Tag Archives: authentic

Don’t Fake Accents and three other rules for keeping it real when abroad

back in my Europe-dwelling days on a three-day Paris trip

When I was in my teens I lived about an hour by train west of London.  My dad taught at a college that drew a lot of American college students, eager to “do Europe” for a year.   One of the most frustrating thing about some of these students was the accent that they would try to fake.  Nothing made the English roll their eyes more than the latest American attempt at copying their accent.  It was genuinely painful to listen to.

The irony of course, was that in this desperate attempt at generating street cred, the offending 19 year-old American was accomplishing just the opposite.  The locals would at best put up with or overlook the posturing.  When it got bad enough, the aspiring Hugh Grant actually took a social beating.

Sure, socially punishing those that fake their accent may have been a little harsh of the English.  But the root of the problem was deeper than just a question of accents – it had to do with the accent impostor’s lack of self-confidence.  More than anything, self-confidence and a belief in what you can bring to the table is important when you are abroad.  You’ve got to keep it real.

Be your “confident self” – you will be rewarded

If you present yourself confidently, as though you have “nothing to hide”, your unique qualities and foreign ways will come across as refreshing and interesting.  It pays to be different.  This is very different from being cocky.  Cockiness masks insecurity badly and most people can see right through it, especially when you are being cocky on their turf.  But a warm confidence speaks volumes.

Learn from but do not copy

A willingness to learn lies at the heart of any successful relocation experience.  Rather than coming with an expectation that you will teach others how things should be done, arriving in another country with a blank slate and a willingness to learn is so helpful to you and so appreciated by locals.  This does not mean that you copy locals as in the above example of inauthentic accent imitation.   Instead, this is all about learning from the good and letting it organically enrich your life and experience.  Have you relocated to a country that spends two hours on lunch every day?  Learn to appreciate this natural emphasis on life balance, natural rhythm and nurtured relationships and apply it to your life.  Are there tweaks that you can make so that your family and friends feel more appreciated and cared for when they are in your presence?

Be the “reasonable foreigner”

The opposite of the “ugly American” or Swede for that matter, is the “reasonable one”.  I am always impressed by those that arrive in a new country and context with a clear determination to build bridges.  There is so much that you could potentially disagree with and start judging when you travel.  RESIST THE TEMPTATION.  Instead, seek out the areas of common ground that you can build upon.  There is always a lot of good that can be celebrated about your host nation’s culture and ways.  Be the foreigner that seeks these good things out.  Make sure your hosts know that you appreciate them and their unique cultural qualities.  If you start by emphasizing common ground a near-magical thing happens – the locals around you start to think “she gets it” or “he’s adjusting so well” and they will be much more likely to want to invest time and effort in getting to know you and making you feel comfortable.

Travel and relocation can be some of the best adventures of life if you approach them with a gentle confidence.  Be real.  Be yourself.  This builds trust and goodwill – the currency of international success.



Bjorn Karlman


Christian, Not Crazy: Some Almost-Organized Thoughts on Faith

Photo 176I struggled with this post.  It’s different from most in that I’m not writing directly about American politics and I am not trying to write on top of the news.  This post is about context.  Specifically, a context rooted in faith.  My faith.  Intellectual suicide?  I don’t think so.  Let me explain.

One of the things that most fascinated me when I started following American politics from across the Atlantic while I was living in the UK, was how openly politicos talked about faith.  If anyone with political aspirations in Europe did anything more than attend a sterile Easter service at a state church, Europeans would write him or her off as a religious nut.  Not so in the United States.

Despite his moral flexibility and playboy approach to saving the world, Bill Clinton was raised Southern Baptist and regularly sought the counsel of religious leaders like Jesse Jackson (who coincidentally was having an affair while counseling Bill on his Monica-related troubles).  We all know that George W. Bush was a man of faith.  His faith was positively troubling as we witnessed his crusade of a post 9/11 foreign policy that permanently sullied America’s image abroad and did more to draw religion-inspired battle lines than any American move in decades.  As cerebral as Barack Obama is, he was famously aligned with the controversial preacher Jeremiah Wright as a member of his flock when Wright spat out the words “God damn America.”  Multiple presidents have sought to address social problems through government funding of faith-based humanitarian programs.

Apart from the faith of recent and current American leaders, the American political landscape is hugely influenced by the religious right which, although somewhat fragmented currently, is enormously influential in any election.  This group of evangelicals ranges from run-of-the-mill casual believers with nominal conservative values and a penchant for apple pie and Nascar to raving lunatics that bomb abortion clinics, harbor closet (or devastating open) hate for minorities and spend their free time trying to legislate the teaching of Creationism in schools and the flying of racist confederate flags in front of state buildings.

More than once on CultureMutt, I have critiqued the evangelical contingent in America.  I grew up as Seventh-day Adventist and as a current member of this conservative evangelical community I feel particularly responsible for the messages that come out of the evangelical camp.  That’s why I:

Blasted Beck over his ridiculous critique of church social justice programs:  Poetic Justice for Beck’s Social Justice Rant

Found this way to lure young male congregants hilarious:  Pound the Other Cheek: The Advent of Christian Fight Clubs

Thought that this approach to evangelical sexual morality was extremely naive:  Virginity 2.0 – Post Cherry-Pop Purity.

Sincerely hoped that religious crazies and their know-nothing dogma were losing steam:  Fundamentalism Loses its Mojo

As faith and politics are very intertwined and as I am so drawn to talking about both, I thought it only fair to say a few words about where I personally stand when it comes to religion.  Some of my readers have, in one way or another, asked me what I personally believe in.  If you have read CultureMutt over the past several months it won’t come as surprise that I am a cultural and political liberal.  When it comes to religion, I hate evangelical cheese and over-simplification of faith; I look for vomit buckets when I hear of attempts to legislate Christian morality; I am pro-choice; I am no literalist when it comes to my approach to reading religious texts; and I am all for gay rights, including the right to marry.

Having said all that, I do believe in the transcendent, that there is a presence that far eclipses the limited human perspective.  I am a religious tourist and have found meaning in all of the major world religious traditions.  My best friend is a Muslim and through my conversations with him I am drawn to a monotheistic approach to faith.  I am convicted by the Christian narrative of a compassionate deity that redeems humans in the grander cosmic sense as well as in our day-to-day reality.

What I feel most passionately about when it comes to my faith is this focus on bringing redemption in the here and now.  I don’t believe, as some do, that actively practicing faith requires an end to intelligent thought.  Rather, my faith challenges me to use critical thinking in finding a humane response to human problems.  I believe that authentic faith breeds understanding, generosity and compassion.  This is why I am passionate about fighting for social justice and finding systemic solutions for today’s social problems.  Poverty, illness, lack of education, drastic social inequality, racism – in my book these are very real manifestations of evil and I support a faith that combats each.

I don’t think I am entirely “right” in my articulation of reality and faith.  I know I have a lot to learn, that I am doubtless wrong on multiple fronts. I’ll listen to your thoughts because they will enhance my understanding of reality.  I intentionally held off on articulating any personal religious convictions on CultureMutt because this blog is not meant to be a forum for the discussion of the fine points of doctrine.  I simply thought that a little context at this point regarding my personal faith-related convictions would help explain where I am coming from.  Looking forward to your thoughts.



Bjorn Karlman