EVERYTHING is irritating (Culture shock: an irrational explanation)

According to Northeastern University (and psychologists everywhere), you can expect to experience four stages of culture shock when you move overseas.

1. Wonder/Honeymoon: Everything is shiny.

2. Frustration: You realize that you don’t speak the language, that even something as straightforward as buying toothpaste can be an exercise in frustrated cultural expectations, and there are no sour gummy worms–or chicken pot pies–to be found.

3. Depression: Unexplained bouts of crying.

4. Acceptance: Realizing that you could maybe live a normal life here.

Handy chart, right? Now you know exactly what to expect, and nothing will faze you. After all, that’s why they hand out charts and similar culture-shock breakdowns to prospective exchange students and those moving abroad. Because if you know what to expect, everything’s easier. If it’s broken down into a four-step process, you can handle it. Or can you?

If you’re like me, your primary problem lies in thinking that you’re experienced enough to be above such culture shock and other similarly pedestrian afflictions.

When I moved to Guam (which is, admittedly, so Westernized that it’s really not incredibly shocking), I experienced something like an odd combination of all 4 stages (and then some extras thrown in for good measure) all at once. It was combined with all the stages associated with being newly married. Good times.

Four-step lists (and seven-step lists, and most other lists) annoy me because they’re almost always gross oversimplifications of the way things actually are.

It probably goes without saying that, when you live in a land of eternal summertime, summer eventually gets old. Instead of dreaming of sunshine, you dream of fall leaves. When the beach is a ten-minute walk away, it loses part of it’s splendor. Not all of it, mind you. Just some–enough to make you wish for snow-capped mountains instead of white-capped waves.

Sometimes, everything about a new culture is just irritating. Like when you go to a mall in Mexico City and realize that toilet paper isn’t a given in every modern bathroom. Or when you step into a Japanese bathroom for the first time and hit every button on control panel attached to the toilet before figuring out how to flush the stupid contraption.

No informational brochure or culture-shock flow chart can prepare you for that.

One comment

  1. I was miserable when I first got to Germany. I didn’t hit number one on the list until I had been there about 6 months. I was so depressed. It was like PMS overload! I even pleaded to get out of the Army so I could go back to the states. A very smart Sgt. (I forgot his name) asked me to give it 6 weeks. I ended up wanting to extend in the small town I was stationed in after living there over 2 years. Hang in there and I hope you guys get transferred to Germany. Take Care!

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