East vs West Culture Change

Retiring in Asia presents a fascinating journey through diverse cultures, lifestyles, and traditions. The East vs West culture change is a significant aspect that Western retirees face when moving to Asia. This change encompasses differences in communication styles, lifestyle choices, social norms, and more. Understanding and embracing these differences can lead to a richer, more fulfilling retirement experience.

Understanding the cultural differences between the East and the West is crucial for a smooth transition. In many Asian cultures, the emphasis is on community and collective well-being, contrasting with the individualistic nature of Western societies. This manifests in various aspects of daily life, from family dynamics to business practice

Social Norms and Etiquette

In Asia, social norms and etiquette are deeply rooted in tradition. Respect for elders and authority figures is paramount, and this is often reflected in communication styles and social interactions. Learning local customs, such as greeting manners or dining etiquette, is essential for integrating into the community.

Community and Family Values

Family and community play a central role in Asian societies. There is a strong sense of collectivism, where the needs of the group often take precedence over individual desires. This communal approach fosters a supportive environment, especially beneficial for retirees seeking a sense of belonging.

Embracing New Lifestyles
Retiring in Asia means embracing new lifestyles that may differ significantly from what Western retirees are accustomed to. This includes adapting to local climates, cuisines, and daily routines, which can be both exciting and challenging.

Cuisine and Food Habits

Asian cuisine is renowned for its diversity and flavors. Each country offers unique dishes, often with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and communal eating. Adjusting to new eating habits and exploring local foods can be a delightful aspect of the cultural transition.

Daily Routines and Leisure Activities

The pace of life in many Asian countries can differ from the West. There may be a greater emphasis on relaxation and leisure, with activities like tai chi, yoga, and community events being popular. Engaging in these activities can enhance well-being and offer opportunities to connect with locals.

Communication Styles
Communication styles in Asia can vary greatly from Western norms. In many Asian cultures, indirect communication is common, emphasizing non-verbal cues and respect for hierarchy. Understanding these nuances is key to effective communication and building relationships.

Language and Non-Verbal Communication

Learning the local language, even at a basic level, can greatly enhance the retirement experience. Additionally, being aware of non-verbal communication, such as gestures and facial expressions, is important in understanding and being understood.

Respecting Hierarchy and Harmony

Many Asian cultures place high importance on hierarchy and maintaining harmony. This is evident in both personal and business interactions, where respect and politeness are highly valued.

Adapting to New Environments
Adapting to new environments involves more than just adjusting to the physical climate. It encompasses understanding local customs, laws, healthcare systems, and financial aspects of living in Asia.

Understanding Local Laws and Regulations

Familiarizing oneself with local laws and regulations is crucial for a hassle-free retirement. This includes understanding visa requirements, property laws, and other legalities that affect daily life.

Healthcare and Financial Considerations

Navigating the healthcare system and managing finances are critical aspects of retiring abroad. Many Asian countries offer high-quality, affordable healthcare, but it’s important to understand the system and have appropriate insurance coverage. Similarly, managing finances, including currency exchange, banking, and taxes, requires careful planning.

Building a New Community
Building a new community is an essential part of the retirement journey. It involves making new connections, participating in local activities, and sometimes, finding expat communities for additional support.

Engaging with Local Communities

Engaging with local communities allows retirees to immerse themselves in the culture and build meaningful relationships. This can be achieved through volunteer work, joining clubs or groups, and simply being open to new experiences.

Finding Support in Expat Communities

Expat communities can provide a sense of familiarity and support. They can be valuable resources for sharing experiences, advice, and friendship, especially during the initial stages of settling in.

The East vs West culture change offers both challenges and opportunities for Western retirees in Asia. Embracing these differences, being open to new experiences, and respecting local customs and traditions can lead to a deeply rewarding retirement. With the right mindset and preparation, retiring in Asia can be an enriching journey full of discovery and personal growth.

Live in ‘time’
Value rest and relaxation
Passive, accepting
Accept what is
Live in nature (part of nature itself)
Want to know meaning
Freedom of silence
Lapse into meditation
Marry first, then love
Love is silent
Focus on consideration of others’ feelings
Learn to do with less material assets
Ideal: love of life
Honour austerity
Wealth or poverty: results of fortune
Cherish wisdom of years
Retire to enjoy the gift of one’s family
Live in ‘space’
Value activity
Assertive, confronting
Seek change
Live with nature (co-existing with nature)
Want to know how it works
Freedom of speech
Strive for articulation
Love first, then marry
Love is vocal
Focus on self-assuredness, own needs
Attempt to get more of everything
Ideal: being successful
Honour achievement
Wealth or poverty: results of enterprise
Cherish vitality of youth
Retire to enjoy the rewards of one’s work

Honesty & ‘Truth’

Another difference between Western – Judao/Christian (also Islam) thinking is the concept or interpretation of ‘honesty’. In the West, although it’s not always adhered to, the truth is real and very important.

In some Eastern cultures, truth is at its best something to be searched for and at its worst, irrelevant (compared to Western perspective). For example, with regard to Chinese or Korean history, the Japanese will say that they have different views of events. Westerners can accept there are different opinions, but facts are facts even if there is some uncertainty or disagreement as to what those facts are.

Style vs. Substance

Westerners living in some SE Asian countries will start to notice basic differences in mentality, interests and ‘intellectual’ discussion. Thai and Lao people have very astute observational skills, but most are are not focused on things that Westerners consider significant.

They rarely anticipate events, often failing to consider in advance the driving force that could precipitate an accident or a potential future development; one that might later have great significance in their lives.

They are more interested in viewing the results of a road accident, blood and dead bodies, than pondering on what might have caused it, or even less, how it might have been avoided. ‘Face’ (how you are perceived by others) is everything.


One area worth mentioning is problemsargumentsdisagreementsdisputes, even crimes. In the West we have laws and judicial systems to take care of the more serious ones.

We also have old adages and expressions like ‘taking the bull by the horns’, ‘a problem faced is a problem solved’, ‘speaking your mind’, ‘not mincing your words’, ‘facing problems in the eye’, ‘not being afraid to speak out’, ‘telling it like it is’, ‘calling a spade a spade’, anticipating problems and analysing them afterwards for ’cause and effect’.

A good number of those concepts and ideas that might seem natural and logical to Westerners, or the ‘right thing to do’, can be almost the direct opposite of how Asian minds think or react when life is not running as smoothly as it might.

In case of dispute, Asians usually go out of their way to avoid direct confrontation or argument, often resorting to what Westerners would call lying – ‘white lies’ or worse, hiding their feelings behind what appears to be a genuinely friendly smile, or just simply silence.

Thoughts remain unspoken, but inner anger builds up nevertheless as Asians are sensitive people, and they will respond, but not at the time and possibly not in the way a Westerner might expect.

Family ties are the ‘king-pin’ – a singularly important and integral part of Asian culture generally. Far more so than in the West, where this has become less apparent in many societies. Asian women, especially, value their children and own family more than their husbands (whether Asian or foreign).

In matters requiring arbitration and or redress between families, local solutions at community level are sought and imposed before resorting to judicial or legal ones. Legal ones often result in a worse situation or a more expensive solution, so in some ways there might be good reason for this in certain countries in Asia. But fairness and justice take on different meanings within the Asian context too.

The best advice that one who has lived in the East for some time can give is: be tolerant of local thinking; make an effort to accept ‘the Asian way’, even try to emulate it. Even when you desperately want to get your point of view understood, try to see things from the opposite perspective.

When provoked, ‘bite your tongue’ and contain your anger. Smile even though your jaw might crack with the effort!

There are probably other ways to solve the problem, difficult as that may seem at the time, especially when frustration, anger and misunderstanding seem to surround you. There is probably nowhere where it’s as important to ‘keep your cool‘ as in Asia.

Learning the language helps a lot in understanding the people and will be an asset in many aspects of living, socialising as well as doing business with the locals. Visit our language learning and talking dictionaries pages.

East-West ‘cross-cultural’ friendships and relationships can be extremely successful as long as both partners make the effort to understand and accept the differences in each other’s culture and traditions. Human nature makes us all think ‘our way’ is best. This is not necessarily true!

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