November 7, 2016 Daniel Pleșa

On laughter and being an expat

For quite some time now i have been living with expats, and for the past 2,5 years I myself have been experiencing 2 different countries (Germany and Holland), currently living in Holland.

What I noticed is that being an expat sounds great, exciting and adventurous at first, but after the first couple of weeks, the magic just washes out. I believe it has to do a lot with the expectations we have, which are mainly borrowed from friends, media, or simply stories we hear, which are always better than the reality.

And so once I started my “expat life” one of the first things i realized is that, surprisingly, even if i had a quite large social circle, most of the time i was feeling alone. To my surprise, once i told other expat friends about this, they resonated quite well with it.

So I started looking into this. Why is it that most of us, when living abroad, despite being surrounded by loads of people, from all cultural backgrounds, still have this feeling of being alone?

What I realized is that this is a matter of connection. More precisely, Brene Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship”.

But this happened occasionally, the “seen, heard, valued” part, however, it did not seem to be enough.

After a few more conversations, I started seeing a pattern. It all boils down to a very simple thing, which I believe complements Brene’s words, and that is: LAUGHTER!

Yes, exactly, this very simple thing! Most of the time, despite the fact that you are fluent in a foreign language, or the people surrounding you are as well, you can’t “get the joke” or they can’t get yours. However, once this “click” is being made, where you get to laugh at your friend’s joke and they laugh at yours, a sudden feeling of connection happens, and then it’s like you speak the same language and truly understand each other.

A great deal of work around the topic of understanding laughter has been done throughout the years, out of which we can mention philosopher John Morreall, who theorizes that human laughter may have its biological origins as a kind of shared expression of relief at the passing of danger.

Humor, who’s release is laughter, has its background well rooted in a specific cultural aspect. Some might laugh at communist jokes, because they have lived in it, heard stories about it, and they can resonate with it on a more personal level.

The one way i found working for me to bring about this click, is to pay attention to what makes me laugh, and share these with people from my circle. And the other way as well: pay attention to what the people around you laugh (real, belly laughter) until you see the pattern.

Eventually, someone will resonate with this, and… tadaaa! The click is happening.

Would be curios what works for you on your expat journey!