Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Oral Pleasure and Expatriate Satisfaction

Oh, come on: we're all adults here...

This is the title of an article by Jean-Claude Usunier, appearing in the International Business Review, 1998 (7:89-110).  He hypothesizes that "expatriates experience a loss of oral pleasure related to the absence of their native language and eating and drinking habits in the host country, and that this affects their overall satisfaction with the expatriate experience."

The author, a professor of marketing and international business at the Universite Louis-Pasteur, studied a sample of American expatriate managers in France: 74 men and 35 women, with an average age of 46 (range 22-76).  The raw data published in the article has lots of interesting correlations among his studied variables: expatriate women tend to be younger than men, and are more likely to be single and to have a French spouse.  Older expatriates in general are more likely to arrive with their families and to stay longer.

The major factors determining length of stay (taken as a measure of "expatriate success") are being married to a foreign spouse (0.560), being comfortable with the language (0.675), and being happy with the food (0.316).  Unsurprisingly, personal satisfaction was correlated with overall family satisfaction (0.481), and those married to a foreigner were more likely to learn the language (0.621) and to adopt the food (0.395).  Gender, age, presence of a family, and individual satisfaction were uncorrelated with expatriate success.

Factor analysis (a statistical method for determining the strongest independent predictors of outcomes) reinforced the link between three key drivers (Marriage to a foreigner, Language fluency, and Satisfaction with local food) of the study's three outcomes (Personal satisfaction, Family satisfaction, and Length of stay).  The author concludes that "the issue of oral pleasure deficiencies certainly exists, and clearly persists over time, but on average it is most often overcome by positive oral pleasure drawn from life in the host country."

I agree to the extent that my evolving fluency is letting me participate more completely and independently in life here (although people are also increasingly less prone to use English with me, too).  But I'm less certain that the lack of snack crackers and bakery mixes has a significant impact on my happiness.

But, I'd rate "open-mindedness",  "having local friends", and "becoming progressively less dependent on home country resources" as more significant drivers of my overall adjustment.

Nonetheless, it's interesting data to reflect on, and it does have a cute title to whip out at parties...

Photo credit www.kitmax.com

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