If you’ve traveled at all—even from one part of the U.S. to another—you probably have a funny story about a cultural difference or misunderstanding. Moving abroad is no different, though when facing a new language and reconstructing your life from scratch, it’s easy to brush aside the idea that you’ll soon be navigating through a mire of cultural differences as well. Sure, there are books and blog posts about avoiding big blunders, but it’s impossible to prepare for the little day-to-day differences that will catch you off guard.
A few weeks ago I was in a spin class sprinting to an EDM version of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On when I found myself surprised by one of these strange—but common—moments. As we started a 90-second sprint, the instructor dismounted and began weaving through the bikes to check our RPMs and shout out general encouragement to the class. He stopped at my bike—where I was furiously pedaling—and asked my name. He then took my hand and said, “Danielita (little Danielle), my heart, you must return to my class, you work so hard!” Hmm, that was different. The thing that stopped me from running for the hills is that he continued through the ranks of spinners, talking to the other ladies in the same manner. Later that day I was thinking of all the funny little differences with which I’ve been confronted at the gym, and how they trickle over into other parts of everyday life.