not alone. These thoughts arise when you’re living in a foreign culture. As you start to see how culture shapes our world, accepting behaviors that seem oddly shaped is the first step to integration.
Just as you wish to be accepted by your foreign colleagues, you must accept them. And that means accepting their culture. This is the foundation of successfully leading in a foreign culture.
More than simply accepting, you must also adapt. This is the application of your acceptance, where you begin to integrate foreign behaviors into your daily routine and foreign ideas and attitudes into your thought processes.
How Do You Adapt?
Say, you’re from the UK. You normally take dinner anywhere from 6:30 to 8:30 PM, right after you get home from work. You’re used to this schedule.
Your work relocates you to Spain. Your colleagues invite you out to dinner regularly, but they don’t eat until 9 to 10:30 pm. By then, you’re ready to chew your arm off.
Would you get hangry and call off dinner? Or would you adapt the Spanish eating schedule?
Well, first, you might try and understand why the Spanish eat so late.
According to donquijote.org, lunch is the most important meal of the day in Spain, and it’s also when many take their 2 to 4 pm siesta. This pushes the end of the workday to a later hour, because when they return from lunch, they stay until 8 pm. Then, they usually have a merienda, which is a light snack until dinner is served.
In order to integrate into Spanish culture, eating late is certainly something you can accept and adapt as your own. This will help you become part of your colleagues’ culture, and they’ll start to accept you as one of their own too.
Do My Values Change When I Adapt?
You might be afraid that you’ll lose yourself if you adapt too much of another’s culture. But remember the following:
Adapting requires a change in behavior, not a change in values.
That’s not to say you won’t adopt foreign cultural values at some point. You may consider new ideas, behaviors, or philosophies valid and even truer to yourself than those of your own culture. That’s when you’ll adopt.
But such significant transformations are not fast, easy, nor are they painless. They will take much longer than simply changing your eating schedule. We’ll cover this topic in a later post.