We relocate to a new place – different climate, food, traffic, house, smells, sounds and sights. And we relocate to a new neighbourhood with people who have different customs, habits and expectations of neighbourly conduct. Most guidebooks tell you about the first but not so much about the second. I was fortunate when I moved to Lagos, Nigeria, to have been asked to write the Culture Smart! Nigeria guidebook that primarily talks about the people of a country – the events and beliefs shapes their values like their history, family traditions and social organisation.
This gave me an excuse to go out and ask everyone I met any question at all, no matter how trivial or seemingly silly. My task was made easier by the fact that Nigerians are open and happy to talk about their customs and traditions.
It was a tough job: understanding a country that was totally new to me and is made up of more than 200 ethnic groups took a lot of legwork. But it was an ideal way for me to get to know people in my host culture, to dig deeper to understand behaviour that didn’t make sense to me: What does it mean when someone asks me ‘how was your night?’; Why do mothers hold their child’s wrist rather than their hand? And I made friends in the process.
At the end of a year, I was able to share what I learned with others. The book has been published for a few years now and I’ve met people who were grateful to have received the book from family or friends before their departure. The expat partner group of Abuja used the book to create a quiz game for newcomers; an ESL teacher used it as the basis for her conversation groups. Between the moment you step off the plane with a few suitcases and the time your shipment arrives and you finally create a home, this resource helps make sense of some of what goes on around you.
While packing your boxes in your current location, grab a copy of a culture guide for your country. “A party at the most impressive venue with the most sumptuous food and the greatest band will not be much fun if you are alone or do not meet people you like.” (The Mobile Life, p121). In the end, the quality of the time you spend at your destination will be determined by the relationships you build with your new neighbours.
More information on Dianne’s books can be found here: