Managing Expectations: Americans on Holiday Abroad

Imagine it… you are on your dream holiday! You’ve been eagerly awaiting this trip but now that you’re on it, you find yourself tense and upset. What happened? Maybe you’re flummoxed by cultural protocols, maybe you’ve encountered harsh behaviors… rudeness, brashness or even seemingly bullies. Maybe your dream destination isn’t a dream right now; the weather isn’t cooperating, there’s civil unrest or damaged infrastructure that’s disrupting your holiday, or maybe you simply over romanticized in your head what this trip would entail or deliver. Whatever it is, you find yourself uncomfortable and not enjoying the holiday that you’ve been looking forward to, for so long.

What’s happened? What are you upset about? What were you expecting?

This last question is the key to figuring out the other two. First, you must understand what your expectations are…. Sounds simple enough but try putting it into a simple sentence. ‘I want my holiday to be perfect!’ or ‘I want to have the best time exploring and learning about Prague.’ Okay, but how does that translate into a day-to-day experience? Your expectations will influence how you think, feel, and experience a place, whether you’ve come to understand your expectations or not.

So what do you do now, that your unstated, misunderstood expectations have not been met and you’re unhappy? Start by taking a step back from the situation; take stock of whether what you’re upset about is really worth your emotional discomfort. Is your expectation reasonable or unreasonable given the circumstance? Are you too upset to own up to the difference at this point? Is there anything you can do to improve the situation?

I’ve found that stopping to take a few deep breaths away from the situation really helps.

I recently found myself completed flummoxed at a hotel breakfast buffet in a small Italian coastal town. My husband and I had walked into the buffet, same as the day before, put our cell phones down on an open table we intended to sit at, and then went to the buffet. When I came back to sit down with a glass of water an older couple was standing over our table with plates of food and indignant looks on their face. They wanted to know why our cell phones were on the table that they wanted to sit at?

As you might imagine I was at a total loss for why they thought this was their table? A quick exchange of words, their’s in German — mine in English, and we were locked in a weird debacle. Finally, I said ‘…I didn’t realize you wanted to sit here’ and the reply I received was ‘Well of course’ with a huff at the beginning. So I quickly gathered our things and moved two tables down as the room was full of open tables.

What had happened? We had followed the protocol that we understood to reserve a table. Yet they had decided despite our reservation, that we were poaching a table. So completely baffled by the situation I took a seat and decided to read the New York Times (like I do every day) and sip my coffee until I understood what had happened. I’m pretty careful to observe the local protocols when I’m in a place that I’m unfamiliar with, both so that I don’t offend anyone and to ‘blend in’ as they say.

By sitting down to “read the paper” I could take a few deep breaths without further engaging in the awkward situation. Our expectation was that, by setting cellphones down on the table, we could return to it with our breakfast. I surmise their expectation was that there were no reserving tables until you had food in your hand. By sitting down, I also noticed that they were in a hurry and had a car waiting downstairs.

Obviously, this sort of thing can happen whether you’re on holiday or not, but it’s easy to get bent out of shape or even blame the place you’re visiting. For example, you can imagine I might have said ‘… the people who visit this area are quite rude, I wouldn’t go back there.’

Beyond taking a step back to breathe and analyze the situation, I suggest trying to get rid of insignificant expectations.

These small exchanges can highlight misunderstood expectations and really change your holiday experience. In my experience, when you’re in a foreign country, trying to understand how to navigate your holiday, holding onto your American expectations for day-to-day interactions is going to leave you full of heartache.

So that leaves us back at the beginning? What are your expectations for your American holiday abroad? It can be the simplest expectation that get’s you into trouble, such as smiling. According to ediplomate, “Americans smile a great deal, even at strangers. They like to have their smiles returned.” I agree with this, most American’s find it perfectly acceptable to smile at one another during simple exchanges. This is not the case in many European cities. They are quite formal with their simple exchanges and will likely not smile at you. Being too friendly and smiling might seem impertinent or flirty to them.

Try to realize that you have an entire set of cultural expectation ingrained into you, that you never even think about.

So, when those expectations are not met you may find yourself offended or upset. Take some time to explore what your expectations might be, then realize that where you are now has a different set of expectations and you should research them. But of course, when you leave the U.S., the best thing to do is leave your expectations at home.

Simply choose a different perspective – you have the power to choose.

At their most basic, expectations are just a lens or the perspective that you’ve chosen to view things through. If you’ve chosen a perspective that disempowers you or makes you feel like a victim, simply choose a different perspective. Choose a perspective that empowers you and helps you feel better about you experience.

Thanks for reading my post! I’d love to hear from you, what lessons you’ve learned about your expectations and how to manage them.


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