Tag Archives: Expats

What is Culture?

According to Gary Wederspahn, culture is the shared set of assumptions, values, and beliefs of a group of people by which they organize their common life. In our world we can distinguish lot of cultures because of the number of countries for example, but also we can see some scales in these ‘country cultures’.

When you travel all over the world ,you have to face these different cultures with their own meaning and perception of words or gestures. Understanding culture will help you to be more aware of these differences and so avoid big mistakes in your behavior, what we call ‘cultural adjustment’.

How does culture “express” itself?

Even if the contrary can be thought, we are not spontaneous in our behavior. Our cultures, our education, and so on, influence us in everyday situations. That is why once you know people’s values and beliefs, you can often expect and predict their behavior. We can say that our behavior is a reflection of our culture.

Culture is often compared to an iceberg: the visible section of the iceberg is so much shorter than the invisible part under water. Each culture has some aspects which are observable and others that can only be suspected or imagined. Thus the part of culture which is visible, such as behavior, is only a small part of a bigger picture.

To give you a better idea of culture expression, here are listed some examples of cultural behavior: facial expressions, religious beliefs, religious rituals, importance of time, paintings, values, literature, gestures, holiday customs, nature of friendship, notions of modesty, foods and eating habits, understanding of the natural world, concept of self, work ethic, concept of beauty, music, style of dress…

Where does culture come from?

How do people get their culture? How do they learn all the behaviors that are regarded as right and wrong in their society? This process, also known as cultural conditioning, is present in every culture, but the specific behaviors that people have, the precise content of their conditioning, is different from group to group.

Everyone knows that common culture come mainly from a common history which shapes our mind and so have influence on our behavior or way of thinking.

The most important part of your culture will be acquired during your childhood, but you will acquire new behaviors until the end of your life:

  • In Childhood: children learn basics activities as eating, walking, talking, dressing, bathing, etc. These basics are the origin of the future children’s behavior.
  • As Adults: people learn new behavior or new ways to perform thanks to education, travels, etc. Adults learn how to adapt themselves.

How to analyze culture? Or how to have the right behavior?

We can find five steps of culture analyzing:

  1. Observation/Instruction: you become aware of a particular behavior but have not yet tried to do it yourself.
  2. Imitation: now you try to have the same behavior
  3. Reinforcement: people help you by correcting you or showing you.
  4. Internalization: you know how to behave but you still need practice.
  5. Spontaneous Manifestation: you no more need to pay attention to your behavior, it comes naturally.

To go further in behavior/culture analysis, you can make research about Hofstede’s parameters and Hall’s parameter.

Why is understanding culture so important?

When you go into another country than yours, you will be confronted with different behaviors, different foods, and different ways of life. Most of people are amused when they see that. But most of the time they are making fun about, being narrow-minded, forgetting that everybody do not have the same culture.

Understanding culture is important, as it makes you  aware and more sensitive to differences, and you could avoid big mistake in your behavior or maybe adjust, but at least to respect the people that belong to other cultures than your own.

Moreover understanding culture does not only exist in the aim of helping poor little students but it is also a real challenge for international businesses. You will not promote a product in the same way in France or in Germany or in Russia.

Understanding culture is the most important thing when dealing and respecting people. It does not mean, you have to go out of your way to mimic a culture that is different than your own, but you should respect the other culture and treat it a different, not inferior yours!

Differences Between Living in Spain and France

Two European countries with a common border. How different can they be? After having lived many years in both, even though the cultural differences are not shocking, there are some disparities in the daily life.

I have always lived in the Spanish Basque Country, although at the age of sixteen I lived for 2 years in France to attend High School. Just a two hour drive makes such a big difference.

Concerning geographical and climate differences, Spain is considered a “warm” country (it depends also where you are located within the territory), while France is colder. These disparities are basic when comparing any two countries. We will go more deeply and compare French and Spanish lifestyle.

First of all, time schedules. We could say Mediterranean countries have a much more flexible and late schedule, but Spain is well-known for its, some call it, crazy schedules. As I already developed in the post called Differences between living in Spain and the United States, Spanish restaurants serve until 12 or 1 am, and bars and clubs are opened until 6 am.

When I turned eighteen, I decided to continue my studies in the French capital, where this kind of flexibility can also be found as it is the number one location for tourism in the world. As a consequence, it is not a typical French city and could only be compared to other big capitals in the world.

For my first five or six months in France, I did not recognize any big cultural difference. Of course, the language was not the same, but like with any other foreign country. The more time I spent living around French people, the more I realized disparities between these two cultures were based on humor, social values and life perception. You have to get very involved with the French lifestyle in order to be aware of this.

Humor in France is very implicit and many times related to playing with words. I had a hard time understanding French humor at the beginning, but once you get how it works, it can be very funny. I personally consider French humor more harsh than Spanish. They use an indirect style to say what they want and their humor topics are many times controversial for society.  I would say French humor is a smart type of humor which not everybody can understand and have fun with.

Perception of life as I have experienced in France is less “ Carpe Diem” than in Spain. Spain is considered a latino country we live more each day as it could be the last one than the French do. Concerning social values, family is as important in France as in Spain, although less conservative.

Finally, criticism has become the best hobby for French young or older people. I was very shocked with this since my arrival. Unfortunately,  you get used to it very fast without even noticing. As a Spanish saying states: Everything can be copied except for beauty.

Differences between living in Spain and the U.S.A

As a Spanish citizen that has spent 10 months living in the USA, I am going to develop the similarities and differences of life in Spain and in the United States.

First of all, Spain has a national official language Spanish, while the United States does not have any official language even though the most spoken language is English. As a matter of fact, there is over 10% of Spanish speaking population in the American territory and 25% of non-native English speaking population in Spain.

This means understanding each other can sometimes become a cultural problem, depending on the state or region where we are in each country.

Secondly, timetables are very different in Spain than in the U.S. In the everyday life, there is a 2 hour gap between the American and the Spanish timing. So as to say, Spanish people have breakfast between 9 and 10am, lunch between 2 and 3pm and dinner between 9 and 10pm. Americans do most things much sooner throughout the day.

Going out is also very different in both countries. Spanish people are used to go out much more often than Americans, no matter what age. In Spain you can see 6 years old children at 12 or 1am in the evening with their parents in a restaurant or a bar enjoying each others company. This would be very shocking for Americans.

Businesses and public places have different timetables too. Businesses in Spain, only stores and boutiques, open from 10am to 2pm and from 5pm to 8pm, while they are opened from 10 am until 7pm in the U.S. That is what is defined as the “siesta”, but mainly by foreigners. This custom is becoming less and less popular in Spain. Also, restaurants serve dinner until 11pm or even 12am while kitchens normally close around 9 or 10pm in the U.S. And bars and clubs close at 5 or 6 am in Spain while at 2 for the Americans. This makes a huge difference in the night life style between these two countries.

A very big difference of consumption is the sizes of goods sold in the U.S.A comparing to those sold in Europe as a whole. Americans buy enormous bottles of shampoo, for example while those sizes do not even exist in Europe. At the same time, housing is not also the same. Houses are smaller in Spain because more expensive. In big cities the majority of people live in apartments while in houses in the U.S. This is a notable difference.

The cultural disparities, such as food, music or art are different, but like between any other country in the world. Clothing is “owned” by multinational companies like Zara, Gap or luxury companies in both countries so this is not a shocking difference.

Even though there are many differences and clichés from both countries, living in the U.S has been an amazing experience for me. I know that living in Spain for an American will be as a valuable experience as it has been for me to live in the U.S.A.


Are you thinking about moving to Ecuador for work or study abroad in this beautiful country?
Sara Mercedes Arevalo Lopez contributed this informational blog post about Ecuadorian Customs and Culture to Maria Abroad! Thank you very much!!!


Every country has its specific costumes and manners. When you come to Ecuador, it is important to know what Ecuadorian people expect you to do and what they don’t expect you to do in order to make them and you feel comfortable. So if you want to enjoy your trip, pay attention to these recommendations.

1. Make yourself at home

When an Ecuadorian invites you to his/her house, it won’t be a surprise that the first thing you will hear from your host when you arrive at his/her home is “welcome” and “make yourself at home”. In contrast, in other countries, people never say welcome to their guests. The only thing they say is “how very nice to see you” and that’s it, but Ecuadorians will give you the most warming welcome.

2. Never go to an invitation with your hands empty

If you are invited to an Ecuadorian dinner, it is advisable to buy a small gift such as some candy or a bottle of wine. Doing that, will make your host think you really appreciate his/her invitation. But getting a gift is not a rule; so they won’t think you are not a nice person if you don’t give them a present. They think your presence is the most important thing.

3. Be ready to help

While the host is setting the table you can help him/her by putting the napkins or the forks. If you do that, for sure you are going to be invited another time and also you will get a good reputation. The same thing happens when you finish eating. If you help at least lifting your plate, they will think you like to help.

4. Don’t be so quiet!

Ecuadorians enjoy table conversation. So if you don’t talk and remain almost quiet, your host will feel offended. They will think you are weird and that you don’t like them or maybe that you feel uncomfortable. Sports and politics are good topics for conversation. Talking about the last soccer game will create a social environment. Also it is not bad to ask personal questions such as “Are you married?” or “What do you do?” But never ask too personal questions like “Why did you get divorced?” Although they will answer all your questions they won’t feel comfortable if you ask that kind of questions.

5. Finish all your meal

Ecuadorians don’t consider it polite to leave food on your plate after the meal. If you don’t finish your meal completely, they will think you didn’t like the meal or that it didn’t taste good. Usually hosts make a huge effort to prepare the most delicious meal for their guests and they want them to like the meal. So even if you are fed up you should finish your meal.

6. Don’t go immediately

After you finish eating don’t go immediately, usually after dinner Ecuadorians like to talk, to play the guitar or to play any card game. If you go like if you were in a hurry, they will think you don’t feel much comfortable or maybe that you have to do something more important than to be with them. However, you shouldn’t stay too long. But if the hosts are old people, the best idea is to stay a few minutes after the dinner.

7. Thank your hosts

When you leave, don’t forget to thank your hosts. It is advisable to say the dinner was delicious, even if you didn’t like it much, or that you really enjoyed their company. Ecuadorian people like to hear those things.
If you are the kind of people that like to enjoy a trip, you already know what to do if you come to Ecuador. Knowing about Ecuadorian customs and manners will help you to have a good time there.

Adapting to a New Culture

Adapting to a new culture is not easy. When you move abroad, especially when the culture is very different from your own, you will be frustrated. The best thing about living abroad and adapting to a new culture is what you make of it! It can be the best experience of your lifetime, or it can be unbearable and all you want to do  is go home. Living abroad and experiencing a different culture is an adventure and a challenge, and most likely the most exiting time of your life. You have to become independent and adjust to this new culture and all this without the support and help of your friends and family. This is quite a big change.

Do not assume anything and jump to conclusions!

When you move abroad, whether it is for an internship abroad, study abroad or because you found a great job abroad, it will be a big change in your life, and you should be prepared for this change and accept it. When I moved to China, I thought: Well, I have a lot of experience living abroad, living in China will be a piece of cake! I can tell you that: It wasn’t like that.

Every country and culture is different and just because you lived abroad before and liked it, does not guarantee that you will like it this time. You have to learn a lot of things from scratch, understand the culture and most importantly: stop making assumptions. This was my biggest mistake, when I moved to China. I just assumed, things would work out, because similar things had worked out in Germany and the US. But people have a different perspective and do things differently in other cultures.

The biggest lesson I learned while I lived in China was: There is not better way of doing things, it is just a different way.

Of course I was frustrated, when I tried to travel in China, but then, a few days before my departure, I found out that I could not buy a return ticket right away, but had to hope that there would be return tickets available at my destination. But to be honest, who am I to judge the efficiency of this? I only lived in China for 6 months, I barely scratched the top of understanding their culture. So I am definitely  not in a position to criticize their way of doing things, because I simply might not know the whole background of why they are doing it that way. Are you?

Adapting to a new culture is not always easy!Adapting to a new culture requires a new level of open mindedness

Yes, of course you are open minded, otherwise you would hardly consider living abroad, right? But living abroad requires a whole new level of open mindedness. Especially, when you move to a country that has a very different culture, it will be hard to get the idea out of your head: “How can they be so stupid? If we do it my way, it just makes so much more sense and is easier, quicker and more efficient.” To overcome these thoughts, you have to be more open minded than ever before. I struggled with this quite a lot, when I lived in China. It is also very normal and I do not believe any person that has lived abroad and says he or she has not had that thought in their heads. The only way you can overcome this, is to remind yourself constantly. When you have a frustrating experience, like I had with my train tickets, calm down and remind yourself, that you should be open to other ways of doing things. After all, you are a guest and, you are the foreigner.

How would you like it, if somebody walks into your home, and tells you that everything you do just doesn’t make sense and is stupid?

Learn to work with the culture not against it!

Instead of working against the culture, you are much better off, when you try to find its strengths and how to get the best results, even if the method of achieving these results are different. Try out different ways of asking your colleagues or friends and see, which approach brings you your desired results. When you know, that your friends will always be at least 45 minutes late, tell them to be there half an hour before you get there. The same is true for working abroad and dealing with your colleagues. If you have a deadline, give them a deadline that is 3 days before, so you have enough buffer time, in case something goes wrong. Instead of just criticizing the way people do things, try to find solutions, how you can get them to achieve the results that you want.

When you are adapting to a new culture, always keep in mind that you can also learn a thing or two from the other cultures. Every culture does something better than your own, so who not use this to your advantage and learn from it?

Have you lived in another country and experienced different cultures? Share your experience here. Or if you have any questions or problems adapting, let me know, and I will be happy to give you more advice!

Expat Blog Directory

living in California

The Expat-Blog is a great directory of blogs from and for expats. You can even search for your fellow countrymen and -women in your neighbourhood and read their specific advice on living in this area. This is great, especially for planning stages of going abroad and in case you do not speak the local language.

For the writers, authors and bloggers among you, the Blog Directory might be helpful to reach a wider Expat audience. Submission is easy and painless! If you don’t have your own blog or don’t know how to set one up, they offer a very user friendly internal blogging interface. Create your free Expat-Blog and start blogging today!

There is also a very helpful Expat-Forum with active members answering your questions and offering advice.

The Expat-Blog is a great resource for people living or studying abroad, or those who want to.