Back in elementary school, when I started to visit my fellow classmates at their houses to study or to play together, I remember being bombarded with endless recommendations from my mother. She wanted to make sure that I was polite and super respectful in a house that wasn’t mine, and that I would use the words “please” and “thank you” when asking for something. She would suggest not to ask for anything unless it was really necessary. She brainwashed me so thoroughly that I avoided asking to use the bathroom and held it until I was back home!!! Living in a small town, she was a little worried that her reputation as a “good mother” might have been compromised, but at the same time, she wanted to make sure that her son would learn the value of respecting other people’s homes! (I really hope that nobody will translate this article for her!) 😉
This somewhat crazy behavior from my mother has messed me up a bit, because it was extreme: it made me behave oddly in other people’s homes until I was an adult, but it also helped me to adjust my attitude on many occasions. While I was facing the challenges of trying to survive in my new country, I would sometimes find myself resenting Canada, Canadians, immigration, the economy, other immigrants, my friends and family in Canada that were not helping me, and the list goes on and on… When I was in this state of mind, I would remember the voice of my mom saying: “Don’t touch anything, don’t ask for anything, clean your shoes before you go in, greet everyone and ask permission before you step inside, always say thank you, and if they offer you something to eat… you better finish it and say thank you… even if you don’t like it!” That exaggerated sense of respect for other people’s homes and privacy that she was trying to teach me years ago helped me to realign myself into respecting this place that was not my home yet, Canada, and Canadians! Every time that, in moments of frustration and weakness (which are very normal feelings for newcomers), every time that I have become resentful towards the place and the people that welcomed me and shared what was theirs with me, I have felt the compulsion to quickly fall into a state of gratitude, and the resentment was gone, I was at peace! Thank you, Mom: who knew that your insane obsession would have become so useful to me…
Many unhappy immigrants I meet could be metaphorically compared with one of my 14-year-old son Luca’s friends: I am giving him a ride to football practice, he gets in the car, he doesn’t acknowledge me. He smiles at Luca, they perform their special handshake. I look in the mirror and I don’t leave, hoping he realizes he is just forgetting to say hi. I try to look into his eyes through the mirror and I don’t release the brake yet… He turns to Luca, saying: “Dude, it´s a little late…” with a slightly frustrated tone. When I say to him: “Hi Brian, how are you? Did you forget to say hi?”, he is lost and confused. He didn’t forget, he was simply not aware that greeting someone and show gratitude was something you should do when entering someone’s car or home or country; he genuinely felt entitled. I am wondering if I should have thanked him for the opportunity to taxi him around…!
That’s the type of attitude I see in many immigrants! Their head is so wrapped up in what they need that it seems like the world must stop for them and help them, making things easy for them!
The truth is that the world might stop for them and might help them. I have had many lovely people help me selflessly – some were other immigrants, but many where Canadians, asking nothing in exchange. They would encourage me and share words of admiration for me!
The reality is that those Canadians helped me because I was already grateful just to be there, I was grateful before I received anything! They were able to recognize and appreciate my hopeful thinking, my sincere gratitude, and my actions, which altogether represented my attitude!
I am not writing about this to boost my ego so you can appreciate how good I am… I really don’t care what you think about me! It is none of my business what you think about me. 😉
What I want is to help you understand why many immigrants manage to go through so much pain and cultural discomfort by immigrating and then get themselves stuck in the wrong state of mind, with great expectations for the country that welcomed them, expectations that are never met, because your new country is not your mom who has to take care of you!
I am actually going to raise my voice now, because somebody did that with me a long time ago when I was complaining about my situation, and it snapped me out of that state of mind. Here it comes: “Your new country doesn’t owe you anything!”
Actually, it is you who needs to show your new country why it is blessed to have you there! So you actually owe your new country a demonstration of how great you are…
I recently read on a blog about immigrants being depressed because they had left decent jobs in their native countries and immigrated with valuable university diplomas and precious work experience under their belts, taking for granted that finding a good job with those credentials was going to be easy! After several months, all the certainty, the excitement and the savings quickly faded away, and the disappointment in relation to themselves, their new country and their new culture rose at an unbearable degree to the point where depression kicks in and makes everything even harder.
Why don’t we see things in perspective now:
Let’s pretend you are the Australian-, Canadian- or American-born version of yourself, who has studied all his young life to get a university diploma to work as an engineer.
You have put yourself or your parents deep in debt to finance this goal of yours of getting this precious piece of paper! It has been two years since you have finished university, yet after many interviews, you are still stuck working at your father’s business.
How would you react if you meet the Italian, Indian or Chinese immigrant version of yourself in a waiting room just before being interviewed for a job, and you hear him/her complaining to another candidate about how big a mistake it was to immigrate, and that your life was better there because you had a great career… blah, blah, blah…
Wouldn’t you be offended, hurt, that an immigrant with whom you are sharing the chance of getting that job is complaining about your country, whining because his greatness hasn’t been recognized? I would be.
If you have left a great job and have decided to immigrate for other reasons than professional achievement, nobody is to be blamed if your skills are not recognized in your new country as much as they were in your native land. Please understand that you have the potential to do even better, but you need to stay humble and share your skills with others without asking for anything in return.
Give your knowledge away to the company that hired you at an entry level, just give, even if you are not paid for it. Don’t rely on your resume to sell who you are: let your actions and your attitude do it.
Mentor people for free, teach them what you know without expecting anything back and just feel good about it.
This is having the right immigrant’s attitude: just give, and the receiving will happen because you will feel so good about yourself that the right people will be attracted to you and your life will change in many mysterious ways.