When I was backpacking around Europe, I have had the opportunity to experience the myriad culture across Europe which is contrary to my previous belief/stereotype that Europe only has one culture – the European culture. Having spent close to 7 months in Europe, I can say that I have adapted pretty well into the local culture, so much so that when I returned to Singapore, I was surprised by the Singaporean culture. I will address this one behavioural pattern which took me quite a while to adjust back into; that is the way Singaporeans or rather, Singaporean Chinese greet.
In general, Europeans greet each other with a hug and a peck on the cheeks; which varies from one peck to three pecks depending on the culture of the respective European nation, and of course to whom you are greeting. This will usually be followed by this question “How are you?”.
When I first got to interact with the Europeans, It seemed puzzling to me why do they bother asking such a redundant question, when we know that the other person will either say “Great!” or otherwise brush it off! I was sceptical of the sincerity of the “how are you”. It was when I realised “how are you” is actually akin to our “hello” that I start to understand that saying “how are you” does not necessarily imply that he/she is expecting you to reply “oh my day truly sucks, my blah blah blah…” of course, having something special to share with your friend would be great. But what I am trying to drive at here is that, “how are you” simply means “hello!”.
Another behaviour which took me a long while to adapt back into Singaporean culture was the fact that Europeans hug when they greet. Having experienced the difference between an awkward wave, which we, Singaporeans are so accustomed to versus the warm and friendly hug that brings everyone together instantly of the Europeans. I would definitely prefer the latter. It was definitely a challenge for me to adapt back into the Singaporean culture. I remembered how when I first met my friends upon my return. My immediate response was extending my arms for a hug and offer pecks on the cheeks. That, caught my friends off guard and led to awkwardness between us. Thankfully, they weren’t anything more severe.
All in all, I want to just say that perhaps, we can adapt into the local culture as easily we want, however, regardless of how well you blend into their culture, we have to make the effort to switch back or to the culture of our host nation. That is part of adapting and respecting the culture of the country.