Other cultures allow those in positions of power and authority to make decisions for them. Americans do not. For example, it’s not uncommon to enter a a shop, the pharmacy, or a bank knowing what you want or need, but you can leave feeling like a kid. The clerk is usually dressed in special uniform, like a white lab coat distinguishing their level of expertise from you. This automatically puts some psychological distance between you. They can be perceived more like a “teacher” or “expert” rather than a general “associate” (see also education, knowledge).  Some pharmacists in EU actually stand above you from an elevated platform behind the counter (making you feel like they’re dispensing wisdom, more than pills…)


Two things are going on here. Elsewhere, status in ascribed. Basically, you are what you are born into,unlike the US where status is achieved. The second is other cultures are still highly directed by respecting the “wise elder”. Acknowledging these subtle but prevalent social dynamics are critical because you’ll encounter them nearly everywhere. You may cherish your American style equality, most of the world feels differently. To them, rank, status, and authority are more desirable, even if they fall near the bottom of the social ladder. Across England, France, China and India, it will be hard to comprehend that everyone has a place in society. This pecking order ensures everyone is inferior to someone, and superior to someone else.  Although notions of power are shifting rapidly for much of the world, they believe it’s reassuring to know where you belong. Sorry, but this also applies to you.


Think of others, as your grandparent, not your equal until you are explicitly told otherwise, like dropping the formal “vous”. Of course, you’re not inferior – no one is – but to get what you want, heighten your authority awareness threshold and become more deferential. In their world, shop keepers, taxi drivers, teachers, banks clerks, even your neighbors are not “just like you.” Titles are also very significant. You may feel uncomfortable being formally addressed as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” if not downright exasperated to begin every-single-interaction with a “hello” and “goodbye” “Mr.” or “Mrs.” so-and-so, but these are one of the most important unwritten rules.

Visit my website Expat Whisperer for expat coaching packs or listen to my original podcasts on demand. You might also enjoy the always fascinating culture blog feed that deconstructs everyday life. Or, take one of my labs you won’t find anywhere else. I may be travelling somewhere in the world, but you can always find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.