Moving to a New Country? Our Best Tips for Blending In
So you’ve upped-sticks to an exciting new country, scored yourself a job, located a flat, sorted yourself a proxy I.P. address, and are now slouched in the lounge slurping a Coca Cola in front of your laptop. Tip the rest of your Coke down the sink, switch off Mad Men and get out of the flat. It’s time to start blending in with your new culture. And here’s how.
Learn the basic lingo
An obvious one to begin with, but infinitely important. If you’re headed to a French or Spanish speaking country for three years, you’ll probably be at least semi-confident with the language anyway. If, however, you’re only planning on being in, say Estonia for a few months, you may not have bothered to even learn “Hello”. It’s the thought that counts, so buy yourself a cheap phrasebook, repeat simple words over and over in your head, and make yourself use them in real life situations. Locals will appreciate the effort, however minimal.
Pick up some local literature
Language is one thing, literature is quite another. Try Googling a couple of the country’s best-known authors a few months before you fly out, take them out of the local library and swot up. These days, no end of books are translated, so finding an English version of a native classic while you’re abroad shouldn’t prove too tricky either. If you can locate a cinema with English subtitles, that’s another way to give yourself a quick lesson in literature. Even if you’re familiar with a handful of novels or films, people will be impressed, and you’ll understand much more about the culture too.
However hard you clutch your Lonely Planet guide to your breast, however much you’ve studied Google Maps beforehand, the one way to truly acquaint yourself with a place is to be a flâneur. In your first week, set aside a few hours per day to go strolling nowhere in particular. You can note down shops and bars for future visits, and you’ll soon create a mental map of your new surroundings. Obviously, if you’re in a potentially dangerous area, do a bit of recon first.
Take it easy with the tourist stuff
There’s no shame in doing the tourist trail. Take a guided tour, or follow a recommended walk from the tourist information center. You should, however stay clear of novelty pubs and clubs, organized bar crawls, and iffy tourist T-shirts that serve as an open invite for locals to dislike you.
Try the local cuisine
The risk factor depends on how exotic your environs are, but with due caution and hygienic measures, you can pretty much eat and drink anything that takes your fancy. Even if something doesn’t take your fancy, try it once. And turn a blind eye to any branding you recognize from back home. Yes, you’re going to yearn for comfort food but that’s all part of the expat experience. A few months in, reward yourself with a taste of home at a Western-style eatery, or open up that emergency ration you packed.
Make a friend
Surrounded by an alien environment, you’re bound to be drawn to your own type; people who you can talk to about things places you know, kids TV shows you used to watch, etc. Having people from whom you can garner expat advice, and share your anxieties and joys with is priceless. But if you want to experience the country’s culture in full, make efforts to befriend someone who’s born and bred here; get invited to parties, family gatherings and local celebrations.