The Expat Etiquette: Why Decorum Matters While Abroad

    To avoid being in constant conflicts with local lifestyles, expats must observe and acknowledge the appropriate public and individual etiquette while abroad.

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    How you conduct yourself in public conveys something about your personality and where you came from.

    Every expat wants to have the best of good times abroad but many find themselves on the rough side of the local lifestyle due to their negligence in observing and understanding the locally acceptable public etiquette. Generally, decorum means the behavior in keeping with good taste and propriety concerning issues like propriety, decency, politeness, courtesy, dignity and modesty. Though there are no laid down rules of conduct for expats, it’s within our natural instincts to observe protocol and avoid awkward situations that may put us and our home countries to disgrace.

    You’re a diplomat…

    Besides working for a living in a foreign country, expats should know that they’re the secondary diplomats of their home countries to wherever they settle and this places them on the same line of duty with the ambassadors b’se they have to mirror an exceptional reputation of their home country in both actions and words. Whatever an expat does or says while abroad conveys something about his or her home country and the last thing he would want to do is engaging in something awkward that would bring his country to a great shame. Recently, China got fed up with its unruly nationals who greatly tarnished the country’s image abroad due to their reckless behaviors and hence sought to place restrictive measures including shaming them publicly. It is widely believed that most Chinese and Indian nationals lack the public decency to conduct themselves abroad.

    Etiquette also matters to you personally

    It’s not only about avoid putting your home country to shame but decorum is useful for your own personal safety. Before moving abroad, you need to arm yourself with plenty of knowledge about things or situations to avoid. Knowing how to conduct yourself in a particular situation helps to guide your actions and words to seek the needed help and avoiding to be perceived as an ignorant person. Learning how to apologize according to local practices is crucial to avert confrontations that may result from heated up situations. In some countries, it’s an offense to shake hands with the opposite sex, showing displays of affection, desecrating public figures, disrespecting the elderly, etc. Dealing with such strange situations requires culture shock therapy for you to get accustomed to local lifestyles and avoiding precarious situations.

    Don’t become a victim

    Many expats are unaware of local customs and do things that are against the local order such as spitting carelessly, urinating in public, irresponsible smoking and alcoholism, speaking on top of their voices, walking too fast or too slowly, eating while walking/talking, not showing appreciation and being impatient. Where an expat is uninformed of how to behave in a foreign country, he/she should inquire from colleagues or follow the globally acceptable norms of communal or individual behavior and such may include speaking in a soft and medium tone, greeting and introducing yourself to someone before talking about anything, throwing rubbish in bins, maintaining the right standing or sitting postures, observing traffic, dressing in wholesome clothes, observing personal spaces, not jumping queues, etc. The simple doctrine is to keenly observe what the locals are doing and follow the same which is important if you can’t understand the local language.

    Expats should endeavor to get themselves acquainted with the lifestyles of people in their host countries and this includes the public codes of conduct like greetings and expressions, dressing, entertainment, meetings, opinions, etc. It’s very risky for an expat to express public opinions on sensitive topics like politics, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, civil conflicts and other situations that put the society on a large-scale crisis. It is recommended that if you’re to give an opinion about the current affairs of your host society, you do so in a neutral tone that renders your position as being nonpartisan. I also advise you only give problem-solving opinions that will put you on good terms with the locals.

    Follow the etiquette and stay safe

    Besides, it’s adequate that you follow the custom guidelines issued by your country’s mission including the acceptable and unacceptable behaviors concerning the local systems or better still, enquire from the embassy regarding your country’s position on the matter. If there’s a crisis in your host country, the embassy will normally advise you to avoid giving personal judgments or attending public gatherings and staying indoors where necessary. Expats who defy such advice often put their lives at stake and at the same time causing frictions between both countries. No expat would want to attract unnecessary attention to themselves for the wrong reasons especially in a foreign land, so this advice is handy.

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