Not meaning to sound a know-it-all because that is far from the truth but, on reflection, having gone through it myself, I thought I would put together my own Top Ten List of suggestions about settling into a new country. It isn’t easy and, certainly, this list isn’t exhaustive but it may just help. Here it is and good luck:
On arriving, learn the value of networking and be thankful for other ex-pats living in your new home torn. At first, foreigners’ clubs or informal groups of your compatriots meet help you settle in and get over your home-sickness, especially during the early period when you don’t speak the foreign language or have trouble in fathoming some of the ways of your new home. You not only find friends who think like you do without you needing to explain yourself but they are also an endless source of useful information.
Try to make friends not only with people that speak your language but, above all, with the locals. After all, it’s their country and, in some ways, you are their ‘guests’. It’s amazing how much you can learn from them that no guidebook will ever teach you and, once you know them, how kind they can so often be.
Go to school, if necessary, to learn the basics of the language of the place where you are now living. It’s impossible to understand another culture without understanding the rudiments of its language. It can be hard but it’s well worth it. And don’t be shy about trying to speak it, we all make mistakes, but language is about making ourselves ‘understood’ even if the verb, noun or adjective we use, at first, isn’t quite the right right.
Don’t be upset is you find you are sometimes mixing English and words from your new language into a kind of “pigeon” English. It means you are starting to absorb the culture that now surrounds you.
Don’t worry if you start putting on a little weight initially. Moving to many foreign countries means you find a delightful new array of foods and wines to savour and enjoy. Go for it.
Learn all about the area of the new city you live in. I, for example, have come to love Santa Croce in Florence, my “quartiere”, where I know the merchants and the artisans, many by their first names. It makes you feel so much more ‘at home’.
Learn to shop properly. I took lessons from an expert, my Italian neighbour. I no longer buy anything without it passing The Test. For example, I no longer take any attitude from shop-assistants. It is, after all, MY money I am spending. Once I choose a dress, I only buy it after I have inspected it meticulously by turning it inside out to examine the material, by looking at the stitching, by pulling on the seams and by taking it out into the daylight to make sure the colour is right. The same goes for accessories.
Don’t be shy about bargaining in the shops or at the market. In some places, it is expected and is almost like a game. In others, you will soon understand the rules by simply watching others.
Acquire patience. Here in Italy and often elsewhere on the Continent, I always take a book with me every time I go to a public office, the bank or the post office. It’s where I get some of my best reading done.
Take time and always keep your eyes open. In Florence, for example, I still feel the magic of those unexpected and hidden corners of the city you sometimes see by chance, even places I may have passed hundreds of times and never really looked at. Now I take time and find they still surprise and fascinate me.