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.

Bellinzona’s Churches

 

Bellinzona is probably Switzerland’s most Italianate town.  Therefore, it is not surprising that it has tons of churches.  Being the idiot that I am, I was still surprised that such a small town had so many.  Being a trading center, Bellinzona drew people from all over, including religious folk.   There are many churches and convents in the area.  The local tourist office has even developed a walking tour that covers some of the highlights.

Piazza Collegiata (also known as Piazza Grande) is one of Bellinzona’s center squares, When you step into Piazza Collegiata, your eyes are drawn to its elegant, imposing Renaissance church.  Its rich baroque interior is incredibly ornate.  Perhaps because it isn’t very large, the Collegiata dei Ss. Pietro e Stefano somehow manages to be intimate, even cheerful.

Dating from 1424, was largely rebuilt by Tommaso Rodari from Maroggia.  He was the master builder of Italy’s Como Cathedral.   Just around the corner, toward the path to Montebello, you pass ancient church buildings.

The 14th century oratory of San Rocco is known for its frescos of St. Christopher and the Virgin Mary with Christ.  These frescos are 20th century restorations, but the Chiesa di San Biagio has some originals.  The Church of San Biagio in Ravecchia, known as the red church, also has frescos.

The walk from Castello di Montebello to Castello di Sasso Corbaro provides a stunning view of the Chapel of San Sebastian (Chiesa San Sebastiano).  On a hilltop with the alps derriere and the vineyards in front, it is sunning.

 

Fascinating Dubai

Before going to Dubai, I’d heard things like:

  • Dubai is like no other city on earth.
  • It is, or at least prior to 2008, it was the world’s fastest-growing city.
  • Dubai is Las Vegas on steroids.
  • Nobody ever went to Dubai in search of understatement.
  • It is glitzy, glamorous, spectacular and over-the-top, with more flash than class.

While the amount of consumerism there is astounding.  It is much more than that.  It is a city of contrasts with remarkable diversity.  It is futuristic and I found it fascinating.

Some of the things that fascinated me about Dubai are:

  • It is a city full of contrasts, from rich to poor, the religion and the hedonism, the large and small-scale of business, the man-made islands and the ancient trading on dhow boats both on its waters, the Orlando style buildings contrast with the imaginative skyscrapers…

  • Dubai has an incredibly rich cultural make-up.  I don’t know if I’ve been a city where I heard more languages spoken on the streets.  From its visitors to residents to influences, it has incredible ethic diversity.
  • Dubai’s shopping is a metaphor for its incredible cultural and economic diversity.  It has both designer boutiques and old-style souks.
  • A sea of skyscrapers and five-star hotels, are visible from the edge of the old town with it labyrinth-like streets and wind towers.

  • The traditional Emiratis  make up about 12% of the population and guard citizenship closely. They are typically extremely wealthy, but the town was built on the backs of a huge working-class population predominantly from the Indian subcontinent and from less prosperous areas of the Gulf.

Before the discovery of oil in the 1950’s, there was very little development in Dubai it was a fishing and trading outpost.  They didn’t even have an organized educational system.   By the 1960’s, it became a small, traditional, gulf trading center.  Thanks to petroleum money, it modernized.  It’s leader’s vision and ambition caused Dubai to remake itself and modernize differently than other states in the region.

In some ways, Dubai didn’t have a choice.  They were running out of oil.  Realizing this, Sheikh Mohammed, set about planning for the future without oil  He diversified the Dubai economy to create new employment and income streams as soon as possible .

Essentially, Dubai worked to establish itself as the regional economic hub, then a transportation hub, finance hub, tourist hub, property hub, and architectural hub.  To do this they have tackled infrastructure, water, transportation, education, culture and even religion in an incredibly strategic manner.  They spent massive amounts of money, but have accomplished the majority of their goals.  Whether you agree or not with their approach and its consequences for the workers and/or the environment, etc., what they have accomplished is impressive.

Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers

Aix-en-Provence

Provence is windy.  During our trips to Provence, we saw a large number of wrought-iron bell towers.  Produced in Provence since the 16th century, they are unique to the region.   Once I saw my first one with The Luger on our trip to Avignon, I noticed them everywhere.

Near Les Baux

Their light and open framework allows the area’s strong winds, Le Mistral, to blow through them instead of blowing them over.  Their sound carries for miles.  They usually top the town hall or church, but can even top  a rampart gate.  Many of the towers have a strong Italian influence (which isn’t too surprising given Provence’s proximity to France and considering parts of the Côte d’Azur belonged to France at one time).

Vaison-la-Romaine

Aix-en-Provence

from the highway

Near Pont du Gard

The bellowers date from different eras, but most were built in the 17th and 19th centuries.  They were typically produced by local craftsmen.  Each designed and crafted the tower in their own particular style.  As a result, they vary dramatically in style.  Cool huh?

City Hall in Aix-en-Provence

St-Paul-de-Vence

On the way to Gap

Euguisheim, The Cutest Town In The World?

He declared Euguisheim, France the cutest town in the world.  We’ve seen a lot of cute towns recently (we even have two cute towns categories on the blog).  He made a bold statement and declared Euguisheim the cutest.  While I wasn’t ready to declare it the winner, I couldn’t name anything cuter.

France has 32,000 villages that dot its countryside.  The association “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (The Most Beautiful Villages of France), they are dedicated to sharing French history and culture.  Its 156 member towns try to make their towns as beautiful, charming and flower-filled as possible.  If you want to see stereotypical and picture perfect French towns on your vacation, check them out (you can search by name, region or on the map).

Euguisheim is one of “The Most Beautiful Villages of France.”  The words “picturesque” and “pleasant don’t begin to do it justice.  The cheery flowers decorate the colorful timber framed houses.  The cobblestoned streets add authenticity and its pedestrian center is peaceful.  Captivating storks nest on the church spires and soar overhead.

Euguisheim is easy to navigate.  Its streets form concentric circles around its central chateau.  It’s not that large.  You might want to get lost here, but you won’t.

If the enchanting atmosphere isn’t enough, you can always enjoy the wine.  Euguisheim is proud of its moniker “the cradle of Alsatian wine.”  People have grown grapes for wine around Euguisheim since Roman times.  Surrounded by vineyards, there are several tasting rooms in town.

Although Euguisheim is cute, I think this little guy might be cuter.   I spent almost as much time petting this four-month old Bernese Mountain Dog/Border Collie mix as I did taking pictures.  I fell in love.

His owner sold me one of these pretzels.  Le Yum!  What a great day!

A Two-Minute Tour Of Antwerp

He worked the morning after the Groezrock Festival.  With afternoon flights, we didn’t have much time to enjoy Belgium.  Regardless, he wanted to see a little something on the way to the airport and we had to transfer trains in Antwerp.  He’d never been before and wanted to check it out.  We got off the train, headed to the tourist information office for a map and headed on a whirlwind walking tour of Antwerp.

Antwerp’s famous zoo is immediately outside the grand train station.  The diamond district and the Antwerp Diamond Museum are also there (Antwerp is the world’s main center for cutting and polishing diamonds).  It was an easy walk through the main shopping district to the old town.  It was a nice walk although I would have preferred a stroll and window shopping to hoofing it.  Antwerp is trendy and has tons of shops from all over.  You could spend a lot of time and money shopping there.

It was a gorgeous day and everyone was trying to take advantage of the wonderful weather.  It is in Belgium after all.   They looked like they were having a delightful time.  Passing tons of cafes, fry places, praline shops, we soooooo wanted to stop.

Unfortunately, this was the closest we got.  We had to keep moving, see the city and catch a train to get to the airport.   There was no time.  Curses!

If you look hard at the top of this picture, you can tell that only one of the two planned towers was completed. You can see it in some of the photos below.

Instead of having a wonderful Belgian beer, we went to church.  The Cathedral of Our Lady was old and pretty with a lot of paintings that we didn’t have time to properly appreciate.  They have a fair number of works by Peter Paul Rubens (whose house/studio in Antwerp is now a museum), as well as paintings by artists such as Otto van VeenJacob de Backer and Marten de Vos.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Next on the list, the Grote Markt.  It’s a jewel of a main square.  It has the Brabo fountain which has a statue of a guy throwing a hand.  I’m not kidding.  Check it out.

According to legend, a mean, nasty giant controlled the nearby river traffic.  He extorted ridiculous tolls and cut a hand off hose who refused to pay.  Silvius Brabo, a Roman soldier, managed to kill the giant by cutting off his hand and throwing it in the river.  Wonderfully ornate guild houses in the Flemish Renaissance style surround the square.

Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe.  I would have loved to sit and watch the river traffic.  We could see workers readying boats for river cruises.   I think you could spend a nice afternoon strolling the river walk or taking a cruise.  Instead, we headed back to the train station.

Heading back to the train station, we passed The Steen.  Unfortunately, this is all we got to see of t’Steen, what remains of Antwerp’s old castle.  All in all, it was a wonderful little detour.  Although there were a lot of things we didn’t get to see and do in Antwerp, we are lucky to have been able to see the things we did, especially on such a nice day.

Oh yeah, we saw a Spartan too.  Rock on.

Fancy A Turbosieste? Powernap National Day in Switzerland

I have been remiss. I let a Swiss holiday pass without so much as a word.  My apologies. In my defense, until a few days ago, I wasn’t even aware that Turbosieste National Day existed.  For those of you who don’s speak French, it means “National Powernap Day”.   What a holiday!

How do you celebrate Turbosieste ( aka Turboschlaf in German and Turbosieste in Italian) National Day?  Powernapping in public places.

Powernapping in private is also a common and acceptable (and common) means of celebrating.  On March 14, 2012 from 2:00 – 2:15 p.m. everyone in Switzerland was asked to stop what they were doing for a 15 minute nap!

Driving can be dangerous and is even more so on the steep and windy roads that cut through Switzerland’s mountains.  Driver fatigue is the cause of 10-20% of the accidents here. To prevent driver fatigue and avoid accidents, the Swiss launched a public service campaign.  It encourages pulling off to the side of the road to nap when tired.

I’m not sure that people would feel safe sleeping roadside or at a rest area in the US.  Michael Jordan‘s father was famously murdered while napping at a rest area in the US.  However, Switzerland is quite safe and there isn’t much danger of being robbed or killed roadside.  It is the number one country for the powernap (yet another reason to come visit).

Click here  for a short video about the Turbosieste on YouTube.

 

Cozy Yet Elegant Megève

The Rothschild’s developed Megève as an alternative to St. Mortiz in the 1920’s.  It’s high end, filled with pretty people, money and stylish places to spend it.  The center of the village is medieval, but don’t start thinking Megève is quiet, sleepy and/or antiquated. There are stylish modern boutique hotels and chalets that look like they were decorated by Axel Veervoordt.  Gourmet restaurants (many rated in the Michelin Guide), chic watering holes and hip clubs abound.  Non-skiers can shop ‘til they drop at upscale boutiques, visit the spa or hit the casino.  If you want to take a nap then rip it up apres ski, this is a good place to do it.

A pedestrian friendly atmosphere dominates Megève and the streets practically invite you to stroll through them.  You can walk from town to the lifts.  Snow melt forms a small river that meanders its way through the village.  In its center is the main square with its traditional church belfry.

While we didn’t see any of the famous horse-drawn sleighs, we were able to see signs of them.  Ski slopes, chalets and around forty active farms surround Megève, adding both character and fresh culinary delights.

 

Mount Blanc At Sunset And Sunrise

In Courmayeur, we saw Mt. Blanc from the Italian side.  Our hotel near Mageve, had a beautiful view of it from the French side.  We were in an area known as the “Pays du Mont Blanc”.  Translated, it means the country of Mt. Blanc.  It is a group of villages and resorts perched along valleys at the foot of the Domes de Miage, the Aiguille du Bionnassay and the east side of Mont Blanc.  It is on the bordering Haute Savoie and the Savoie regions/departments of France.  Megeve, St Gervais and Les Contamines are located in the “Pays du Mont Blanc”.

The area has wonderful views of the Mont Blanc Massif.  I don’t know if I will ever get used to panaromas like this.  I kept running out on the balcony to snap pictures as the light changed.  Quel beaute!  Quel joie!

The Road Through The Alps Into Switzerland’s Lötschental Valley

 

Last weekend, we went to Wilder, Switzerland to see the Tschäggättä and Carnival parade. Wilder is located in the Swiss Alps in the Lötschental Valley.  It is one of the most remote places in Switzerland.  It remained largely cut off from the outside world until the beginning of the 20th century.

 

Courtesy of Mappery.com

 

Even then, the valley remained remote and difficult to reach, especially during the winters. It was so isolated that in the 1932, Dr. Weston Price, an American dentist, went there to find cultures relatively untouched by the modern world.  He included it in his book of nutritional studies across diverse cultures, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.   At the time, some towns in the valley were accessible only by footpath.

 

 

When Switzerland built a road into the valley, they did it with typical Swiss quality and precision.  It is built into a steep gorge and hugs the side of the mountain.  You can see the road climb up the mountain until it disappears into it.

 

 

We saw the first bit of snow and ice at the first curve.  Coming out of that turn, you hug the edge of the road.  If you aren’t the driver, the views are fantastic (even if the drive is a bit hair-raising).

 

 

The road zigs and zags up the mountain.  Switchbacks abound.

 

 

Switchbacks are courtesy of Google Maps

 

Looking at the map, you can (1) all the switchbacks, and (2) why I am glad that I wasn’t the driver.

 

 

Surprisingly, there are cute roadside picnic spots sprinkled along the way.

 

English: Alpine Ibex near Lauchernalp (Lötsche...

English: Alpine Ibex near Lauchernalp (Lötschental), Switzerland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Since this is Switzerland, there are tunnels and covered areas to protect the roads from impassability due to snow.  As you climb back into the valley, the dates on the exterior of the tunnels becomes progressively more recent.

 

 

When we exited the tunnels, we thought the road had been reduced to one lane because the road narrowed.  We were wrong.  Although it may have been slightly more narrow due to the snow, traffic continued in both directions.  There just wasn’t much room for you to put a road.

 

 

We were rewarded for long drive with a fantastic festival in a stunning setting.  It is well worth the effort to get to Wilder.

 

 

We were lucky the weather (and roads) was clear.  In 1999, around 1,000 avalanches crashed down Switzerland’s mountains.   The  Lötschental Valley is an avalanche hot spot.  That year, avalanches made the road impassable and cut the valley off from the outside world.  Tourists and people with health problems were helicoptered out while locals and food were flown in!