How to Be a Good Newcomer – A Montauk Story
According to the American Automobile Association 8 in 10 Americans planned to travel over 50 miles over Memorial Day weekend. That means that towns all over the United States and beyond saw an influx of newcomers. Media coverage around this popular holiday weekend tends to focus on the weather, where to go and what to do, but rarely does it talk about how to behave. This past Memorial Day weekend I heard more than one local in the small fishing village of Montauk, NY express frustration at the way visitors were acting. So, in preparation for the summer holidays in the northern hemisphere I ask the question – what makes a good visitor?
People behave at their worst when there is a gap between their expectations and reality. I call this Expectation Discord. The bigger the gap, the worse people behave. Locals in a given community are accustomed to life going at a certain rhythm, people behaving a certain way and traffic moving at a certain pace. Visitors entering that space typically aren’t going to be in those same rhythms so the locals’ daily lives get turned upside down.
On the flip side, visitors anticipate a certain experience that they hope to have on their holiday and often times this vision is directly opposed to the way of life of the people within the communities that they are entering. A classic Montauk example is the family who is excited to go to the beach every day and therefore rents a house a few blocks away. When they arrive, they pack their hand pulled wagons, put on their suits and head down the road, but usually they don’t realize that while they are on a leisurely stroll to the beach they are taking up half the road if not all of it. The local still has to get to work and voila – there is a mismatch of usage of that public space.
The local expects to be able to drive on the road without hitting someone. The visitor (usually unaware that just because it is a vacation town, doesn’t mean everyone is on vacation) expects to be able to walk to the beach with their family. I hear stories of locals cautioning visitors and then being yelled at by those visitors to mind their own business. The gap in the visitor’s expectation of being able to do whatever they want (“because I paid for it”…. Ugh, I cringe when I hear a visitor speak of the money they bring to town) and the reality that the road is a local’s business, causes bad behavior.
The next story I heard was from a visitor. She was standing on the long line at the supermarket. The person in front of them said to the check out person, “Are you ready for the crowds? Town is already a nightmare. I wish they would all go home…” While relaying the story of what happened, the visitor said, “I can hear them. I haven’t even done anything wrong other than come to buy some food. I am in a good mood, I am looking forward to having a good time and this guy is taking his frustration about the crowds indirectly onto anyone within earshot.”
These are somewhat innocuous examples, but what they illustrate are a few of the many stories that foster a “local / outsider” dynamic that creates a superiority bias on both sides. The locals feel mistreated or disrespected and the visitors feel that the locals are rude. An “Us vs. Them” mentality emerges. Attribution Theory states that we typically give credit to ourselves when things go well and blame to others when things go wrong. It is a convenient way to perpetuate the notion that we don’t play a role in creating a more peaceful environment in our minds and our communities, but in fact we do.
One local said, “If you know the traffic is going to be bad during those times, don’t go anywhere!” This may not always be possible, so narrowing the gap between expectations and inevitable realities is one way to foster better management of a situation, but more of the onus should be on the newcomer to adapt to their host environment, not only the local. It is natural to feel irritated when people change your way of life, just like it is natural to be less aware of your environment when you are in a new place.
World renown Interculturalist, Milton Bennett, developed a model of Intercultural Sensitivity which addresses how people react to difference – the “Us vs. Them” mindset falls in the same category as racism. Now, to group a frustrated tourist or local with a racist is more than a bit extreme, but Bennett might say that the idea behind it is the same. This “my way is the best way,” mentality is at the heart of not only local frustration, but also global conflict. The solutions to both can be surprisingly similar.
So whether you are visiting somewhere in your own country or moving overseas, following are a few tips for the newcomer:
1) Acknowledge there is a difference.
The first step in being a good newcomer is to recognize that things are there will be a difference between your expectation about how things should be and the reality of how things actually are. This is half the battle and what lies at the foundation of being a good visitor.
2) Teach Visitor Values to your children, if you have them. Adopt them for yourself if you don’t.
Having conversations with young people about how to behave when in someone else’s home environment – whether it be a hotel room, a house, a community or a city – is the next step in creating heightened awareness and fostering good global citizenship.
3) Slow down.
Stop and observe how things are operating, whether or not it is safe to engage in the activities you are considering and whether or not your expectations of how you want your visit to go are in direct opposition to the life of the community before you arrived.
4) Minimize Expectation Discord
Slowing down allows the time to observe what is happening in your new environment. Imagine life during the off season of a new place. Think about what you envision for your time there and do a gap analysis. Rarely do expectations match when people come from different places and perspectives.
5) When confronted with “rudeness,” suspend judgment
This is not meant to excuse drunken behavior or belligerence, so much as a strategy to take a moment to give pause to the notion that people may be seeing things differently and therefore not have the ability to take on a different perspective.
6) Seek out the alternative reasons why people are behaving “badly”
After suspending judgment, try to figure out what else might be going on. The simple act of inquiry in itself can be unifying.
7) Maintain faith in the goodwill of people and in your own goodwill
This tip comes from the global leader in relocation service, Cartus Corporation. It works. People usually don’t leave their house in the morning and say, “Hey I want to bother someone today.”
8) Get a trusted cultural advisor
Ask the local what some of the mistakes are that newcomers typically make. You may agree that some are just inexcusable bad behavior, but you may also find that there are things you were planning on doing that when seen from the local’s perspective, might not make as much sense anymore.
9) Increase awareness of your environment
Whether driving or going to the bank, put up some additional antennae to what is going on around you. Vacation or newcomer mentality tends to be a bit clueless which can easily be translated into disrespect.
10) Forgive bad behavior
An ounce of forgiveness yields a pound of healing. Living with people who are outwardly critical or disrespectful is hard under the worst of circumstances. Releasing yourself from their transgressions means releasing your day from the negative influence of superiority bias.
11) Be picky about the people you spend time with
Claudia Chen of the SHE Conference for women says it best, “We become the company we keep. [A bit of commiseration can be therapeutic, but] we are responsible for our energy and since energy is precious we need to be responsible for cultivating it in a positive way.”
SPECIFICALLY FOR THE VACATIONING NEWCOMER (“tourist”)
12) Never assume you’ve paid the right to do what you want
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a visitor say, “Locals should be happy we are bringing money into their town.” Yuck! Argh! Ptew! Horror! Paying for a vacation does not mean earning the right to be disrespectful.
13) Check Your Driving
A common characteristic of a tourist is that they don’t know where they are going. As a result driving tends to be too slow (while exploring) or too fast (blind corners, children at play). Check your driving. Pull over if you are lost and figure out where you are going and then proceed. Especially in the case of adolescents, we hear countless stories of fast, life threatening driving.
The difference between moving to a new country or simply going on vacation is vast, but the behaviors of good newcomers share many traits. Culture clashes inevitable, but awareness is a good starting point. Who knows, maybe the end point will be decreased frustration for everyone.