expat network

Settling Into Your Overseas Home: Top Tips For Being A Good Neighbour

If you are setting your sights on either buying a holiday home or moving permanently overseas, you’ll want to make a good impression on your new neighbours.  YourOverseasHome.com have put together a few grains of wisdom on local customs to be mindful of in France, Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal, so you’re aware of neighbourly customs before you move overseas.

Scarlett Murray, writer at YourOverseasHome.com, says:

“First impressions matter a great deal, wherever you are in the world. Basic mishaps like addressing an older person informally or misinterpreting a double-cheek kiss could leave a lasting, bitter impression. It’s best to find out what to expect from your new country before you go, so that your neighbours become friends and aren’t suspicious of the new culturally insensitive Brit next door.”

YourOverseasHome.com offer their top 10 pieces of advice on how to make a good impression with your new overseas neighbours:

“That’s Mrs to you!”

    Wherever you move to, it’s always a great idea to try to speak in the local language. It shows that you’re here to stay and you care, rather than just passing through.

    While mishaps are to be expected, one faux pas you don’t want to make is not using the correct form of address.

    In France, address new acquaintances as “vous”, since “tu”  is reserved for those you’re familiar with and if used with a stranger, can be considered rude. If in doubt, always use “vous”: it’s better to be thought of as too polite than rude. In Portugal, they use “tu” and “voce”. You’ll also want to use “senhor” and “senhora”.

    “Give us a squeeze”

    As well as an air kiss on each cheek (“la bise” in France), European nations tend to be touchier than the typically standoffish Brit.

    Don’t be surprised if a Grecian or a Spaniard stands close to you or even taps you while you chat. Embrace it! You might go from neighbours to friends faster.

    “No stiff upper lip here”

    In the UK, being polite often means keeping your voice down. So, it might take a moment to get used to just how expressive your new neighbours are.

    Italians and Greeks love to communicate with hand gestures. If you’re still learning the language, the hand gestures make it easier to understand what’s being said.

    When dining out in Spain, you may have to shout to get the waiter’s attention – just don’t bring the habit back home.

    The dos and don’ts of “popping in”

    As keen as expats may be to make friendships, do not turn up unannounced to anyone’s home in France or Spain. Indeed, it might be a while before you’re invited into someone’s home, even if you have met up outside of the home a few times.

    In Greece, most people will be pleased for you to come over for a chitchat from the get-go. While, typically, the Italians will insist that you stay for a meal (not a bad thing!).

    “Will a box of chocolates do?

    If you are invited to dinner and want to bring a gift to show your appreciation, what should it be?

    In Spain, it’s best to bring a gift that can be shared easily, such as a box of chocolates, as opposed to flowers. While the French will always appreciate a nice bottle of wine. 

    “What time do you call this?”

    In warmer climates, the day tends to tick along at a different pace. In Spain, Italy and Greece, it is commonplace to be 15 minutes late for a social event. So, if you’ve arranged to meet up with your neighbour and they don’t turn up on the dot, try not to take it personally. Set your cultural clock to their time and relax.

    Meals tend to happen later in Europe. Lunch often takes place between 1 and 3 pm, and dinner is not served until after 8 pm. Socialising into the night is to be expected too.

    Respect snoozing time

    After lunch in Spain, Italy, Greece and even parts of Portugal, it’s time for a kip. Avoid a grumpy neighbour by keeping the noise down during these times too. The best way to keep quiet is to join in! By enjoying a siesta, you’ll be recharged enough to go out later.

    More neighbours than you bargained for

    Family is a core part of Italian and Greek culture, with multiple generations often living in one home. So don’t be shocked if you go to introduce yourself to your neighbour and get to know his wife, mother, father, brother and two sisters in the process.

    Get to know the boss

    As soon as you move into your French abode, it’s best to introduce yourself to the Mairie and get in their good books. If you need planning permission or have a gripe with a neighbour, it’s them you will go to, rather than hashing it out in the street.

    “Are you sure about that outfit?

      In Italy, every day is an opportunity to be stylish: dressing up for dinner is the norm and you certainly don’t wear jeans to church. Reserve your flip-flops for the beach to fit in.