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.

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Geneva Auto Show

Many US cities have auto shows (Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Cleveland, Columbus, Portland, Minnesota’s Minneapolis/Twin Cities, Orange County (OC), New York, Miami, South Florida, St. Louis, Richmond, Los Angeles (LA), Seattle, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Silicon Valley).  Click here for a 2012 auto show schedule and here for a list of Motor Trend shows.  He has even been to the Detroit show several times.  I’ve never been, so I was excited to see what it was all about.  The Geneva Motor Show is held at Palexpo every March.

Last Friday, we had date night.  I picked him up after work, but didn’t tell him where we were headed.  Tickets to the Geneva Auto Show (officially known as the 82nd International Motor Show and Accessories) are half price after 4:00 p.m., so it was cheaper to go to the car show than to go to a movie!  Although we know people who spent days there, a few hours was enough time for us to hit the highlights.  He was pretty excited when he realized where we were headed and we had a really good time.

“You got cars, they got rims.” There were countless booths filled with rims.

The show isn’t just cars, there is also a hall full of accessories booths.  From rims, to tools to garage doors, to car washes, it has just about everything auto-related you can imagine.  Walking through that hall, he said it reminded him of a trade show.

These doors are made to be opened by your driver.

Since this is Geneva, there were luxury cars galore.

Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?

I loved the matte paint job.

BMW 6 Series Grand Coupe

Despite the hype about the new Bentley SUV, the only thing we liked about the car was its sweet rims. We predict you will see these on Cribs soon.

You can see their appointment to the queen in the top right corner. He liked the Aston Martins better.

The name is Bond, James Bond. Yeah, baby.

Car enthusiasts were jazzed about the new concept cars (also known as prototypes), cars made to showcase new styling or technology .  Many of them were electric.  While these are not yet on the market, they provide a glimpse into what what we’ll see in the future.

BMW i8 Concept Car

The American Car companies were there and they offered great value for the money, running much less than comparable European models.

Chinese automakers were also there.  I’ve seen several SsangYong‘s around Geneva.

Some booths offered entertainment like foosball or a simulated driving game.

He was expecting to see more models, but apparently they only hire models in evening gowns and cocktail dresses for the press days and special events. The cars were the real eye candy.  The sports cars were some of the biggest attractions; they just looked sweet.

Kids loved this car.

Many of the exhibitors restored or modified cars.  I have never seen as many flip-up doors.  It was like a giant episode of Pimp My Ride.

Some of the modifications were more useful.

You can buy cars at the auto show.  Each of us decided on the three we wanted.  His top three: Aston Martin (any of them), the Jeep Cherokee and the Tesla Sedan.

Being small, I love a small car.  I wanted a Mini and any Lotus.  Although I am sure this phrase has never been written, for my third, the Maybach edged out the Smart Car.  The champagne in the back helped sell me.

Sorry Smart, you lost by a nose. If it is any consolation, I am more likely to buy you in real life since I can’t afford a Maybach.

 

Find Everything From the Everyday To the Eclectic At Geneva’s Plainpalais Flea Market

Historically, Plainpalais was an area outside the densely populated city of Geneva where they brought the sick to avoid contagion and an epidemic.  Located close to the Old Town and a public transportation hub, Plainpalais is now used for special events like festivals, the circus and markets.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there is a large flea market, marche des puces in French, there.

There are several reasons to love flea markets.  They include:

  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love a bargain.
  • Individuality.  Having the same stuff as everyone else is just plain boring.
  • It gives you a chance to buy quality things for a reasonable price.
  • Phenomenal people watching.
  • Sustainability.  Keep something from going into the rubbish bin.  Recycle it.
  • It’s free to go walk around.  It’s a great and convenient place to meet up with some friends to walk around and chat.
  • In expensive Geneva, it is a great place to pick up some cool souvenirs for your friends and family.  When the nicest girl in the world visited, she purchased a Tastevin and some beer steins to take back to her brothers.
  • Where else are you going to buy fossils, a mounted Boar’s head or old Swiss army gear?

Plainpalais flea market is a Geneva institution and has operated since 1848.  It is not as large as those in some larger European cities.  Geneva’s wealth and highly mobile population means that it makes up for it in quality.  As Geneva is home to so many foreigners from all over the world, it has a larger number of unique items from all over the world.

Here are some of the great things you can regularly find at Plainpalais:

  • Old books,
  • CD’s

  • Kitchen gadgets;
  • Dishes and cutlery;
  • Decorative and practical household wares;

  • Furniture;
  • Antiques;
  • Paintings, posters, and other great wall art;

  • Clocks;
  • Fabric, trim, sewing machines and other craft items;
  • Records;

  • Old watches and watch parts,
  • Clothing,
  • Shoes,
  • Toys

  • Suitcases, briefcases and purses;
  • A lot of the things you could find at the dollar store;
  • 1 CHF/2 CHF boxes and 5 CHF tables;

You can also find more unique higher end pieces.  Invariably, there is a constant supply of eccentric, unusual and sometimes slightly freakish pieces (see the mounted Boar’s head above).

People begin setting up as early as 8:00 (perhaps earlier but I’ve never been there earlier than that) and continues through out the day. On days with poor weather and little turnout, vendors tend to close up shop early, as early as noon.

Most items are not marked with a price.  You pick up an item you like, take it to the person that looks like they might have set up the stall and ask “how much”?  Be ready to negotiate and have coins and small bills handy.  When I go, I don’t walk around with a Starbucks cup (at 5-7 CHF/$8-10 a pop, I don’t do that here anyway).  I carry a backpack instead of a nice purse.  Why? I like to negotiate and an expensive handbag screams “quote me a higher price.”  Haggle, negotiate, be prepared to walk away, drive a hard bargain.  Oh yeah, and have fun.

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International Run in Geneva

I found a running group that meets several times a week.  I went for a run yesterday morning and it was delightful. It was also VERY international.  I ran with people from Haiti, the UK, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Hungary, the states and Switzerland.  I’m sure there were more nationalities present, I just didn’t have time to talk to everyone about where they were from.The run was a very nice and varied run through different parts of the city.  We started at the lake, went through a park, passed fields with cows, ran around the UN (as usual, protests were in full swing), in front of embassies, by the train station and back to the lake.  It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning.

It is becoming clear that just by virtue of living here, we will be exposed to and have the opportunity to be enriched by people and things from all over the world.