Tradition and Cultural Adaptation

Adapting to different cultures is usually difficult, and many times perplexing and mind boggling. Take Italy’s standard greeting of kissing both cheeks. It’s really not as standard as you may think. Because usually people here just sort of touch cheeks and kiss the air. And furthermore, cheek kissing is often considered inappropriate in many business or formal settings.

But whether they kiss cheeks, bow, wave, or shake hands, in the culture where you’re living it’s important to learn the everyday customs and their nuances. Not only will they keep you from standing out, but they could prevent many an embarassing social blunder.

All cultures have tradition

And most usually have a mix of old and new. Like Italy, with their longstanding love of old-fashioned homemade pasta alongside their pride of fashion and modern Ferraris. Italians are proud of their modern achievements, while also clinging to beloved traditions.

As in most places, many of Italy’s customs and traditions probably seem strange to outsiders. For instance, did you know that you’re expected to call out greetings upon entering a home, office, or small shop? And that failure to do so seems rude?

As you enter a business, it’s standard practice to call out “Buon giorno.” Whereas in private dwellings, you should stop at the threshold, ask permission, and wait for it before going in. And yes, it can feel strange saying “permesso” to an empty entryway or room if your host is another part of the house. But no worries, your host will call out “avanti” (come ahead) from the kitchen or wherever they are!

Another, and to me, even stranger custom is their fear of wet hair, wind, and cold air (the colpo d’aria). Most are convinced that wind, breezes, and cold air can cause everything from stiff necks to colds, flues, and even tummy problems. (And sadly some doctors confirm these illogical beliefs!) Many people refuse to use fans and air conditioners for these reasons! And many Italian parents bundle their children as if for an arctic expedition just to walk from the house to the car!

These may seem inconsequential – and they are for the most part. Yet knowledge of these and other customs can help foreigners fit in. Before turning fans on ask if your guests are bothered by them. Or they may go home blaming you for their all ailments!

Explore their culture

No matter where you’ve moved to (or may be going), it’s wise to research, ask questions, and learn about your host country. Understanding their cultural etiquette can help you avoid blunders and keep you from seeming rude. But even more, it shows that you care about them and what’s important to them.

The new ways may seem strange and frightening, but if you try to be more open-minded and accepting, you’ll find over time that they begin to seem normal. But the key to this is to not make comparisons. Differences are often not a matter of better or worse, or right or wrong – just diverse.

While preserving your own

Adapting to the new culture is important, and actually a vital part of fitting in and feeling at home in your new land. But that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your own culture. Keeping your own traditions alive can be a big help in getting through culture shock. They provide a sense of familiarity and stability. And help you see that your world has not crumbled, but simply gone through a bit of upheaval.

This is especially essential if you have children. It provides a link between their old world and the new. It can help them maintain stronger ties with friends and family back home. Or re-adapt if or when you or they return to the homeland. And it offers a great bridge for making new friends. By letting your kids invite a friend or two to share in your Thanksgiving celebration, for instance!

Customs and traditions are powerful tools. They can help you reach out and identify with those you’re trying to teach or reach. Understanding and embracing them can show you care.

And they can also bring comfort. So cook your favorite traditional meals sometimes, and even invite a few friends. Keep your own holiday celebrations strong. And be patient with yourself.

Adapting takes time, patience, a healthy sense of humor, and a lot of prayer.

A sense of humor can carry you over many a rough and trying time. And prayer should be your lifeline, because God is the only one who can really teach you how to love your new land and people in that way that you should. And that is what will really make a difference.

Images: Hand-shaking by fauxels | Girl with hat by Mitrey | Pie by Element5Digital.

8 thoughts on “Tradition and Cultural Adaptation

  1. Nice post and true! In our little village, we have the “sort” which provides lots of firewood for inefficient stoves. They love their stoves so much that they are going all year round. After all, their ancestors did the same thing, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Allen! And yes, you hit the mentality right on the head. Why change what the ancestors have done? If it worked then it should be good enough for us too! Mamma mia!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am very much a traditionalist as well. I like old things and the old ways(mostly), but I sure do enjoy every modern convenience that technology provides! As to those fireplaces in Italy, I don’t suppose they have blowers over there do they? Installing a blower keeps the ambience of the fire while projecting the heat into the room instead of up the chimney. Enjoyed this post!


    1. I agree Ron. I think we need a mix of the old and new together. By abandoning all the old, we would lose much of value. But refusing to accept positive change can do the same thing. Actually you can get blowers over here, but most people don’t get them. We have termocaminos or water-heating fireplaces, which are connected to the heat radiators are quite efficient. But most folks don’t like them because the fireplace opening has to be closed by a resealable thermal glass door. And that prevents them from being able to “play” with the fireplace, which seems to be a favorite winter pastime here! Glad you enjoyed this post, and I’m definitely with you – they should do something to keep the heat from going up the chimney!!


    1. Me too, Mimi! Although with our family all so far away – it can be hard to keep them. Good thing we have them in our memories – it can make them still seem close. I’m glad you have your family near enough to make new traditions and memories together!!


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