Managing Cultural Differences

Posted: August 1, 2010 in International Adventures, Musings in General
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I talked in a previous blog post and how I had bad culture shock after moving to Utah and I wanted to talk to you all today about some of the causes of culture shock and how I’ve learned that seemingly little things can cause the symptoms. And I also talk about how I have reached what is described as the ‘mastery phase’.

What are your experiences of culture shock? Have you or do you know anyone who has experienced it? What triggered the symptoms? How did you (or they) deal with it?

  1. I totally experienced culture shock moving to America From New Zealand . Like you Louise I thought being a native English speaker would make it easy but Kiwi English and American English are also very different. I have to say after being here over 13 years now I am to in the mastery stage. One thing I can still not do is order food from a drive through restaurant. For some reason my accent and drive through speakers make people think I am talking complete gibberish and you would not believe the frustration or the food I have ended up with in my 13 years.. I have found it easier to park and go in where if they do not understand me I can point to what I want.

  2. I experienced culture shock moving from the US to Germany. I didn’t understand the language, the road signs, the train system, or the warm beer. I was there for two years. I enjoyed living in Germany after the first couple of months as I began to make new friends. It was a bit of a shock to see how much things changed in the US in those two years upon my return.

  3. Ahh yes George – the old reverse culture shock. I experienced that when I returned back to the UK after working as an AuPair in Canada and Connecticut back in the 80’s. That can be just as much of a shock as culture shock. We’re going back to the UK next year for the first time in 4 years and I expect to find it strange….

    Thanks so much for your comment and I hope you’ll stop by my blog again!

  4. Was a bit of a culture shock for me when I lived in Spain for a year. Not so much when I moved to a more cosmopolitan area, but the first month or two I was in a small town up in the hills where I probably would have been lost if it wasn’t for the rudimentary Spanish I’d managed to learn both online and at a class. So much bureaucracy as well with documentation required for everything, stamped and duplicated in triplicate at least! Quite a contrast to the laid back lifestyle. I suppose the sunshine, scenery and cheap beer made it all worth while though!

    I can imagine it being worse in an English speaking country though. In a non-English speaking country I suppose a certain level of misunderstanding is kind of expected in a way. In Spain I could get away with speaking slowly, deliberately and using crazy hand signals. If I did that in the US they’d think I was a bit strange!

    Are you coming back to the UK next year? We’ll all have to meet up for a beer… I’ll get the first round in, but it might be by rebate!

    • Thanks for commenting Scott and glad you have found my coach Ann Evanston – she is a very wise woman and you should listen closely to everything she has to say.

      Yes, I think I would have struggled living up where your mum lives too.

      Yes, we are planning a trip back next year – nothing booked as yet – of course we’ll keep you informed.

      Louise Edington Childcare Coordinator Tel: 435 647 6956 Contact Me [image: Linkedin] [image: Facebook] [image: Facebook][image: Twitter] [image: WordPress]

  5. Donna McCord says:

    That is so great that you have been able to find a place of comfort and acceptance with all the “culture shock issues” that must come from moving here to America! I have never left California except for a few vacation trips, so have not really experienced culture shock to the fullest as you have; but my parents moved to Idaho about three years ago and have shared with me how they have had to adjust to a much slower life style, people shooting off guns at all times of the day and night (lots of hunters where they live!), a lack of great places to shop, a whole different mindset on everything from politics to health care, etc. They have learned to adjust, thankfully, but have actually been talking more recently about selling their home there and moving back to the West Coast!

    • Thanks for commenting Donna. Please point out that they may then have reverse culture shock when they move back as that can be as bad, if not worse, than culture shock as when people move back they expect it to be the same as when they left and it often isn’t.

      As for us, I’m glad we are in the mastery phase and can now see how much better our life is in total than back in the UK.

      Louise Edington Childcare Coordinator Tel: 435 647 6956 Contact Me [image: Linkedin] [image: Facebook] [image: Facebook][image: Twitter] [image: WordPress]

  6. Doug Crowe says:

    I spent a summer in Japan and had MASSIVE culture shock. It wasn’t just the culture, but I spoke zero Japanese!

    The differences in culture were clear as a bell, but when things were tough, I simply focused on:

    1. The common things we had. No language skills? We both used hand gestures.
    2. Embrace the differences. When there are obvious social goofs, learn to laugh.
    3. Create moments. Instead of letting life happen to you, create learning moments.

    • Thanks Doug and they are all great ways to cope with culture shock. As my brother in law Scott said it’s sometimes actually EASIER in a very different culture with a different language especially if you aren’t there permanently as you expect it to be so different. It’s the little things that got me with this move that surprised me and made it more difficult. Saying that culture shock can strike anyone when they least expect it.

  7. Beth Gabriel says:

    What a great blog site! I deal with cultural shock everyday living in Las Vegas. As much as I try to normalize it here, there are daily reminders about how different it is: slot machines in the super market, mobile billboards announcing “babes to you” and that kind of thing. Also, it feels a little like living on a space ship with everything brought in including water! My husband makes a good living here, though, and surprisingly we have found good schools and enough people that are committed to making this home that it’s okay. We also get away a lot1

    • Hmm yes Beth, think I’d struggle with Vegas. Here we have the dominant religion thing going on to which makes it an almost complete opposite to Vegas but both ends of the spectrum can be hard to deal with. It just goes to show that if we try we can all find a way to live in the place we end up i though :0

      Louise Edington Childcare Coordinator Tel: 435 647 6956 Contact Me [image: Linkedin] [image: Facebook] [image: Facebook][image: Twitter] [image: WordPress]

  8. The biggest culture shock I experienced was when I was working as an attorney and I dealt with a large number (of the then Soviet Union) immigrants. These were older men and women, most of them doctors, lawyers or engineers in their countries but who came here for religious freedom. I worked with them on disability issues, mostly emotional. They were very depressed, primarily from cultural shock (and obviously missing their homes). But their cultural shock was based on walking into a supermarket here and seeing everything on shelves, readily available. They came from places where they had to stand in line for hours for a loaf of bread. Having everything here made their entire lives there seem ultimately worthless, so why bother, thus the depression? Interesting to note that their kids who came with them became ‘American’ with no trouble (and they didn’t understand their parents which only increased the problems).

    I’d also love for you to do another post on the connection between culture shock and ‘the ugly American’ syndrome. When I came back from a year of traveling all over South America, I experienced cultural shock just being in the airplane with all the tourists returning from S. America and all they were doing was complaining about the problems they had on their trips because it was so different than the US. That really bothered me (having spent a wonderful year getting to actually know people) because I know they exhibited that same attitude in the places they visited. I just wanted to shake them!

    • Oh Candace, I can see how that would be so very difficult for the Eastern Block immigrants. Also many of them wouldn’t be able to work in their former careers I’m guessing?

      Oh I can do a post on that syndrome easily! I just don’t want to offend anyone in my chosen land so will have to think about how I write that. Thanks for the great idea!

      Louise Edington Childcare Coordinator Tel: 435 647 6956 Contact Me [image: Linkedin] [image: Facebook] [image: Facebook][image: Twitter] [image: WordPress]

  9. Love the video…I was tempted to record my response. I lived in Greece for a few years after college and was in complete culture shock almost the entire time. In addition to the language, there were little things that tripped me up at every turn. Things like when it was appropriate to call (not between 2-5pm, they’re napping) and when dinner was typically served (10pm) and when they went out (not till midnight). I found living abroad challenging and invigorating everyday.

    I think one of the best ways to open up your mind is to live somewhere else. Whether it is the next state over or the next country over. Immersing yourself in a new culture or even one where they do things just a little bit differently will illustrate what unique and astounding beings we all are.

    • Oh yes Darcie! There are so many good things about going and living in another culture and, ultimately I love the challenge of our moves. I did find this move more difficult for a variety of reasons and still find Utah particularly challenging at times. Strangely enough though we talked about moving States briefly and decided the good well outweighs the odd bad thing now so we’re staying (for now)

      And a video response would have been awesome! Ann would have loved that 😉

      Louise Edington Childcare Coordinator Tel: 435 647 6956 Contact Me [image: Linkedin] [image: Facebook] [image: Facebook][image: Twitter] [image: WordPress]

  10. Nice work, again, Louise!
    Atticus and I have experienced culture shock right here in the U.S. I grew up near San Francisco, in a lovely little town close to the city and ocean, with an entrepreneurial spirit and liberal leanings. I spent a number of years on an island off Seattle, which was a bit of culture shock, as, to go anywhere, you had to get on a ferry (island resources are limited).

    But, we didn’t experience true culture shock until we moved back to California, to the Sacramento Valley. While we are only 2 hours drive away from the Bay Area, where I spent most of my life, it feels like we are a million miles away! The Bay Area is a tolerant, liberal and intellectual region, with excellent universities, world class museums, the hub of high-tech growth, and a mecca for civil rights activists. Where we live now is, well….quite the opposite. Sure, we’ve met some fine folks here (especially at our local dogparks), and Sacramento has some wonderful attributes as a Capital city, but the political and religious views by the majority in my new area, are the antithesis of what we believe. So, it’s been a really tough adjustments… Go figure– culture shock 120 miles from home!

    • I totally get that Heidi! I didn’t want to rant on and on about the things I find difficult in Utah but let’s just say you and I are VERY alike politically and regards religion so I’m sure you can imagine – lol. That’s why I said I didn’t think it was only people moving countries who experience it. We learn to deal with it though thanks heavens

      Louise Edington Childcare Coordinator Tel: 435 647 6956 Contact Me [image: Linkedin] [image: Facebook] [image: Facebook][image: Twitter] [image: WordPress]

  11. I have lived in the same city for almost my whole life, except for about three months. When I first got married we moved to be closer to my husband’s job and my college and, oh my gosh, it was awful.

    I grew up saying, as did everyone else I knew, “When I’m old enough, I’m out of this small town!” After those three months, we moved back quickly. Our new neighborhood and area was dirty and a little scary. Not many of our neighbors spoke English and often they would just stare. I was only 20… I was uncomfortable in the grocery store, uncomfortable walking around the apartment complex alone, and OMG I don’t even want to talk about the bugs.

    I wasn’t in another country or even another state … Sometimes culture shock can be a surprise as I never thought I’d experience it just moving 30 minutes away. It made a big difference in the way I viewed and lived my life.

  12. Dear Louise, coming to America, from South Africa over twenty years ago, was really a smack upside the head. No one understood my english, my accent, my humor. I was blown away by the casualness of many people I met. People who would share their most intimate details with a perfect stranger (yes I was nearly perfect even then!) and used throw away lines like we must get together and not mean a word. Of course I started out in Los Angeles. I loved the music scene and the opportunity to reinvent myself. Seeing places I had only glimpsed in movies was fascinating. Realizing that American movies were based on the American culture and that the language meanings and mores were totally foreign to me was shocking, eye opening. Going back home to visit made me realize that you can never go back home really. You always take it with you. Neither fish nor fowl. I have finally found myself – the two selves have merged as one. Mastery magic indeed.

    Jennifer Duchene
    Your Home Makeover Mixtress blending cool & Cozy Style.

    • Oh I have always loved seeing movie scenes in real life and I love the States – mostly :). I don’t get that ‘together’ thing though – really, really weird I also find that a lot of Americans (in Utah at least) just ignore the question if the answer is no as they just don’t want to give you a no.
      Having lived twice in the US though I have to say that I respond well to the culture of reinvention and of ‘finding’ oneself/self help or whatever you might call it. I seem to soak it all up and learn to be a more spiritual happy being in this country.
      On another note – I didn’t know you are South African – learn something new every day. I have a South African AuPair in my group here – a zulu.

  13. The very first time I experienced culture shock is when I went to college in Columbia MO at an all women’s college. I was a theater major and we had summer theater in Okiboji Iowa between the two towns it became obvious people we not accustomed to being around people of color. People would often ask if they could touch my hair (it makes sense if you never been around an African American before you might be curious about the hair). I pretty fair skinned & a summer tan makes me look more Hispanic which confused many. I also remember when in Okiboji the town folks would follow us around because they had never seen African Americans. What was most difficult for me is not being able to find hair care products.

    I envy all of those of you who have been able to live abroad. I hope to live in Italy or Spain in the near future.

    Lisa Ann Landry – Corporate Trainer – Unleashing the Genie!

    • Wow that must have been a strange experience. I confess myself that when I was young we lived in Northern Ireland for a while and the only people of color we saw were the occasional soldier. A little bit of staring went on but no following around that I remember. Funny to look back to those days. I’m glad the world is changing (slowly)! Thanks for showing my point that culture shock can happen to any of us for many reasons.

  14. Jean Bentley says:

    I was in the U.S. Marine Corps so I experiences culture shock more than once but the one that stands out was moving to Japan. Goodness, didn’t speak the language, had no idea what most of the stuff that was being sold in the grocery store was. Thankfully we could shop on base. One time we were taking the train to Hiroshima and went to to donut shop. Should be safe right, WRONG!!! I have no idea what the donut was filled with it didn’t stay in my mouth for long. Ugh! Still makes my throat tighten up over 25 years later. The worst part was Christmas. Our family was big on Christmas and I missed them most during the holiday season and to me it was so sad that to the people I lived around, it was just another day!

  15. I’ve loved reading all of the comments and responses regarding culture shock. Isn’t it amazing that we can experience it 10,000 miles from home or just a few miles away. Even changing radio stations can bring me up short sometimes.

    Thank you for inspiring such a lively and thought provoking exchange.

    • Thank you! I’m quite amazed and pleased at the response this post got as it’s a topic very close to my heart. Nice to know those of us that have encountered it are not alone! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

  16. Laine D says:

    Hi Louise,
    Video blogging – oh you brave thing! Very warm and friendly especially when dealing the terrors of culture shock.
    Like you I’m a Brit (Scot) living in the US (Arizona – can’t get much different from the UK) and I’ve lived all over but the two funniest episodes occurred:
    When I moved to Kunsan, Korea to be with my new USAF pilot husband. I was one of the few women on base, and the only Brit surrounded by Americans & Koreans. What was it Churchill said two countries divided by a common language! No a Jumper is not a dress, its a sweater! Teaching English as a foreign language helped until we came across those different words Purse/Handbag, Petrol/Gas. Koreans also have a fascination for fair skin and fine hair and my students would constantly stroke me.

    The other time was when I moved from NW of England where my family lived to Edinburgh … Amazingly I needed a translator and was literally left at the side of the road on more than one occasion because I didn’t catch what was said. One phrase that cracked me up was “Da ken him, aye I’ve clapped his deg” , which despite evidence to the contrary is quite benign and none sexual ~ it means “Do I know him, yes! I’ve patted his dog”

    After living here 13 years I’m still unable to order water or butter without a quizzical look ~ even in an Oriental or Greek restaurant but I know have my children ask for me.

    I find the world is largely friendly and if you make the effort then most people will overcompensate to help. Of course there is always the odd xenophobe but they have them everywhere. Always nice to hear an accent that I understand without subtitles though and who understands my pop culture references. Just who is Chachi and PeeWee Herman anyway?

    • Laine! No wonder I couldn’t get a word in on our call last night – you and Patricia write the longest messages and speak the same too – lol.
      You’re bit about Scotland made me laugh and reminded me of when we moved to Londonderry in Northern Ireland. A boy came to the door and said ‘wan an tatties?’ in a very strong Derry accent. My Dad finally figured out he was offering to sell us potatoes…..
      Yes, I agree the world is largely friendly but it still can have it’s moments living in a different culture – and I asked for wadder the other day – nooooo

  17. Interesting take on culture shock. Yep, it can occur from region to region, state to state and even within the same state and city.

    Louise I also agree that rebates suck and the health care system – well it’s the health care system.

    What I’ve learned about culture shock is that acceptance helps. Immersing myself in the positive aspects of the new culture helps also. And finally that there are some cultures that I may never fully enjoy.

    • Thanks Bill and you are right looking at the positive and acceptance are the key to coping with culture shock. And there are some cultures I think I would not even like to try -lol. Thanks for commenting.

  18. As a native New Yorker, I experienced a culture shock going to Utah too. The melting pot of the US is kind of “chunky” so you find pockets everywhere. 🙂

  19. Bruce Barone says:

    I haven’t really moved around much; New Jersey, Massachusetts. Now I feel rather sad; I wish I had experienced culture shock!

  20. […] skinflints, tippers, ugly americans, ugly people 0 After I wrote my a blog post on managing cultural differences I received a comment from Candace C. Davenport who I met through Blogger Monday with Ann Evanston. […]

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