When in Rome… Helping Others Understand Local Customs
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When in Rome… Helping Others Understand Local Customs

Published: Jul 17, 2015

We have all heard this saying “when in Rome…”, and most of us interpret it as acting as the locals do–embracing a certain custom or lifestyle. For our globetrotting transferees, this is sometimes easier said than done.

While the excitement and accompanying adrenaline of an international assignment or move can carry an employee for a certain amount of time, eventually, everyday life settles in. Along with it, the employees begin to notice the little things that differentiate their new location from wherever home was. Some of these differences are very subtle, however, some are not!

”Some of the situations that have come up in temporary housing as we have welcomed global guests into our corporate apartments are the everyday life scenarios that seem to get lost in the shuffle, until something goes totally awry,” said Gavan James, President of Nomad Temporary Housing.

“For instance,” he continued, “what is the proper type of soap that goes into the dishwasher? The answer is....not the same soap that you use in the sink to wash dishes. Unfortunately, many of our transferees find this out the hard way after a deluge of foam and water has flooded their kitchen upon using the wrong kind of soap in this very finicky of appliances—the dishwasher.” James gave a few more examples of challenges that individuals transferring to the United States for the first time may experience:

  • Topless Sunbathing. America is liberal in many areas, but when it comes to swimwear, we want it worn! Our European counterparts may be used to a somewhat more relaxed environment in their home countries and see nothing wrong with topless sunbathing. It is helpful to coach our newly arrived guests that bathing suits are NOT optional in the United States. The pool is meant for co-ed and family use, and should be welcoming to all community residents.
  • School Fire Drills. In elementary school, most of us became acquainted with the “fire drill” and were thrilled that it got us out of class for a few minutes. While this is a rite of passage for American kids, many international guests did not grow up accustomed to the loud, blaring alarm and accompanying evacuation.
  • Smoke Alarms. When something on the stove gets a bit hot and starts smoking, thus setting off the smoke alarm, many guests are unprepared and have no idea how to react or what to do.
  • Emergency Services. Many guests are unfamiliar with emergency services and dialing 9-1-1 when in need of the police or fire departments. It is up to us as their advocates to educate them on what to do in case of an emergency and how to respond to a building alarm that requires departing their apartment to protect themselves and their families in case of accident or natural disaster.
  • Smoking. The days of smoking anywhere, anytime are OVER. This extends to many hotels as well, and, of course, corporate apartments. In this day and age, hefty fees await those guests who violate the numerous no smoking signs posted around their apartment—including the balcony or patio, which are typically considered part of the no smoking zone.

While we have touched on just a few of the temporary living challenges an international guest might experience upon moving to the U.S., there are certainly many more.

“As relocation industry professionals,” James said, “it is our responsibility to anticipate where there might be some transitional pain points, and ease our clients through them with compassion and care.”

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