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Moving to the United States was a dream come true – this was a country where English was the mother tongue and cultural differences should have been few and far between. Having been avid viewers of Larry King, Oprah and Friends, what could possibly go wrong? After all, surely this was all the cultural training we would need!

But three months into life in Dallas, Texas, my husband and I looked at each other and without having to say a word, realised we were in a completely foreign land socially, culturally and economically. No one seemed to understand us and we didn’t know why we were not fitting in and making friends.
We had lived and worked in three other countries where we’d had to overcome language barriers before we could make headway in relationships, yet even then it had been easier. In the USA, being English was not enough. We had underestimated our cultural differences, having spent all our time researching where to buy GAP and Abercrombie instead of focussing on the real issues.

By the time we had realised some of the differences, often in embarrassing faux pas, we already had a bad taste in our mouth. Hindsight (if only) would have been great, perhaps we should have invested in some living and working knowledge before the move and we would have reaped the rewards. Who knew that living and working in the USA where we thought we would feel at home speaking English and drinking Starbucks would feel more foreign than any other country we had visited or lived in?

One year down the line and having spent one million rand, we decided enough was enough – it was time to go home to South Africa.
Before moving to another country, here are my three top issues to consider before jetting out.

Humour - when moving to an English-speaking country, don’t assume that just because you speak the same language, you will have the same sense of humour. Humour can be easily misunderstood.  We assumed that because a large number of comedy shows televised in South Africa come from the USA, we would find the same things funny! How wrong we were. We found our dry and sarcastic type of humour often caused offence.

Values - Texans are very conservative. While South Africa has evolved so much over the last 20 years, I found the Texan attitude to racial issues difficult to understand. They are very contradictory because whilst they are so restrained in some areas, they are quite happy for their 16-year-old children to drive big V8 cars which many couldn’t handle. They also seem to place less emphasis on the family unit as well, so it was not unusual for kids to go to university and not return to their families.

Language - the most common difficulty we found was replying to the question “how are you?” with “I’m fine.”  Evidently “fine” in Texas doesn’t mean you’re ok it means you’re pretty sexy, so I was walking around telling people how “sexy/good looking” I was!

When emigration fails, it can set you back five years financially and then you have the added pressure of trying to play monetary catch up once you arrive back home.

If I was moving to the States again, I would do some real research on American culture and the ideals of people in certain parts of the USA. This would definitely have stood us in good stead.

We learnt a hard lesson and one we were determined never to repeat again, however like stubborn children we decided to give relocation another chance and move to the UK.

Coming to Britain I have relied on my Scottish parents and their influence to educate me for this journey, so let’s hope it works!

What has been your experience when moving to a new country? Was it home from home or an absolute nightmare? 


Farnham Castle Intercultural Training is a leading provider of global cultural expertise for business, working with business and organisations to improve business performance by ensuring that employees have the skills necessary to work more effectively in any country worldwide. Working with leading national and international companies, educational institutions and British and overseas government agencies, Farnham Castle design, develop and deliver intercultural training solutions.  For more information, or +44 (0)1252 720419.