I was reading Robert Greene’s ‘Mastery‘ where Greene talks about Social Intelligence…and it hit me like a ton of bricks: as long as I’m living here in China, I should really be more Chinese. That means should smoke Zhongnanhais, drink some of that baijiu rice wine. Now mind, you I already speak Mandarin everywhere I go here, but I do it while maintaining my own Canadian sensibilities (eg. liberal panties-in-a-bunch guy). In other words, I speak Mandarin with a tone, that suggests I’m not into the hairier bits of Chinese culture. Food I don’t have a problem with, but as you can imagine, it can get weird.
Now, the ‘When in Rome’ thing may actually have tremendous relevance to you, even if you’re living in your hometown. So, let me pose this question: do you act like a typical (your hometown here, eg. Bostonian, Torontonian, or Los Angelino)? If not you may be doing yourself a great disservice.
No matter where you’re from, acting like a local smooths interactions with friends, strangers, colleagues, waiters, delivery men–everyone. It’s when you don’t know much about the local sports team, or don’t drink the local brand of beer (or seem aloof to local customs) that things get weird. Locals will grow suspicious of you, and a little resentful that you haven’t acclimatized. The example given in Greene’s book relates to joining a new company in another country (something I have a little experience with) but not ‘joining in’ on drinking sessions with the local staff. You might be able to do very good work, and not need to ‘make friends’ at the office, but be warned: you’re about to make some enemies with your stubborn ways, and that will screw up everything you do at the company.
And there’s something else you win by being one of the locals: less racial and cultural tensions. It’s impossible to project your own negative feelings onto a group of people (again, imagine being a New Yorker transplanted to Boston), when you’re one of them. As a Canadian I have a huge stigma against smokers. If I just took up smoking, I would be instantly friendly to 50% of Chinese here (since pretty much all men, and many women, smoke in China). Imagine what that would have done for my personal life?
Now I’m not suggesting you have to undergo massive changes to overcome you’re problems with the LGBT community, but short of that, there’s alot you can do to recreate yourself to better suit the world you live in. I’m reminded of the Will Smith movie, ‘Hitch‘, where our suave mentor says, “You” is a very fluid concept right now”