Adapting to different cultures is usually difficult, and many times perplexing and mind boggling. Take Italy’s standard greeting of kissing both cheeks. It’s really not as standard as you may think. Because usually people here just sort of touch cheeks and kiss the air. And furthermore, cheek kissing is often considered inappropriate in many business or formal settings.
But whether they kiss cheeks, bow, wave, or shake hands, in the culture where you’re living, it’s important to learn such everyday customs and their nuances. Not only will they keep you from standing out, but they could prevent many an embarassing social blunder.
All cultures have tradition.
And most usually have a mix of old and new. Like Italy, with their longstanding love of old-fashioned homemade pasta alongside their pride of fashion and modern Ferraris. Italians are proud of their modern achievements, while also clinging to beloved traditions.
As in most places, many of Italy’s customs and traditions probably seem strange to outsiders. For instance, did you know that you’re expected to extend greetings upon entering a place? And that failure to do so is seen as rudeness?
As you enter a store (especially smaller shops) it’s standard practice to say “Buon giorno.” Whereas in private dwellings, you should stop at the threshold, ask permission, and wait for it before going in. And yes, it can feel strange saying “permesso” to an empty entryway or room. But no worries, your hosts will call out “avanti” (come ahead) from whatever part of the house they’re in!
Another, and to me, even stranger custom is their fear of wet hair, wind, and cold air (the colpo d’aria). Believing that wind, breezes, and cold air can cause everything from stiff necks to colds, flues, and even tummy problems. Many people refuse to use fans and air conditioners for these reasons!
These may seem inconsequential – and they are for the most part. Yet knowledge of these and other customs can help foreigners fit in. Before turning fans on ask if your guests are bothered by them. Or they may go home blaming you for their all ailments!
Explore their culture
No matter where you’ve moved to (or may be going), it’s wise to research, ask questions, and learn about your host country. Understanding their cultural etiquette can help you avoid blunders and keep you from seeming rude. But even more, it shows that you care about them and what is important to them.
The new ways may seem strange and frightening, but if you try to be more open-minded and accepting, you’ll find over time that they begin to seem normal. The main key to this is to stop making comparisons. Differences are often not a matter of better or worse, or right or wrong, just diverse.
While preserving your own
Adapting to the new culture is important, and actually a vital part of fitting in and feeling at home in your new land. But that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your own. Keeping your own traditions alive can be a big help in getting through culture shock. They provide a sense of familiarity and stability. And help you see that your world has not crumbled.
This is especially essential if you have children. It provides a link between their old world and the new. It can help them maintain stronger ties with friends and family back home. And even re-adapt if or when you or they return to the homeland.
Customs and traditions are powerful tools. They can help you reach out and identify with those you’re trying to teach or reach. Understanding and embracing them can show you care.
And they can also bring comfort. So cook your favorite traditional meals sometimes. Keep your own holiday celebrations strong. And be patient with yourself. Adapting takes time, patience, a healthy sense of humor, and a lot of prayer.
A sense of humor can carry you over many a rough and trying time. And prayer should be your lifeline, because God is the only one who can really teach you how to love your new land and people in that way that you should. And that is what will really make a difference.