When I first started dating Dear Hubby, there wasn't much of a culture shock. After all, we two were mad Liverpool fans and therefore of one heart already, we knew exactly when we wanted to hold hands and exactly when we wanted to jump up and cheer, we loved eating dinner seated on the couch, plates on laps, eyes glued to Sportscenter on ESPN.
But when he started introducing me to his social circle, I suddenly realised that I had a whole new set of social skills to learn. All the social skills that had kept me going at mamak stall sessions suddenly didn't seem enough to survive an expat party!
So here we go, my first attempt at writing Being Expat-ised 101: Social skills at expat party (based on my own experience)
1. How do you do?
Strangely enough, I've yet to meet a Brit who says that despite what repeated viewings of My Fair Lady has taught me. I used to feel perplexed when I met new people - do I just shake hands or do I kiss them on the cheek or what? *blur* I've had embarrassing situations where people want to kiss/shake my hand and I end up trying to do the exact oppposite. Adoi.
What I've learnt is that ALWAYS LET THEM START THE GREETING. If they hold out their hand and the other arm is at their side, this means shake hands only, no kissy-kissy. If both arms come out, prepare for kissy-kissy but sometimes it doesn't happen, so don't lean your body in until they do. If kissy-kissy does happen, always wait for them to offer other cheek before attempting to mwah-mwah dahleeng! them on both sides of their faces.
2. Table manners
Numero Uno - learn how to chew with your mouth shut. It's so disgusting otherwise. Yuck.
And the cutlery. Oh god, where do I start? To this day, I can't tell the difference between a salad fork and the soup spoon. Last year in Scotland, I attended a series of company do's with Dear Hubby's Top-Top Boss. Very anxious not to make Dear Hubby look like an idiot at dinner, I'd actually checked up on cutlery and table etiquette online but of course, all of that flew out of my head once I sat down at table. As with saying hello, let others start first. If they pick up the fork on the left for the salad, do the same. So always take your time with your napkin while keeping your eyes peeled.
This backfired on me one day when EVERYONE took their time with their napkins and insisted ladies started eating first. I was like, "SHIT! Cannot la!" This is where you must trumpet your Asian superiority to cover up for your ignorance and so I picked up a random fork and said in my most charming voice, "You know... we Chinese just have one type of chopstick, none of this salad fork and butter knife thing - how on earth do you Brits keep track of it all?" And then it turned out that these Brits weren't too sure either and one of them admitted, "I just watch what others do actually." Alamak.
3. Watch your drink
If you're like me, you'll probably manage a max of 3 vodka lemonades before you get extremely sociable and happy. So be careful, watch your drink. This is not the mamak stall where 10 teh ais won't do anything except keep you awake all night. Mix your own drink if you can at parties or tell your host exactly how you like your drink. You won't remember you were being an asshole but everyone else will. Always eat some fat before you drink, it helps slow down the absorption of alcohol into your body. If you're really worried about your drink, do what I do sometimes - pop some innocent, small mints into those little meds bags you get from the docs. Once you arrive at the party, ask for a glass of water and in full view of everyone, pop your "medication". Then announce you are on painkillers/antibiotics and can't drink. Ta-dah!!!
I hope this is of some help to any aspiring SPG reading this. :)))
(For definition of SPG, go here)