If you're preparing to move to another country, you know culture shock is likely on the horizon. Many times, it's the little things that can trip you up. You might know about gift-giving etiquette, but you might not be prepared for the strange looks you could get if you ask for more ice in your water with dinner, for example. Before you go, take the time to do some simple tasks that will help you adjust more easily and make you feel a little less out of place.
Learn to Read
If you're headed to a country that doesn't have English as its main language, you know you have to start learning at least basic phrases. But if you're headed to a country that doesn't use the Latin alphabet at all, take extra time to learn the alphabet or syllabaries the country uses thoroughly. (Languages that rely on non-syllabary characters are a special case; you'll have to try to learn basic characters as quickly as possible.) Knowing the writing system well will enable you to read street signs, labels, and other items quickly—after all, if you know you need to take a specific street to get to the market, you don't have to know the language fluently to read the street signs. You'll also be able to identify words borrowed from English, which can help you identify items. The good news is, learning a new alphabet or syllabary isn't that difficult at all.
Adjusting to the food in a new country can be surprisingly difficult if you're not prepared. Differences in seasonings and even the perception of certain foods can all make eating a bit strange even if you think you'll like the cuisine. For example, fruit is a common snack or dessert ingredient in the United States, and you expect to find relatively good-quality fruit at a local supermarket. But in Japan, good fruit is often expensive and used as a gift.
It is very helpful to research ahead of time and find dishes that you think you would like to eat. That sounds very obvious, but you want to do more than just get a ballpark idea of what the food might be like. Get specific. Look up common fruits and vegetables, as well as the types of meat often eaten in the country. Look up ingredients to ensure that the dish is something you're OK with. Going by the name only can result in some misunderstandings. For example, Americans think of fruit juice as the actual squeezed juice from a piece of fruit, but in some regions, like Eastern Europe, it's not uncommon for "fruit juice" to really be a syrupy concentrate mixed with water. Knowing about things like this in advance smooths over some potentially rough moments.
One more thing—take time to look for recognizable chain restaurants. It sounds like food-culture blasphemy, but if you become really, really homesick, knowing where the nearest outlet of a familiar burger chain is can help you get past the mournful feeling that often accompanies homesickness. There is nothing wrong with occasionally going to a familiar chain restaurant when you just need that reminder of home.
Look for Blended Family Blogs
By now you've likely started reading expat blogs about life in your new country. But take the time to look for blogs written by people who are married to someone from the new country (or vice-versa). Expat blogs can help you identify some of the things that people from the U.S. find odd, neat, and so on in the new country. But a blog from an American married to a French person (or a blog from a French person married to an American) can give you a lot more insight on how to get along with people in the new country. These blogs are where you really start to find those little differences in things like skin care or morning routines. These give you a greater understanding of how people in the new country tick, even if you're not actually going to be living with them in your new home.
If you'd like more tips on adjusting to a new country after an international move, talk to moving companies that focus on international relocation, such as Hollander Storage & Moving. Such companies may be able to point you toward more resources and give you advice based on their interactions with colleagues in other countries.