Cultural awareness to prepare for your international move

When you prepare to move from France to another international destination, you usually think about packing, making arrangements with moving companies and sorting out a visa.

All of these steps are certainly essential for an international relocation, but expats may forget about the importance of cultural awareness. Without taking the time to learn the culture, expats run the risk of having difficulties in settling in.

Following are some essential ways that you can support your cultural understanding.

Foreign Language skills
Learning the local language and communication style before moving to your new destination will help you settle in more quickly and socialize with the locals. In addition to learning the language, we recommend to observe the body language and overall delivery. Do locals use lots of eye contact or tend to look away? Are they really animated when they speak or completely formal?
Travel to the country some time prior to the international moving in order to build your communication skills. Measure how comfortable and confident you are in social situations and put some steps in place to improve. Aim to learn how to communicate with others in a way that denotes trust and respect.

Local Traditions
There may exist pre-conceived ideas and stereotypes about what the new country is like – please try to replace them with an open mind and willingness to understand other points of view. As soon as you live abroad and have integrated, your perception is likely to change.
It also helps to research the country’s heritage and attend festivals, religious events and key public holidays. Try to join some local groups, clubs and societies where you can participate in local activities.

Different dress code
In other parts of the world, the dress-code and what’s deemed as the ‘norm’ can differ quite dramatically. Aim to be respectful of the differences and especially when participating in social activities or work. In many cultures there are traditional ways of dressing for festivals, e.g. carnival and other cultural events. Wearing traditional dress can be a fun opportunity for expats to cross cultural barriers and become comfortable in their new home.

Local cuisine
National cuisine is generally tied closely to a country’s identity and for expats this can be a great learning curve. Just experiment with trying new foods in social settings, eat out at restaurants, birthday dinners and ceremonies. Not only will you learn about the flavours and tastes, you will also be able to observe the serving style and table etiquette. As soon as you feel confident enough, you may want to hold a dinner party and serve local food. Being a host is always a good opportunity to put everything you’ve learnt in to practice.

Smoking and alcohol
It’s indispensable to have an awareness of the local attitudes towards smoking and alcohol. Socially acceptable attitudes may differ widely from culture to culture. Some cultures are rather liberal, although there may still be age restrictions and public areas where it’s banned. In other countries smoking or drinking may be completely frowned upon. Being aware of the varying attitudes is very important to avoid causing offense.