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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Baby, Baby, Baby, Oh

Our friends are having a baby so a bunch of us got together for a baby shower.

Baby showers in Europe are not like in the US in that, well, they don’t have them. People may send or give a gift after the baby is born, but don’t get together to celebrate of give presents before the baby.  Since you can’t go to the stores here and purchase baby shower invitations, I made the invitations.

It was a couples shower so we focused less on games, decorations and incredible cuteness.  Instead, we had food and drinks.  I made and individually wrapped Rice Krispie Treats for favors.  Some of our European guests had never tasted them before.  We were proud to introduce them to a new guilty pleasure.

Since we are American and can only adapt so much, we had one anyway.  In deference to the multicultural nature of this shower, we did not play any of the following games:

  • Guessing the circumference of the expectant mother’s tummy
  • Smearing melted candy bars in diapers and have people sniff to guess the brand
  • Tasting jars of baby food to guess the flavors
  • Collecting baby pictures of guests, putting them in a slide show and have guests guess whose picture it is
  • Making guess drink from baby bottles. Yes, I realize this is technically not a game.  They may have drunk from other types of bottles.
  • Have guests guess how much an assortment of baby supplies costs.  In Switzerland, I think this would only scare the parents to be…and everyone else.

In fact, we didn’t play any games (unless you count the impromptu Chartreuse tasting as a game).

The parents-to-be opened presents, many of which had an adorable Swiss theme.

Congratulations and best wishes guys.  We can’t wait to meet her.

Swiss Languages, What is Romansh?

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that Switzerland has four national languages: Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansh.  Swiss German speakers make up 63.6% of the population, French speakers make up 20.4%, Italian speakers make up 6.5% and Romansh 0.5%.*  In fact, Switzerland’s diversity, particularly it’s diverse languages, is one of the primary ways it differentiates itself from its more homogeneous neighbors.

Romansh is only spoken in a few valleys in the southeastern alps, but is one of four national Swiss languages. It is a national language, but not an official language.  Therefore, it not used in Parliament, government and the army.  Also, laws do not have to be translated into Romansh.
When the Romans conquered the area in about 15 B.C.E., they latinized the area. Today’s inhabitants of the area speak Romansh, a descendant of Latin.
The area is very remote and isolated. As a result, five different versions of the language exist.   Notice the lack of roads (due to the Alps) in the southeast, where Romansh is spoken.
These are some of the largest, most easily accessible and well-known areas.  You can see how transportation and contact with the outside world might have been (and still be) difficult.
It is a unique phenomenon to have so many dialects in such a small area. In fact, Romansh is spelled many different ways including: Romansch, Rumants(c)h, Romanche, Romansh, Rumantsch, Rumantsch, and Romontsch. To help keep it alive, a standard written form was developed in the 80’s.
Check out the Romansh keyboard.  Despite my frustration with them, French keyboards are starting to look a lot easier.
*Those who add will note that this does not total 100%.  Other language speakers make up around 9%.  Expats, like us, are a good example.

 

Being An Expat Makes It A Little Easier To Be A Detroit Lions Fan

I love him.  One of the things that I love about him is his commitment.  When he commits to something, he always follows through.  He is not the kind of guy who switches to something newer, flashier or trendier once he has fallen in love with something (which bodes well for me).  As a small child, before he knew any better, he fell in love with the Detroit Lions.

The Detroit Lions have been one of the, if not the, worst franchise in all of professional sports (other articles about what a poor franchise they aremorethis one with financial info).

  • They have never made it to the Super Bowl.
  • They have only won one playoff game since 1957.
  • In 2008, they set a record by going 0-16.
  • The best running back ever, Barry Sanders, prefered to retire young rather than to continue to play for the team (and did it just short of breaking Walter Payton‘s rushing record).

When we were in North Carolina, he would get the Sunday Ticket just so he could watch the Lions play. He and his friend Steamer would watch every game (usually right at 1:00 p.m. because the Lions aren’t good enough to play later in the day).  In 9 years, I don’t think he missed more than about one game and that was when he was travelling.  He even watched every game in the disastrous 2008 season (see above).

 
Every week, he and Steamer would shout at the TV, complain about the Lions, dream of what should have been and look like someone had just kicked their dog.
In the offseason, they talk (usually with their brothers and other Lions fans) about the possibilities and potential for next season. Despite the abysmal track record, they are excited and hopeful that something will change and the next season will be good. Maybe they will be able to make the playoffs?  Even to them, a Super Bowl seems a bit unrealistic.

Yesterday, about 2:00 a.m. our time*, the Lions played the formidable New Orleans Saints in New Orleans in the playoffs.  If the Lions had won their previous game they would have had an easier game against the New York Giants.  Instead, they had to play the New Orleans Saints who won the Super Bowl in 2010 and still have some of the players from that team.  They are known to be hard to beat at home.  He was not optimistic.

Here, we are not surrounded by American Football.  If we didn’t seek it out, we could go months (or longer) without ever seeing evidence that the sport exists. This morning, the first thing he did when he got up was check the score.   After seeing the Lions lost (45-28), he did not watch the game.  Being over here spared him the game’s frustration, agony and humiliation (or at least it did until I posted this).

*Thank you to those who called at 2:00 a.m. to make sure we were watching the game.  Although we miss you, we’d spent the day falling on our butts (aka skiing).  We were sleeping like rocks and didn’t even hear it ring.  Sorry.



 

Top 10 Posts

I’ve had a lot of fun doing this blog and am surprised by how many people have checked in to see what we are up to.  Thanks.  Here are links to my top 10 most popular posts thus far:

1.     Fabulous Fabian Cancellara
2.     Proof That I Will Write About Absolutely 
        Anything
3.     Fall Fashion Trends
4.     I Love Rick Steves
5.     Expat 101 Lesson Six – How To Exit A 
        Parking Lot
6.     Driving In Switzerland
7.     Naughty Naughty, I Got A Speeding 
        Ticket
8.     B.Y.O.K. – Bring Your Own Kitchen
9.     Belgian Trappist Beers
10.   A Glorious Hike In The Shadow Of The 
        Eiger  

Here are a few of my favorites that didn’t make the above list:

He wants to be my top all time post.  Unfortunately, he cannot seem to top Fabian Cancellara and toilet paper.  I love him and he’s still tops in my book.

2011 By The Numbers

999      A conservative estimate on the number of times we have been lost (or at least taken wrong turns).

998      Pots of yummy, Swiss yogurt eaten.  I know that this number is a bit low.  We found the world’s best cottage cheese a couple of months in.  It definitely hurt our yogurt consumption.  We will try to do better next year.

45        The number of dollars paid in speeding tickets.  Astoundingly, we have gotten fewer tickets than anyone we know.  We were “lucky” enough to get ours in France so we paid it in Euros, much cheaper than tickets in CHF‘s.

40        Number (more or less) of cute pairs of heels in my closet here that have gone unworn due to large amounts of walking and heel eating cobblestones.   What has happened to me?

30        Roughly, the number of times I have been honked at while driving.  This works out to more or less one honk per drive.  Not too shabby.

17        Number of languages we can watch tv  in.  They are: French, German, Italian, English, Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, Turkish, Serbian, Bosnian, Albanian, Arabic, Dutch, Russian, Mandarin and Thai.  Unfortunately, we can only understand 1 or  2 of these.

15       The approximate number of emails he receives when I post pictures of him in      “fashionable” attire.  I get calls saying “what did you post about me because my email is blowing up”.

13       British TV Shows viewed (don’t judge): Top GearGrand DesignsWallace and GromitSnog Marry AvoidTake Me OutHow Clean Is Your House (it is extremely motivational to put on while cleaning), Horrible HistoriesGok’s Fashion Fix/Gok’s Clothes RoadshowSherlock (fantastic, a must see), Doctor WhoJamie’s Great BritianTime TeamHistory of Ancient Britain (History of Britain is better).  We did not watch the royal wedding even though there is still excessive coverage of it on British TV.

12        Countries Visited: DenmarkSwedenSpainFranceEngland, Scotland  (him), Germany (him), Belgium (me), Switzerland, South Africa, Egypt, and the United States.

11        The number of hours our jet lagged, germ filled bodies slept upon returning to Switzerland (this was followed by several lengthy naps and another long night’s sleep).

10        Tours (KarlsburgBurgundyCheese FactoryCailler Chocolate Factory,  Underground LakeTour of LondonToledo, Cullian Diamond Mine, Nelson Mandela’s Home, Soweto, unsure if safari’s count as an official tour.

9         “Exotic” foods we have eaten: bugs (South Africa), pigeon (England), crocodile (South Africa), horse (at home purchased from the local grocery store), gelatinized foie gras (France – definitely worse than the bugs), ostrich (South Africa), snails (France, bien sur), wild boar (Switzerland), quail (Spain) and duck (France).

8          The number of times he has taken the wrong train, tram or bus to and/or home from work.

7          The approximate number of times I grocery shop in a week (this includes visits to the Patisserie to buy bread).  Before our move, I prided myself on being able to get by for almost two weeks on one shopping trip.  Now that I carry everything home (and therefore buy less at a time), look for sales all over and try to buy the freshest, I have septupled my trips. Craziness.

6(ish)   Fantastic, Unforgettable, Once in A Lifetime Hikes in Switzerland: Gruyeres Cheesemaker’s Path, La Salevethe MatterhornJungfrauLavaux, many around Geneva.

5         Meals eaten out at Geneva restaurants since we moved (due to their high cost and our unwillingness to bankrupt ourselves).

4          The number of snow tires that are currently on our car (also the number of regular tires currently in storage).  Anyone ever heard of all season tires?

3          Family members who have visited; also the number of times the washing machine repairman has visited our miniscule washer.

2          Dogs given away (and are very happy with their new families)

1          Bridge jumpaerobed destroyed, and container shipped to Switzerland.




 

Some Of The Things We Learned This Year

Sorry for the poor posting lately.  We went home to the US for a bit.  Between irregular internet access and cute nieces/nephews, I didn’t update as planned.  Now, we are at home and are both sick.   Our germy, jet-lagged heinies are planted on each couch and drinking tea.

This past year has been filled with changes.  Here are some of the things we have learned:

  • Certain actors become much more bearable when dubbed in other languages.  Although I generally avoid watching David Hasselhoff like the plague, I enjoyed watching Knight Rider dubbed Spanish.
  • Seeing other ways people live has helped us to better understand American culture and how we are products of it.
  • Shockingly, not everyone is as loud and expansive as we Americans are.  When we were in the US, we were a bit overwhelmed by the size of stores, malls and parking lots.  I guess it is a sign we are adapting.
  • What my dad said is true, only boring people are bored.
  • He was always a good packer, but I have learned how to be a much better one.  I can now make it a week with only a backpack!
  • There are all kinds of different ways of communicating.   As Americans, we tend to be more direct, linear and explicit.  Others are more indirect, circular and/or implicit (putting responsibility for understanding on the listener).    People aren’t going to change for you, so you’d better learn how they express themselves so you can understand what is being communicated.
  • If someone does a bad job cutting your hair.  Do not let them be the one to fix it.  Trust me on this one.  If you expressed dissatisfaction with their work, they may bear a grudge.  If they bear a grudge, you don’t want them with scissors anywhere near your hair.
  • Try not to complain.  Regardless of whatever pickle you may be in or frustration you may have, there is always someone who has bigger problems.   What seems like a big deal at the time usually isn’t a bit down the road and you will feel like an idiot if you’ve made too big a deal about something small.
  • You can’t treat your partner too well (especially if they are one of the only people you know on the continent).
  • It makes you feel a lot better when you understand why people do things so differently.  Getting yelled at for crossing the street the wrong way becomes a whole lot easier when you understand where they are coming from.
  • My photos are improving.  Despite regular practice (due to Geneva‘s high cost of living) my cooking has not.  On side note, the war with my oven continues with no end in sight.
  • We are still working on perfect mastery of conversions, but we’ve definitely learned some conversions (metric, Celsius, currency, etc.).
  • Lots of times, we call things learning experiences because there isn’t anything more positive we can say about them.   Change is difficult and stressful, but it is also a huge opportunity to learn and grow.  Plus, change is inevitable.  You may as well learn all you can and try to enjoy yourself along the way.

 


How Fast Do You Think He Went Through This?

He is famous for his love of egg nog.  In the US, he could plow a half-gallon of it in a day. As each of these Borden containers was about $10 at the American store, I told him he needed to make them last.  They made it 4, almost 5, days.

 

Happy Thanksgiving From Geneva

At 4:30, it didn’t yet seem quite like Thanksgiving here.  First, he had to work today.  Secondly, there are no flyers from stores advertising their Black Friday deals.  Third, we haven’t done a Turkey Trot.  Fourth, we haven’t seen the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or Football on TV.  Our Thanksgiving celebration doesn’t start until this evening.  Mostly though, it was because we weren’t around family and friends.

We have a lot to be thankful for this year.  So much in fact, that there’s no way we can list it all.  Topping the list is the health of our friends and families (we are also very, very, thankful for them).  We miss you lots and wish we could share today with you.  We have a pretty good idea what you are doing over there and hope you enjoying your Thanksgiving.

I am trying to make today a bit special.  Since we did not pre-order a turkey, I had difficulty finding one (or any turkey at all).  Amazingly, they are not as big fans of the turkey as we are in the US.   He had someone tell him that it is a disgusting, horrible tasting bird.
Since I could not easily find turkey, we are celebrating with….reindeer?!?  It looks really good.  We are also having potatos with cheese and a few kinds of vegetables.  For dessert, I am making Irish Creme Brownies (just like the Pilgrims).   When I went to the American store and saw the price of Libby’s canned pumpkin (the small one was about $10), I chucked the idea of pumpkin pie.  Next year I will try to plan ahead and attempt it from a real pumpkin.

The rest of our Thanksgiving celebration is due to the magic of the internet, skyping with the US and football.  Go Lions!

By the way, send us a note on one of our personal email addresses if you want to say hi (6 hour time change).


B.Y.O.K. – Bring Your Own Kitchen

Here, “unfurnished” apartments can be a different sort of unfurnished than we are used to in the US.  There are usually no light fixtures (just bulbs with bare wires). Most of our friends have hired electricians install light fixtures. I am (a) lazy, and (b) cheap.  As a result, we still have bulbs hanging on wires.

We had to specify whether or not we would be bringing our own kitchen. Given that we were coming from the US where the voltage is different, I felt pretty confident when I stated that we would not be bringing our own kitchen.

Everything is relative.  Forget the idea of an apartment coming with a washer and/or dryer.  Sometimes, you don’t get curtain rods or toilet seats