Local customs and practices
It isn’t just about knowing a few phrases in French or German, it’s also about knowing how things work in a foreign country. The Japanese and Australians will frown on tipping after a meal but in the U.S., it’s almost always required (and it should be 10% of your bill). Most Parisians mock people who speak any language other than French, while the Japanese are courteous to foreigners as long as they don’t attempt to speak in straight Japanese (Nihongo has subtle nuances that differ by age, gender and social class that take years to master). Variances on English also apply, especially in places where they say “lift” instead of “elevator” and WC (water closet) instead of comfort room.
Knowing how things work also involves figuring out the local tech such as parking meters, train ticket dispensers, supermarket cash registers and (oh the shock!) pumping gas in your own vehicle as many of these services are fully automated. So spend some time to research on how things work and immerse yourselves in the culture as best as you can once you arrive.
Food and local brands
Be prepared to get used to local food. You may be ready to say goodbye to adobo, bagnet and sinigang, but you should also be aware that it can be hard to get Sky Flakes, Choc-Nut and Boy Bawang in certain countries. Although many areas in the U.S. and Canada have Filipino and Asian specialty stores, their prices are more expensive than regular grocery items. It is possible to cook adobo using local ingredients but acquiring pig’s blood for dinuguan in Houston will get you weird looks unless your butcher supplies the Filipino community. Take our advice and learn to eat what everyone else eats. Even the locals of other places excel in certain other cuisines - for example, Chinese and Vietnamese food is very good in Canada while Australia boasts great Thai, Malaysian, Turkish and Lebanese cuisine.
Keep the same attitude when looking for other goods. CDR King doesn’t have branches abroad yet and you will find Colgate and Palmolive products that are only available in the country you’re in. Also be aware that many countries rely heavily on the Metric system so pounds, feet and inches are things you may have to set aside. Most cellphones have converter apps so keep them handy while shopping.
Photo by griffhome from flickr creative commons