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Learning the Unwritten Rules: Cultural Etiquette Tips for Expats

Learning the Unwritten Rules: Cultural Etiquette Tips for Expats
Written by Vertical Wise

Attempting to navigate the cultural landscape of a foreign country can make even the most experienced travelers nervous. Understanding and practicing the unwritten rules and behaviors of the locals is crucial for integrating into society, forming relationships, and simply getting around town.

Cultural Etiquette Tips for Expats

Here, we will go over ways you can easily learn those unwritten rules. So, If you are an expat interested in discovering the cultural norms of your new home, keep reading.

Join Online Communities Before Your Travel

Social media is a gold mine when it comes to learning about another culture. Online communities like Facebook groups, Reddit, and Instagram geotags can help give you a glimpse into the everyday life of another country.

Facebook and Reddit groups are especially helpful because they are a place where you can ask hundreds, sometimes thousands of people specific questions and for advice. For example, if you are traveling to Japan, you can join a Japanese community group. Simply introduce yourself, tell them about your travels, and ask for them to teach you about cultural etiquette and the country’s unwritten rules.

Instagram geotags are great too because they take you to the pages of individuals living in the country. Simply watch their stories to learn more about how they interact with each other and present themselves.

Do Your Research

To learn the unwritten rules of other countries’ cultural etiquette, you don’t want to rely solely on social media. You can do research in other places as well such as:

  • Travel guidebooks- Lonely Planet provides a detailed etiquette section for each country
  • Websites dedicated to cultural etiquette- Cultural Atlas helps with learning the communication styles of other countries.
  • Expatriate forums- Expat.com offers firsthand experiences and advice from other expats.

Download a Language Learning App

A great resource that is often disregarded when it comes to learning cultural norms is language learning apps.

Many language learning apps insert tidbits of advice or education aimed toward teaching travelers how to communicate in a natural, appropriate, and respectful way.

  • Hello talk- This app allows you to have real-time conversations with native speakers. Many users enjoy discussing cultural norms and educating others on cultural etiquette.
  • Mondly- This is another app that allows you to have a conversation with native speakers. However, this app emphasizes real-life situations and everyday interactions.
  • Lingodeer- In this app, you find cultural stories and lessons that teach you about customs and polite behavior.
  • Busuu- Busuu has a cultural section dedicated to traditions, greetings, and social etiquette. It also helps you understand the body language and non-verbal cues used in other countries.

These apps are great because if you are traveling, you likely need to learn some of the language anyway! You can kill two birds with one stone by downloading them.

Understand The Work Culture

As an expat, you are likely relocating for a job or work-related reason. This means that you might be spending a lot of time immersed in another country’s work culture.

Work culture consists of many elements such as how to dress, how work-life is balanced, communication frequency, availability in and outside of work hours, and the type of relationship you have with your coworkers.

Discovering the unwritten rules of work culture can seem difficult but it’s as easy as communicating your concerns and asking questions. Consider reaching out to your new boss to request an informational interview or training that goes over work etiquette. You can also visit embassy websites since many offer information on work and social culture.

Whether you work in another country or are working remotely, understanding the work culture will be essential for succeeding in the job.

Watch and Learn

Watch and learn is a self-teaching method that can be used to help you learn almost anything in life. When it comes to learning cultural norms, there are two main ways to go about implementation. You can watch television shows or movies set in the country you are traveling to or you can do some people-watching when you arrive.

Both watching television and people-watching can help you understand the essentials of communication. While watching, take note of things such as:

  • Personal space- How close individuals stand next to each other and whether or not physical touch is involved in the conversation.
  • Non-verbal communication- The facial expressions and hand gestures used.
  • Greetings- How natives say hello and goodbye. Do they wave, nod their head, or offer a different gesture?
  • Dining Etiquette- Are there certain habits or manners that are considered rude or polite?

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Research, real-time conversations, and watching interactions are great but they only get you so far. If you truly want to learn the unwritten rules and understand another country’s cultural etiquette, you should ask questions.

As an expat, you will often find yourself in conversation with a native and something seems off. Maybe you notice an odd facial expression, a cold shoulder, or something more positive like an unexpected bout of happiness from a stranger. Anytime something like this happens, do your best to ask why they reacted in such a way. It doesn’t hurt to simply say “I am not from around here, I noticed your reaction and would love to be educated on what I did to spark that reaction”. Most people will appreciate your willingness to put yourself out there to obtain a deeper understanding of how to be respectful.

About the author

Vertical Wise

Vertical Wise is an international website dedicated to supporting and promoting the world of pole dancing and aerial fitness. Our mission is to spread awareness, share knowledge, and celebrate the incredible artistry and athleticism of these disciplines. Join us as we connect enthusiasts, athletes, and professionals from around the globe, fostering a vibrant community that inspires and empowers individuals to reach new heights in their fitness journey.

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