There is something about human nature where we like to mirror other people’s behaviours. Think about if you are talking to someone about something sad, exciting or happy – we mirror the tone and facial expressions of the person speaking. This is something you notice yourself doing if you don’t speak the same language as someone, you can gauge how they feel by their smiles or frowns and match them.
I am a big believer that in life you get what you put out and that is something that is really essential in expat life. I notice that people who have a negative view of life in their new country seem to attract negative experiences. Is this because they are looking for them and miss the positive or is it that their attitude means they attract negative experiences without actively trying?
I recall when I first moved to Berlin that I would be smiley and polite to people I met in shops and in the street and also other expats. I would be open to asking questions and listening but in time (and quite a short time) I realised that in many cases this was not being mirrored back to me. My smiles would be met with suspicion and negatively or sometimes simply ignored. My requests for information from other expats already living in the city – simple things such as good places to go swimming – would be met vague answers. It was very much for this reason that I started to write my own blog about places to go as I was sure (and I was right) that there were people like me also finding life difficult. I’d like to say that I remained smiley and positive but that wasn’t the case and I wonder that if I had whether I would’ve had a better experience. I certainly saw negatives over the positives.
Moving back to Copenhagen it was nice to be back somewhere where my smiles were returned, where people were willing to help when asked and the positives outweighed the negatives. I have been around town with other expats who moan about Danes being rude and show surprise when I get smiles in places where they usually don’t. I understand that it can be soul destroying to feel that your new life is tough but starting with a positive attitude to the people around you is a big step towards a positive experience.
I notice on the expat forums that when people ask simple questions such as where to buy something for example, some people feel it is necessary to immediately criticise the food selection in Denmark.
Someone asks for a doctor recommendation and there are a number of posts about how all Danish doctors are rubbish (based on that one person’s experience). This is not a way to feel comfortable in a new place nor to make others feel welcome.
I have recently offered a few things for free on a free cycle Facebook group and a number of people have said they would like things to then simply not bother to reply to messages about collecting them. Common courtesy says you reply to these especially when you have reached out in the first place. If some expats are behaving in this way there is no wonder they find others less than friendly to them.
I was listening to a podcast recently about teaching kids good social media etiquette and it also goes what I am talking about here.
- Does this need to be said now?
- Does it need to be you that says it?
- Is it honest or true?
- Is it helpful?
- Is it kind?
- If it is yes to all the above then say or do it, if not don’t.
So as we say to our son good things come to people who do good things. Smiles elicit smiles, help begets help, politeness brings it back to you. And the same goes for the opposite.
I can relate to this a lot. I lived in Korea for so long (7 years on and off) and I was often negative about my experience there. I also appreciated Korea and went out to explore as much as I could, but I definitely got stuck in the negative expat mindset more than a few times. It’s actually what I regret most about living there, that I didn’t let myself enjoy it more. Looking back I can see that it was really myself that I was unhappy with. I wasn’t sure what I was doing with my life and I was worried about that–instead of trying to do something, I wasted time worrying.
I did eventually get involved with more positive activities in Seoul like putting on art shows and putting my own art in shows, but it took a long time for me to believe in myself and put myself out there. Reading your post brought back those memories and reminded me how much I likely missed out by being negative. After living in a foreign country for so long, my home country now also feels foreign to me. I wrote a blog post about restaurants in Denver yesterday and I felt the need to say that a lot of restaurants lack atmosphere and charm, etc. After reading this post, it made me realize that I am sometimes negative about Denver and I need to find the good here the same as if I were an expat living in a foreign country. I even took out that part of the post. Some restaurants in Denver definitely don’t fit my personality or what I want from a restaurant, but there are some really great ones as well. It has its own unique character as a city, and if I don’t start appreciating that now, I’ll be looking back on my time in Denver and also regretting not being more positive here.
Thanks for your post and perspective! Wow, this comment could be a blog post in itself! 😉