Interview With Claude Koehl, Author, The American Way Of Life

Claude, you've recently written a book called The American Way of Life. Tell us about the book and its aims.

The goal of my new book is manifold:

a. Introduce newcomers to some of the idiosyncrasies of American culture

b. Help foreigners adapt and integrate their new host culture better

c. Make American readers more aware of their own (unconscious) cultural bias.But first and foremost, I wanted to make the read of my book enjoyable and fun, as there are already plenty of theoretical books about cultural etiquette and culture shock available. Also, as a social psychologist I am well aware that humor can help overcome stressful situations.

What was it that prompted you to write The American Way of Life?

That is easy to answer. Depending on their own cultural background, all my clients will at some point comment about one or another topic discussed in the book. And while some are amused by the differences, many are downright annoyed. And even after living in the US for a number of years, a good many of them still struggle with certain aspects of the American way of life.

Can you give us an example of the kind of embarrassing situations people might be able to avoid if they read The American Way of Life?

For instance, my readers will know not to seat themselves in a restaurant, but to wait for a hostess to assign them a table, particularly if they are in the company of Americans.

You're an expat yourself – when and where did you first move abroad?

Oh, that is a very long story as I was already learning my third language at age 6. Since then I have moved many more times. I guess you could almost call me a professional nomad. And even if as a child it was a challenge to always be the outsider, I have come to appreciate the unique chance I have to belong without belonging.

How heavily did you draw on your own experience when you wrote the book?

Obviously, I can’t deny that I, just like everybody else, have my own cross-cultural filter that colors my perspective. And even if indeed all the topics have been raised by clients, ultimately the way I approach them is all mine.


In your opinion, what are some of the most common challenges associated with moving abroad, and how does The American Way of Life help people to address these?

How to answer such a question without writing a new book? First of all, it all depends on the circumstances of the move. Is it a lifelong dream or done out of necessity? Is it managed and organized by an employer or is it the person’s own responsibility?

But leaving all those questions aside, I believe adapting to a different framework of common, everyday tasks of life is one of the biggest challenges in moving abroad. Fact is, we don’t give ordinary tasks and interactions much conscious consideration until things don’t work the way we expect them to. Then we are easily bothered and irritated by the differences. Getting used to unfamiliar settings and standards of daily life is a tricky and often rather baffling process. And that is exactly the central topic of my book! In that way, the book can even resonate with people moving to an altogether different culture than the American one.

You can find out more about The American Way of Life and purchase the book via Claude's website, The Foreigners' Perspective.