From Antipodes to Antwerp: The expat shamelessness test
Richard Croad discusses the need to be shameless in order to integrate into a new culture. Judge your expat-readiness on the 'Shameless-o-meter'.
I've come to the conclusion that there is a simple test for who will make a great expat and who won't.
You simply need the 'Shameless-o-meter'.
I think in general I would score average – or, in truth, less than average – because shameless was something I was only good at in my late teens and early twenties, particularly after a drink or three.
The basis of my theory? To make progress, to get things done, to do something new in a foreign country, each and every time, you have to accept that you might:
- Say something wrong.
- Culturally offend someone.
- Incur the wrath of some local, official, parent...
- Be completely mistaken in your reading of the measure of acceptance, or rejection, in social settings.
- Appear way less intelligent than you think you are (or perhaps just appear only as intelligent as you really are).
- Waste a lot of time doing the wrong things, joining the wrong queue, asking the wrong question, or going to the wrong park.
- Say the completely wrong thing and not realise.
And so it goes.
You must approach each and every situation with a mindset of complete gullibility, with almost a wanton disregard and shamelessness, which means whatever the event and whatever the outcome, your face remains bathed in calmness and your body floating on the sea of tranquillity.
And if you don't, your life quickly starts to resemble a ruin, unlike any other ruin you've ever occupied when back in your cosy cave of familiarity.
It's a simple reality and for me it explains why I at times have crashed so badly while on the other side, I know people who have breezed through the whole expat experience and yet I generally regarded them as being slightly naive and not really independent.
And there's the point – as an expat not being ‘all-knowing' (and to accept that) and not being independent are actually huge advantages. And me, well I'm not gifted with either of those blessings.
Which is kind of funny when you think about what I've wished for in our children, what I have thought of as critical life skills, and... well now I see the other side of life. The side which is the Ying of the Yang or the Yang of the Ying – whatever way that's meant to be – and now I'm not sure which is the fire and which the water.
So I'm learning to be wrong, learning to put myself in situations where I may be embarrassed (but for shorter and shorter periods of time), learning to be completely lost in understanding what is going on, and generally learning to accept all of this.
And as, if not more, importantly I now have the challenge of how we might transfer this to our girls, and at a business level how we might apply this to our managers and leaders.
This resonates with me when I think of many of the entrepreneurial people I have met who have been successful in their endeavours. They are not always the brightest and they have a certain gullibility about them. Their main belief is not ‘themselves' (as they are often accused) but that progress is imminent and the only way is up. They know they will make mistakes (learn) and they know they will go into places and situations they have never been before.
And what we teach and lecture and insist upon in much of life is ‘get as many ticks as you can, have the right answers and don't make yourself look foolish'.
The platitude is that ‘mistakes are OK as long as you learn from them'.
I now think a better phrasing may be: Mistakes are ok as long as you are prepared to follow them up with new ones.
For me, this may just be the beginning (just when I thought I was getting closer to the end).
Go forth and get something wrong! Be shameless.
Richard Croad started his blog From Antipodes to Antwerp after relocating to Belgium from New Zealand. His blog was an avenue to reflect on life as an expat, as well as to record a journal for his two young daughters. As a ‘later in life’ 50-something father, Richard believes leaving a trail of his own struggles and celebrations in a foreign culture is a valuable gift for his children, and is happy to share the same musings with others in this global e-community.
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