Not Again! Reverse Culture Shock

First Barney Plush

First Barney Plush (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reverse Culture Shock occurs when you return to your home country after living abroad.  If you’ve been away for a sustained period, things will have changed (including yourself).  You have adapted (sometimes kicking and screaming) to another culture.

Depending on how long you’ve been away, you may find that many things have changed.  You don’t expect that things have changed so much.  You definitely don’t appreciate the depth of your change either.  The first time I experienced Reverse Culture Shock was when I returned to the US after a year as an exchange student in high school.  I came back and there was a lot I didn’t know.

Barney had hit and I just couldn’t understand the fuss about a purple dinosaur.  RuPaul is another example.  I didn’t know he wasn’t in drag.  I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that he wasn’t a woman.  In the pre-internet early 90’s, I didn’t know any of the songs on the radio and didn’t have the slightest clue who he was.  I felt like  a foreigner in my own country.

The longer you’ve been away and the more you embraced the habits and customs of a new culture, the more likely you won’t feel at ease, relaxed or comfortable in your country of origin.   It’s only natural the tour experiences changed you and re-entry can be difficult.  Sometimes, people find it impossible to readapt to their home country after living abroad for a number of years.  Others have seen RuPaul’s Drag Race and now understand.

A Little Bit of Love

A Little Bit of Love (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The Shock Of Your Life – Culture Shock

Moving to a new country with different customs, values and language, will cause you to experience culture shock.  We went through it.  Our friends went through it.  It’s normal, so try not to freak out too much (even though meltdowns are inevitable) and don’t worry, it will get better.   The crazy part is that once you’ve successfully adapted, the odds are that you will return to your native culture and experience the same thing (known as reverse culture shock).

Dictionary.com defines it as “a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange or foreign social and cultural environment.”  Everyone’s different and everyone’s experiences are different, but there is a common pattern.  People experiencing culture shock generally go through these stages.   It starts with the ‘Honeymoon Phase.’  This is the “oh, how charming” stage. You will find everything is an exciting and interesting.   It seems like you are on vacation.  Who ever vacations someplace long enough to get sick of it (‘Paris Syndrome,’ ‘Jerusalem Syndrome‘ and ‘Stendhal Syndrome‘ excluded)?

How much you put yourself out into the other culture, how insulated you are from it and the pressures you experience will help determine its length, but generally it this phases lasts a few days to a few weeks.  Obviously, the more you mix it up with the local culture, the quicker it will end.  Don’t worry though, the loss of this euphoria should ultimately lead you to better understanding of the culture and adaptation.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this, what happens next distressing, you will probably drop an expletive (in your native language since you probably don’t understand too much of the local one) and realize you have changed almost everything in your daily life.  While this may arrive in a time of peace (and induce panic), it is much more likely that you have just locked yourself out or had some other bad experience.  This is called the ‘Negotiation Phase.’

Just like that, the honeymoon/vacation is over and you have to start living your daily life someplace where you don’t know how to do it.  Between us, we felt disoriented, confused and lonely.  After trying to get the apartment set up and start work, we were exhausted.  Having been though it I fought the urge to speak in English and succeeded some of the time.  Other people, watch their American shows on sling boxes, hunger for food from the US (even if it is McDonald’s and they don’t even like fast food) or spend their time with other expats.  Essentially, you become nostalgic for your native culture (while forgetting its problems).

Instead of getting better, things only get worse (or at least they do until they get better).  Living somewhere where you don’t understand how things works is disorienting.  You get sick of feeling incompetent (see Les Incompetents posts).   You wonder how you went from someone who was competent to, well, this.  Plus, with your support systems far away and your new ones not well established, it can be even harder.  It’s easy to focus on the negative.  Even if you don’t, you’re likely experiencing many more negative emotions than usual.  Anger?  Check. Sadness?  Check.  Frustration? Impatience?  Dissatisfaction? Depression?  Aggression? Rage?  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  And, um, yep, check.

If this is you, remind yourself  that this is inevitable when adapting to a new and different culture.   It’s at this time that most people want to leave.  Others get really depressed or negative.  Try like hell to keep a positive and open attitude.  It will be hard to connect with people if you seem like a loose cannon.  I know that life is a minefield of potential problems and you will completely screw up the simplest things (that you used to do without thinking in your native country).

Trust me when I tell you people may try to help, but 99% of them don’t understand what you are going through.  Trust me also when I tell you that lots of others of them flat-out don’t care.  I know it sounds bleak and you are probably asking why would anyone ever do this.  Remind yourself that you are in the middle of the ‘Adjustment Phase.’  Trust me one more time when I tell you that it will get better and it is worth it.  I repeat.  It will get better and it is more than worth it.

If you work hard to learn the culture, accept the customs, adjust and integrate, at some point things will get better (usually from six to nine months).  You will acquire a critical mass of knowledge, reach an inflection point and things will get easier.  You will start to feel like less of an idiot all the time.  Heck, you might even feel competent.  Even if you still don’t understand everything, daily tasks won’t induce the same level of anxiety.  It makes your life a lot easier and enables you to have a more balanced view of your new culture.  You will get happier and people tend to respond positively to this.  You’ll still probably make a fool of yourself (see Les Incompetents posts), but it won’t be as often.

Finally, you will enter the ‘Mastery Phase.’  It’s enriching and rewarding.  It builds your confidence and increases your understanding of the world.  You better understand and appreciate your native culture (or aspects of it anyway).  You will grow in ways you never imagined.  You have made amazing friends.  Some continue even further break through to an even deeper and richer understanding of your new culture.

Culture shock isn’t the easiest thing in the world to deal with, but since when do you get something for nothing?   It’s the price you pay for the wonderful experiences, knowledge, growth and friends.

This post is for one special person who rocks.   Hang in there.

What The Heck Is A Bidet?

Although we (unfortunately for our visitors who want to take one for a test drive) don’t have a bidet in our apartment here in Switzerland, we had one at our hotel in Prague. It occurred to me that are unfamiliar with bidets and it’s probably about time to for Bidet 101.
Until I came to Europe for the first time, I’d never heard of a bidet.  I saw this perplexing contraption between the toilet and the shower and couldn’t understand why you just wouldn’t use one or the other.
A bidet (pronounced bid-day) is a low-mounted plumbing fixture, similar in size to a toilet, or type of sink intended for washing the bits that rub together when you walk.  In other words, it’s a mini-shower for your undercarriage.

Theories about as to why Americans don’t have or use bidets:

  • They don’t come standard and cost extra money.
  • Saving water and energy (which is expensive here) isn’t as much of a priority for Americans.
  • Americans shower more frequently.
  • We don’t know how to use them.  Wikipedia says that bidet is an old French world for pony and that helps you imagine how you would use one. Without go-go gadget legs, it’s next to impossible.
  • When the Ritz Carlton hotel in New York installed bidets, the puritanical League of Decency immediately compelled their removal.  Perhaps bidets are still morally objectionable?
Now that you know how to use a bidet, it’s time to get creative.  Possible other uses for your hotel room’s bidet include:
  • Baby Bath
  • Storage – It’s useful for storing things, kind of like a medicine cabinet.  You could also store your reading material or extra toilet paper in one.
  • Wet bar – Filled with ice, it makes a great ice bucket.
  • Doggie water bowl

  • Water fountain
  • Vomitoir – It is handy for throwing up in the case of flu or food poisoning.
  • Foot bath – Soak your feet after a long day of walking
  • I’m sure Cosmo Kramer could find another use.  How do you follow up installing a disposer in the shower?  Just imagine what Kramer could do with a bidet…
  • Children’s toy? Fishing Pond?  Barbie bathtub?

Sorry, it appears that some of my suggested uses for a bidet are not permitted.
 

 

Expat 101 Lesson Six – How To Exit A Parking Lot

Before our move, this was obvious.  Drive. Pay the person.  They will lift the gate for you.  

He is in the midst of a masterful parking job, or just turning around like Austin Powers in a 400 point turn.



Land is expensive here and people want to make lots of money off of their nice parking lots.   Labor here is a bit more expensive than in the US.  Therefore, there is no attendant.   How are they going to rake in the big bucks?  



Machines.  You take the card you received when you arrived to one of these machines.  Insert cash (be careful to bring Euros with you if you go to France because they don’t always take credit).  Your ticket will be spit back out.  At the exit, insert ticket into a second machine.  It will raise the bar for you.




Under no circumstances should you tarry.  Do not under any circumstances stop to change the world’s stinkiest diaper on before putting that baby in the enclosed space of the car.  If too much time passes between when you paid, the bar will not raise.  Worse still, the machine will eat your ticket!  You will be stuck trying to explain (in a foreign language) the problem.  Trust me on this one!!!!  

Geneva Expat 101, Lesson Four – Furnishing an Apartment on a Budget

Switzerland is expensive.  Very, very expensive.  The high value of the Swiss Franc hasn’t helped (thank you Switzerland for devaluing your currency).  As a result, we have been looking for ways to get the things we need here on a budget.

We went to Ikea*.  It still seemed rather expensive, or at least more expensive than Ikea in the US.  I know that their prices are, in theory, the same worldwide.  Although I haven’t done the calculations, I suspect Switzerland is an exception to their standard pricing and is more expensive.

We tried to make our new home  organized, warm and homey. To do this on a budget, I relied heavily on brocante (secondhand). Since Geneva is such a transient community, you can get lots of nice things used.  Some of the best stores to go are Caritas, CSP and L’Armee Du Salut (Salvation Army). A few weeks back, I went to check them out with some friends. We were amazed by what we saw and all of us found “treasures”. 

Sometimes, there are extra markdowns on certain items.

 

Sadly, none of us purchased the Courvoisier cannon.
None of us purchased the mounted fish head either. It is still up for grabs. Interested?
Seriously, they have tons of whatever kind of household item you need.
They have furniture too.
Tons of it.
On the hunt for a smokin’ deal
Rugs, books and CD’s. Oh my.

Here are some places you can go to get what you need on the cheap:

  • Salvation Army (L’ Armee Du Salut) – We purchased a giant armoire here to store all of my clothes and a nice lamp (it fits Swiss plugs).
  • CSP (Centre Sociale Protestant) they are all over – I purchased a ton of flower pots here.  This is a great place to go for books too. 
  • Caritas stores are also all over – you can get just about anything here.  One day, I spent 49 CHF and came home on the tram with a table for our kitchen, a vacuum cleaner, a steamer/rice cooker, and a plant stand.  It has been a great place to get appliances.  We have gotten a hairdryer, a rice cooker, a fan and a raclette set there.
  • The classifieds on glocals.com has also been a really useful.  We were able to buy our spare bed and TV there.
  • Advertised brocante weekend sales
  • Plainpalais flea market 
*I bought Ikea’s version of the Slap Chop.  It didn’t cut anything and was a big waste of money.  He just laughed at me because I’d wanted it so badly and had been so excited about it.

Geneva Expat 101, Lesson Two – Pack A Swiss Army Knife

If only I could have packed the puppies…

I did a pretty good job packing. So far, we have had almost everything we need and it all fits in our apartment.  I have made a couple of mistakes.

I forgot to pack a can opener. When I needed one to open a can of peas fo my Indian food the other night, I realized my mistake. Luckily, we had a Swiss Army Knife. I used it to open the can and felt very Swiss.
Paramount’s Crocodile Dundee: “That’s not a knife…”
user posted image
That’s a knife! Who doesn’t love MacGygver?

Another packing mistake, I didn’t count on the oven being so small.  My baking sheets don’t really fit; they are too wide.  Oops.

Not the best photo, but trust me on this one.

Geneva Expat 101, Lesson One – How To Make Ice Cubes

I decided to start another set of semi-regular posts called “Geneva Expat 101″ with all of the little tips and tricks that we are learning while navigating life here in Geneva. Hopefully, they will prove useful to someone.

Europeans do not share our American love of the ice-cube.  Our freezer does not even come with ice-cube trays, not an ice maker, not even the trays.  

Necessity is the mother of invention. We had egg trays in our fridge.  They have come in very handy for making ice cubes as seen below.  My husband is a genius.