Seeking a Spirit Of Benevolence

The "welcome mat" is different in each country.

As the First World devolves, we will see a steady increase in people seeking asylum in countries other than their birth country. Those doing the seeking may be looking at criteria such as job opportunities, low taxation, minimal governmental interference, minimal corruption, high degree of personal safety, and a whole host of other considerations.

Interestingly, many people who are making their first major move overseas overlook one of the most critical criteria – the attitude and mindset of the local people.

Ultimately, one of the real make-it-or-break-it factors in any country is whether you are able to get along well with the locals. You may get by for a while if you simply seek out the local expats, but, ultimately, you will interact with the broad population. If you are to be happy in your new home, it will be important to not only be able to tolerate them, but to actually like them.

On a trip to the US some years ago, I visited a friend who owned a farm in Maine. I enjoyed the down-to-earth values of Mainers very much. At one point, I was in the village gas station. A middle-aged woman was also there for gas, talking to the attendant and his sidekick. She asked the attendant how his wife was getting on and promised to come by with a pie on Sunday. I was enjoying how close these "country folks" were to one another. When she left, the sidekick said, "Don't think I know her. She's the Miller woman, isn't she?" The attendant said, "Yep, real fine woman. Her family moved here in the late fifties. Them Millers are fine folks… for new people."

No First World Welcome Mat

Now, possibly, it's because I'm from a country where people are just a bit more welcoming than that, but I don't think I'd like to be regarded as "new people" for over half a century….and neither should you. If you are considering countries for your own emigration, an important concern is whether their cultural mindset leaves room for you in a personal way. After all, the traditional reason members of a tribe become a tribe is for mutual assistance during difficult times. Ideally, you would hope that the people of your new country would come to regard you as "one of us" at some point.

This is not to say that you would not need to study them a bit, develop a respect for their moral and social boundaries, and learn to accept their quirks. In fact, as the new kid in town, the onus is very much on you to take on the lion's share of the adapting. However, you will want to know that it is possible for this effort to take seed and develop in the hearts and minds of the locals.

Here's the good news: In my travels throughout the world, I have found the greatest level of suspicion of others by locals to be in the First World itself. Even today in Britain, two men may frequent the same pub for years, sitting next to each other at the bar, yet never speak, as they have not been "properly introduced."

Across the pond, Americans are regarded as being quite outgoing, yet they often keep nearly everyone in their lives (even their own neighbours) at arm's length. (Drive by a suburban community and observe a homeowner cutting his grass. The perfect line he cuts to the side of his property will tell you exactly where the property line is.)

This observation is not meant to judge any one culture or another. It is rather to acknowledge that the more potential that exists for you to become accepted in a culture, and the more quickly it can be done, the better the outcome of your expatriation.

Third World Welcome Mats

As the exodus begins to unfold, what we are seeing is a move away from the First World and toward the Third World. As luck would have it, the Third World seems to contain the greatest number of countries where acceptance may be gained in a relatively short period of time.

If you are presently researching such countries, it would be advisable to seek out and talk to residents from your own country who have been there for a minimum of five years. Observe how they treat the locals (As friends? As people to be grudgingly tolerated?), and ask them how long it took (if ever) for the relationships to open up.

As an example, in the Caribbean, the people of many of the islands still live by the old rule: "A stranger is just a friend that you don't know yet." Many people have reported that, after they were able to get past the initial uncertainty over their being a northerner, friendships developed that were closer than any they had previously experienced, many evolving into being accepted as "family."

Another example: those who have moved to Uruguay tend to say, "Everything here is personal," and I have found this to be very true. If you get in the habit of going out of your way to help others, you'll be richly rewarded. It's up to you – the potential is there and the payback is almost immediate. I know of a couple who were advised after their third month in Uruguay by a local family, "You're one of us now,"... and they meant it.

This is not to imply that it's all hearts and flowers out there. By contrast, there have been many reports from Costa Rica that, "It doesn't matter how long you've been here, you're still a gringo." New residents back this up with tales of recurrent burglaries and theft, and an inability to gain recompense through the legal system.

Expatriates may find themselves welcome in Thailand or Sri Lanka, but, not unlike Maine, it is unlikely that they will ever be regarded as "one of us." In India, the resentment for the English has still not completely dissolved since the days of the Raj, and, in Panama, the locals have not forgotten the many sins of the Americans during their years of "occupation," from 1903 to 1977.

Still, there are many countries where the opportunity for acceptance goes beyond what could reasonably be expected. This is particularly true in the Caribbean and parts of South America.

In some countries, the potential for kindness and acceptance can far exceed that which should reasonably be expected. The "welcome mat" is different in each country. In some countries, it takes longer to be truly accepted, and in others, it may never happen. In addition, the traits that are most important are different in each country.

Your ultimate success in a new destination may depend less on your business skills or on how much money you are prepared to invest than on whether you fit well in a personal way; how your beliefs and quirks fit in with their beliefs and quirks, and whether the locals will be open to accepting you. In addition, it will be a factor in defining how successful and how happy you may ultimately be in your adopted home.


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Tags: expat , culture

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