In less than three months I will be moving home for the third time and to my third country. I grew up in South Oxfordshire, England, an area best known for Didcot power station, Didcot Railway Centre, Didcot Parkway, Agatha Christie and Charlie Brooker. From there, aged 18 I moved to Bristol for four years before heading as far south as possible to Cape Town, South Africa which is where I find myself now as I prepare to move to Paris, France.
Having just gone for a walk on the beach, I have started the thinking process of moving for my third time to live in my third country. As I walked I thought to myself what are the things I have learnt from my previous two moves? What can I take forward as I move again? How do I transition as best as possible to a new country? So, without further-a-do here are some of the things I think are important to consider when moving, especially to a new country.
Firstly, something which I have learnt living in South Africa is that history is important. It is so hard to become a local in a place if you have no understanding of history and the feelings, attitudes and different points of view on the city, area and country. It is so important to learn the history of a place, both the good history and the bad because it has a huge impact on the world view of people who live and grew up in the area and country. History also has a big impact on the culture of a place too.
There is only so much history you learn at school and much of that is bias. One thing I will work hard on when I move to France is learning and understanding its history from a local french perspective.
Secondly, as I alluded to whilst looking at history, culture is important to understand, acknowledging and honour, especially as so often it is impacted by history. Culture is often the thing which explains people’s actions, view points, responses and attitudes. Without understanding this properly you are easily left with moments of bewilderment, misunderstanding and sometimes offence. Culture creates the rules for social interaction. Sometimes these can be so subtle such as a type of handshake or they can be big like common rights of passage that people experience as they are part of a community.
Sometimes learning culture can feel like learning a whole new language, but one of the best ways to become a part of a community is by acknowledging culture. I have come to the view point at which impressing the culture you were born into on others can be massively offensive and sends a message of you are wrong, I am right. When I move to France, I will try my best to understand the culture, including the subtle things that can easily be overlooked, especially as an Englishman.
People often say that to get the best response out of someone you must speak to them in their mother tongue. South Africa has 11 national languages, this does not include others which are commonly spoken. Learning how to greet in 11 languages is no small task. Then you have all the colloquialisms and slang etc. Nonetheless. It is so important to understand the differences between your mother tongue and that of the language you are engaging with. Even between British and South African English there are differences. Without understanding these you can get yourself into a real pickle. I have had the privilege to work in an English speaking context. However, when I move to France, that will not be the case.
In preparation I am already taking French lessons, when I visit I try my very best to use my French in cafés, on public transport and in shops because making an effort with terrible French says a lot for making an effort compared to speaking English straight away, even if, in all my experience the person offers to serve me in English instead!
When moving, even just between to areas, understand the history of the place, learn the culture and adapt to the language, even if it is learning that daps means plimsoles in Bristol and takkies means trainers in South Africa.