Cultural intelligence matters


Moving to a new country with a culture different to your own? What do you need to know before you leave?


Moving to live and work in a new country will challenge you in ways that you have not been tested before and you will be out of your comfort zone. The result of this experience will provide you with great personal growth, but the journey may not be an easy one.

Experts in the field of cross-cultural research have identified key personal attributes that will help face the challenges of expatriate life:

  • An open minded attitude
  • Tolerance to frustration and failure
  • Adaptable and flexible
  • Curious to try new things
  • Strong communication skills
  • Observant
  • Self reliant
  • Good sense of humour
  • And crucially, Cultural Intelligence
Do you have Cultural Intelligence?
Culture is defined as ‘The customs, beliefs, art and all other products of human thought made by a particular group of people at a particular time.’ Unless you know the rules of these other cultures you can make serious errors of judgement resulting in insulting your host or even starting an International crisis!

When travelling to live and work in a new country, not knowing what to expect and the differences that can be encountered upon arrival and in the early stages of settling in can often result in culture-shock – defined as the disorientation felt by a person subjected to unfamiliar way of life.

Here is a list of the type of areas where cultural differences should be considered, with a few examples taken from different countries. It would be advisable to be aware of the differences and protocols before you arrive in a new country. This information can be found in books, on the internet and also through cross-cultural training advisors and courses;

> Greetings
In some countries men and women are forbidden to touch hands …. In others public displays of affection are normal.

> Communication Style
The Japanese or English may distrust Italians because they wave their hands about or Spaniards because they sound emotional. The French may appear offensive as they are direct and frequently use cynicism. Germans may take the English too seriously and completely miss the humour or irony. No one may know what the Japanese are thinking as they may say little or nothing at all

> Personal space
In some countries it may seem that there is no such thing as personal space. When queuing in some countries; that is to say in countries where they actually have a queue system, standing so close to the person in front that they can feel your breath on their neck is not considered an issue, whereas in other countries this would seem offensive.

> Eye contact
In Asia direct eye contact can be interpreted as rude and disrespectful, whereas in the United Kingdom it is an important way to show sincerity and trust.

> Views of time
In the United Kingdom and the United States it is advisable to always be punctual. In many Latin countries punctuality is not as important as arriving at all, whatever the time

> Gestures
The okay sign  has different meanings when used, depending upon your location -
  • North America – to show approval
  • Japanese – to signal money
  • Brazil – it is a vulgar sign
  • France – means zero
  • Middle East – a rude sexual gesture
> Taboos
In some parts of the Middle East and Far East showing the sole of your shoe sends a rude message whilst in Thailand for example it is considered rude to sit cross-legged.

If you need some help preparing for a cross-cultural move, contact the experts at www.expatknowhow.com by calling +44 (0)1235 855236 or email info@expatknowhow.com

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