When living abroad, expatriates shift gears towards living in a ”new normal.” We turn off our cruise control mode, press on the gas to accelerate, and change lanes to merge onto Cultural Immersion Express Highway.
So, when we toggle back and forth between cultures. It’s not uncommon to feel like we’re living a double life. Our mindsets morph into a chameleon-like state in order to harmonize ourselves into the surroundings.
In this Expat Dream Team post. Ten expatriate women are sharing their expat-insider knowledge of things that are normal in their host country, but are odd or unheard of in their home country.
Let’s take a virtual trip to Italy, Thailand, Malawi, Spain, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Qatar, Malaysia, Switzerland and South Korea. And learn what cultural differences look like.
What’s normal in your host country that’s not in your home country?
Lindsey in Vietnam
Are you in need of a virtual tropical getaway? Then, Lindseyomall will fill your Vietnam adventures. I also must mention, she’s a talented singer and ukulele player. Check out her videos on YouTube.
”My name is Lindsey and I am Irish. I have been living in Vietnam since March 2019 where myself and my boyfriend came to work as English teachers and travel. Due to Covid we have not done much travel outside Vietnam this year but we are lucky enough to be able to travel freely inside Vietnam. Vietnam is a beautiful country filled with amazing people, culture, food and amazing places. We have loved every minute of living here but there are definitely lots of things that took some getting used to.
”So shortly after landing in Hanoi I realised that queuing was not quite the same here as at home. As we waited patiently in line at the airport I felt a push from behind me and I was shocked as people just barged their way to the front. This became a common occurrence at the bank, supermarket & airport. You could literally be waiting in line for the ATM machine for 15 minutes and someone would hop on their bike and step in front of you. It used to frustrate me a lot but now kindly say Xin Loi (Sorry) and gesture that I have been waiting and they understand but it still baffles me.”
”Every drive short or long is an adventure over here. Not only could you see anything on the back of a bike (a fridge, a family of 7 or even a dead pig) but the rules of the road are not very strict here. People tend to use their horn instead of slowing down to alert people that they are coming through, you just need to move out of their way. You need to have your wits about you while driving here. I now use my horn all of the time when I’m driving just to be safe as many times someone has swerved out as I was passing them.”
”My 3rd but favorite is that people often wear pajamas as casual day wear. This could be any time of the day and anywhere. I am a big fan of PJs so I don’t blame them. I have heard that this is due to the hot humid weather during the summer as pajamas are light and airy but I’m not 100% sure.”
Niti in Qatar
Black Women Abroad is a podcast created by two boss ladies who are living abroad and sharing their stories. Their perspectives on Black Women Abroad: A Tale of Two Countries are fantastic! Their 3rd episode had me crying-laughing, and shaking my head, ‘Yup!’ The driving stories are hilarious.
”I’m Nti. Indiana native. Educator. Foodie. Cat mom to Donald Troy Glover. Expat currently living and teaching abroad in the Middle East. I’m one half of the dynamic duo that created the newly launched @black_women_abroad. Usav, the other half of this amazing duo, and I are two wildly unique Black American Women currently living unconventional lives as expats and sharing our experiences on IG and through our podcast “A Tale of Two Countries.”
”I’m an American currently enjoying the expat life in Qatar! Qatar is an incredibly safe country. It is something that you have to see to believe. When my favorite people came to visit me, they were blown away to see that sometimes people leave their apartment doors unlock when they leave. Or when going to the mall most people just leave their carts full of merchandise outside of a store while they’re shopping. The thing that really blows people’s mind is when they see an empty car running in the parking lot of a mall or grocery store. The owner is no where in sight because they’re shopping! It’s mind blowing!”
Bre in South Korea
Known as Knowledge.Nutritionist on the Gram. Bre is an American living in South Korea. Be sure to check her IG stories. They are filled with nutritious meals and so much helpful dietitian awareness. I’ve become so intrigued with her meals. What’s also amazing, is you can book her services.
”I’m Bre, an expat registered dietitian living in South Korea. I’m originally from the US, but have been living abroad for over 3 years, first in Myanmar and now Korea. My days are spent running an online business, hanging out with my rescue puppy, and exploring and eating my way around Korea with my husband and friends.
In South Korea, it can be almost impossible to find a public trash can. It’s a bit odd to carry around an empty cup or used tissue, looking everywhere for a place to dispose of it. You’ll see free, outdoor gyms almost anywhere, but nowhere to throw your trash!”
Carole in Kazakhstan
Hey Ms Yearwood is a teacher living it up in Kazakhstan. Check out Carole’s blog as it provides a good appreciation of life in Kazakhstan. From teaching abroad, parenting and travel. I find her food posts very intriguing.
”I am a mixed heritage British Caribbean female expat from the UK, and am currently teaching in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I have been here since August 2020 and moved during the current Covid-19 pandemic, as a solo mummy to one adventurous little boy. I write about my experiences on my blog, Hey Ms Yearwood, exploring all that I am navigating and learning throughout this experience.”
”This was such an interesting question and so easy to answer for me, eating horse meat. Back in the UK in 2013 there was what was called a ‘Horse Meat Scandal’. A range of leading UK supermarkets had sold products that were labeled as beef but contained large amounts of horse meat. This isn’t a common meat eaten in the UK, however here in Kazakhstan horse meat will be found in most restaurants, supermarkets and on dinner tables. It is one of the most common meats eaten here in Kazakhstan and eating it does not in the slightest appear unusual. It is so interesting to experience these culture differences.”
Lucy in Thailand
The Adventures of an Expat is Lucy whose IG will have you wanting to be in Thailand. Or at least you can experience it virtually with her. On her blog, Lucy chats about travel, expat life in Thailand and gives her account of quarantine.
”Hi, my name is Lucy, I’m from the UK and currently living in Thailand! I moved here almost two years ago now and I absolutely loved it. I fell in love with Asia when I did a solo trip with Contiki through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and instantly knew I had to go back. I work here as an English teacher, although my degree is in interior architecture and design, and I love it! Teaching English abroad brings its own challenges, but is super rewarding and never a dull moment! ”
”Things that are common in my host country that would be odd in my home country:”
”One thing which took a while to get used to and remember, is that in Thailand each day of the week has a different colour. Therefore in most government run offices and schools, you will have to wear clothes the correct colour for that day. Monday is yellow, Tuesday – pink, Wednesday – green, Thursday – Orange, Friday – blue, Saturday – purple, Sunday – red.”
”The monarchy is a hugely important part of Thai Culture and is part of daily life. Twice a day, around 8am and 6pm, the King’s Song will play in many public areas and when it plays everyone stands still to pay respect to the king. This is also done in schools every morning as they raise the Thai flag. Another time the song will play is in cinemas before the film starts, the song will play along with a video and everyone must stand. This took a little while to get used to, especially remembering to stop walking when the song starts!”
”One thing that I still feel a bit funny about but is totally normal here is how you buy tablets at pharmacies. Usually in the Uk if you go to a pharmacy they give you the tablets or medication as they come in the box. However, in Thailand you just get one strip of tablets from inside a pack, no box, no instructions. You can get them in packets, but on the whole, you will just be handed a sheet of tablets. So if this ever happens to you, its not dodgy, that’s just how it works here! ”
Kristen in Italy
Kristen_Helmstetter is a biohacker whose living on Italian vibes. Kristen is designing an authentic life that’s goal-oriented, filled with happiness, love, and much, much more. Find out more on her blog, Happy Sexy Millionaire.
”I’m an American author living in Italy with my husband and daughter. Author of the book, Coffee Self-Talk, I also write romance novels under the pen name Brisa Starr.”
”TabaccheriaThese are basically tobacco shops where you can buy tobacco products, bus passes, stamps, candy, and lotto tickets. But the most interesting thing about them, to me, is that you can conduct government transactions there, like paying your utility bills and traffic tickets!).”
Things that really stand out:
”In the many small towns we’ve spent time in, in Italy, I love that when someone walks into a small bar or cafe, the person says, “Ciao” or “Buongiorno” (hello, good day). And? Everyone in the place says it back. Then, when leaving the place? Same thing… say “Ciao” or “Arrivederci” and the crowd says it back. The first time I noticed this, I was eager to participate, so the next day I went, I did it! What fun to have people who didn’t really know me greet me in return.
Passaggiata: This is a walk. More specifically though, it’s special because it’s an evening stroll. Every town we’ve lived in, if you walk into town in the evening, you see people strolling leisurely, talking, often with hands clasped behind the back. Enjoying a stroll. Practically every night. It’s great fun to walk through a town and people watch, talk, and see everyone in cafes enjoying aperitif or walking, invariably running into people you know.
Spritz: A bright orange-colored Italian aperitif that many Italians drink, though I’ve heard it originated in the northern regions. It’s common throughout Italy now. It’s a recipe that typically includes Campari or Aperol alcohol, plus Prosecco, and sparkling mineral water. The first time I saw a street full of cafes and many people drinking it, I wondered what it was! I actually thought it was some nasty Kool-Aid type beverage! Little did I know, it is a delicious national treasure and I regularly partake.”
Gwen in Malaysia
Gwen Gets Global will inspire you to explore Malaysia and also encourage you to get to the gym 🙂 Gwen is an American expat working as a freelance writer and editor. She’s lived in India, Argentina, China, Vietnam, Czech Republic, and Hungary and now calls Malaysia home. For more information, check out her travel blog: Gwengetsglobal.com
”I’m American living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Here, a popular sweet treat is durian. Durian is a type of fruit grown in Thailand and Malaysia. It’s about the size of a small watermelon and covered in spikes. It has an incredibly powerful and pungent smell, some even complaining it to smell like rotting flesh. Few foreigners enjoy the taste. Even when it is made into desserts with creme or pastry.”
I find the flavor overwhelmingly bad. I’m not a picky eater and have tried food from all over the world, and yet this is one of the few foods I actively dislike. However, all of my Malaysian friends will woof down durian happily. Love it or hate it, it’s definitely something everyone should try when they come to Malaysia!”
PS Me too, Gwen. I’ve tried durian a few times and in different formats. After each time, I’m still not a fan.
If you’re curious about the behind the scenes action of a medical expert. Connect with ExpatNP. Kelsey is providing her medical expertise in Malawi and you can watch it all unfold on her Gram. I’m in awe of her practice and her continuous movement for improving health. Cheers to you Kelsey!
”Hi! My name is Kelsey and I am a pediatric nurse practitioner from the US. Currently I’m living in Malawi working at a nursing school and at a local hospital. It’s always been my dream to work in global health, so despite moving across the world during a pandemic, my move was completely worth it. I’m proud to be an expat here in Malawi and love meeting expats from around the world!”
”When admitted to the hospital, all patients and their mamas stay in one big room, they eat meals together and help take care of each other’s babies. Americans are used to private hospital rooms with lots of privacy and individualized care so they might find this type of community healthcare odd. But Malawi is a collectivist society (and in some areas, quite matriarchal!) and the way the way these mamas support one another is incredible.”
”Top 3 things that stand out:
– You can find pretty much any kind of food you want here – for a price!
– There’s a WhatsApp group for everything
– Despite being a pretty socially conservative place, most popular songs have super raunchy lyrics”
Julie in Spain
Is Spain on your travel bucket list? Siesta and Sangria is Julie, and she has all the answers on the happenings and things to do in Seville, Spain. Her Gram takes you on a beautiful tour, which is a welcoming break from US politics 🙂
”Hi, I’m Julie! I’m from New York and I’ve lived in Seville, Spain for the past three years. I studied abroad in this stunning city during the spring of 2012. The Spanish culture and architecture, tapas, and endless sunshine charmed me right away. During my stay, I met and fell in love with a guy from Seville. That’s how and why I’m back today, as we start our lives together in Spain. My latest adventure is my Instagram account and blog Siesta and Sangria, where I share my life in Spain and connect with fellow expats and travelers.”
”Fun fact: Five hundred years ago some of my maternal ancestors lived in a picturesque palace in the south of Spain, in a town called Ronda. It’s now open as a museum and I’ve visited a few times. It’s a personal connection for me to live nearby so many years later!”
The Eating Schedule is Very Late
”You’ll quickly learn that the eating schedule in Spain is unique. Spaniards typically eat lunch at around 2 or 3 pm and dinner at 9 or 10 pm. Visitors or new expats will probably find themselves eating at empty restaurants if they don’t adapt to the dining hours!”
”Most tapas bars and restaurants close between meals and reopen after 8 pm for dinner. I’m still mystified that most people don’t seem to snack here. Snacks get me through to that late lunch! No wonder why I’m hangry all the time. You might have heard that lunch is the big meal here and that’s true. Expect a large lunch and a small dinner. Who has a big appetite at 10 pm?”
The Greeting of Two Kisses
‘‘In the US, it’s customary to greet people in formal settings with a handshake. When greeting a close friend or loved one, you go in for a hug!”
”While handshakes are the norm in business settings, Spaniards greet each other with two kisses on the cheeks in all personal settings. Don’t worry; it’s not an actual kiss, but a tap of the cheeks, first right and then left, while making a kissing sound. Women and men and women and women greet like this. A man greets another man with a hug, pat on the back, or handshake.”
”People take this greeting seriously, even in big groups. Everyone makes sure that they greet each other one-by-one with two kisses on the cheeks. During my semester in Spain, I remember being intimidated when going up to a big group and giving these kisses!”
”Sadly, coronavirus has prohibited this greeting. We have traded in elbow jabs for kisses. And believe it or not, I look forward to the next time that I will give out two kisses when meeting a friend!”
Ham Legs Hanging from the Ceiling
”When you walk into a bar or restaurant in Spain, you might spot something out of the ordinary hanging from the ceiling. Legs of Spanish ham!”
”Iberian ham is world-famous for its quality and taste. Hanging it upside downs dries out the cured ham and increases its flavor. Seeing these ham legs might startle you at first, but you can’t leave without trying this Spanish specialty!”.
Claire in Switzerland
Switzerland is one of my top countries to visit (I’m bias because I have family there), regardless, it’s a gorgeous country. Claire’s posts, both on her IG and her blog; My Theory on Blooming is a wonderful reminder to all trailing spouses, that we are bad ass.
”I am an American writer/blogger and ASS (Accompanying Supportive Spouse. I have been living abroad for the past 12 years with my husband and two TCK daughters. Our family has lived in Europe, Latin America and Africa – each place holds a special place in our hearts. I’m currently in the process of writing a book specifically for Accompanying Supportive Spouses (I don’t use the word trailing spouse because I have never trailed anyone), a no frills guide to being #badASS.”
”There is commonly known that the Swiss have a staring problem. As a kid growing up in the American Midwest, I was taught not to stare because it is rude. In Switzerland, staring is a sport. This is my second time living here and I don’t think I will ever get used to it. The Swiss stare lingers longer than it should and doesn’t stop when you clearly are looking back at your voyeur. Switzerland is a country that lives on high alert, and all its people are in tune with this early warning system of keeping an eye on everything to make sure nothing in their world is out of sorts.”
Claire- I hear you loud and clearly on the staring. It’s a thing here, and I don’t understand why. The locking of eyes from a stranger, feels like a weird – game of chicken – eye stare down. I don’t know if someone is trying to intimidate me, attempts to mind control, or I have something on my face. Before masks, I would smile back at the person, which seems to shock them and they quickly look away. It’s then, I’m the weirdo to be smiling vs blatantly staring back. Ha ha!
”1. Expat life is hard – Picking up and moving to another country is a crazy difficult transition, don’t forget to give yourself a break.
2. An accent is a sign of bravery – Remember that when you are speaking in a foreign language or you hear one from someone else.
3. Get out of your comfort zone – Life is all about experiences and if we only stick to what we know, we’ll never experience the great things other people and cultures have to offer.”
As always, a thousand (and more) thank you’s to these spirited and thriving expatriate women. I’m so thankful for your connection, insight and I’m thrilled to be sharing your perspectives.
Cheers to switching life lanes.