Opinion, by Pia Granjon Lecerf
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Here is a sentence an English friend who lives in South Africa posted on Facebook: “Met a Japanese couple on the cliff next to our house this evening. I asked if they had seen any whales. They said ‘Not one. We think they realized we are Japanese and ran away.’ Good answer lol.” It made me laugh!
OK, being expatriate or not does not give you instantly a sense of humor! And the response of that couple proves that they have a great one plus a fabulous positive detachment with their own culture!
Being an expatriate creates a distance with our own culture and our own references. Decentering is necessary in expatriation. If you do not open a minimum to the culture of the hosting country you are living in, it is suffering most of the time!
This evidence takes place gradually, after the honeymoon period, the denial; then the acculturation allows the impregnation of new elements from the new culture.
You learn, you realize that your own culture, no matter how much you can love it, is not THE ONLY reference and that there is no UNIQUE reference. You feel that some of what you know from your childhood is right for you and some things that you’ve met via other cultures are also right for you. That gives you more choices!
And did you notice that in bringing you more choices and more options in your life, the detachment you have been opened to also offers you more freedom! You can play bigger, you can imagine larger! Because you have been exposed to new ways to be. You choose what to do with it!
Among people most opposed to their expatriation I have met, I always found talking points which showed a minimum detachment with their “first environment,” first culture(s). Though when there is a blockage and no acceptation at all, usually people leave the country and then feel relieved… Sometimes, they can say that they miss some aspects of the culture they have chosen to leave behind.
On my side, what comes first to my mind is how much I can find the French culture rather non pragmatic and stuck in traditions! But also how much can I be sometimes amused, sometimes annoyed and in any case interested when I hear non-French people make fast judgments about my own culture, as positive as can be!
Like for example: “How glamorous French people are!!” Really? No, sorry, no! Or this one as well, “You are French? So you know how to cook!” Erm… No, I learnt what I know, like anyone else, why? Is this supposed to be in our genes?
I think it is very healthy from time to time to stop, sit down, be honest with ourselves and recognize what we do like and what we do not like about both our native culture and the Brazilian culture we have chosen to dive in.
Doing so helps tremendously to deal with some tough times we might have here in Rio and also with friends and family at home. Instead of sometimes feeling like declaring the war, we can actually be more at peace.
Pia Granjon Lecerf, Life coach