The Journey of Cultural Adaptation

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In our global business and travel community we always strive to make the best adaptation possible to our new world.

As a consequence, when we start work at a new company or enter a foreign culture the most prudent thing we can do is to ask ourselves “How do people behave here?” And the answer to that question helps us choose how to best adapt.

So we

Learn the language – very difficult for adult learners

Respect the customs – so as not to offend our hosts

Behave as guests that try to remember the following do’s and don’ts.

Don’ts

  1. Fall into the trap of always comparing our host country with our home culture. “Why can’t these folks be on time?” Why should they? What makes our view of time superior?
  1. Put down our country of origin. “I can’t stand the …(politics, materialism, focus on youth) in the USA.” Some even go as far as saying “I never want to visit the USA again!”. I know at times we have chaotic ways of disengaging from former relationships. But hating America? Really?
  1. Go native and romanticize or idealize our host culture. I live in Mexico and I love the country and people but I have learned by living in several different cultures that each one has its pros and cons. One cannot be elevated above the other. Like falling in love idealization eventually must give way to realistic appreciation.

Do’s

Here are some basics that all who have moved and lived across cultures recognize.

  1. Learn the social protocol. In England it is generally not ‘proper’ to call the boss by his/her first name. In Mexico it is good manners to greet people that you pass in the street or see at the sidewalk café. Manners matter.
  1. Don’t fully believe the media. The most common question we hear in the USA about our living in Mexico is “Is it safe?”  A drug war does not the country make. By the same token very few children in the USA carry guns to school (as is believed in some parts of Europe). The media often grabs for the oxygen by playing to fear and stereotypes.
  1. Do your homework. Once you enter a new culture you are always a student. So learn the language, read the history, befriend your neighbors, and observe how much we have in common with each other.

I am and will always be on the journey towards cultural adaptation. But I did get a complement from a Mexican executive last week. He told me  “You are not a gringo.”  He was referring to the derogatory use of that term often used of person’s from North of the Mexican border.

Cultural adaptation is one of the greatest adventures we can take.

Question

What have you found to be some of the essentials for a successful cultural adaptation?

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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2 Responses to The Journey of Cultural Adaptation

  1. Richard S. neulist says:

    Being a person who lives outside of ones native country, I found this blog radiating with me. Thanks for all of your good and timely messages.

    • cedricj says:

      Not only could you have written this blog yourself Richard you have lived its positive spirit. You are one of my examples of positive best practices. Thanks for your kind words.

      Cedric

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