Monday, September 18, 2006

Preparing myself...

...for reverse culture shock.

Today I am flying to Europe and will be traveling around for three weeks.

Reverse culture shock? For those non-expats out there (read: people to sensible to leave the comforts of their western homes), reverse culture shock is the phenomenon where people returning to their homeland feel like things are strange and backwards. I have heard many stories of this from grizzly old expat teachers... the kind of people who haven't stepped foot in their country of citizenship since the days of the Vietnam war.

I suppose I should back up and explain "culture shock" to some of you. Sure, you have all heard the term, but do you really understand it? Do you know how to recognize the various stages of it?

When most people come to another country for an extended period of time, they go through a series of rather predictable reactions. (Oh, and to clarify, I am not talking about making the move from US to England or something equivalent... I don't care what you say, that is not culture shock. I firmly believe that culture shock is directly linked to the number of still-living organisms a culture eats in its daily cuisine) Anyhow, I digress...

Stage One - During the first stage, visitors often feel excited (OMG, you can buy DVDs for $0.60) . The new country is interesting, the people are friendly and helpful, and the future looks promising. This is called the novelty stage and affects almost everyone. You can recognize these people by the frequent number of photographs they take, particularly of funny translated signs and strange foods that they are served. It should be noted that people in this stage are often mocked by people who have further progressed into culture shock (read: insanity) and are refered to as "newbies".

Stage Two - Problems! School, language, shopping — everything is difficult. Things that were simple back home require more effort in the new country (buying milk, going to the bank, telling the prostitute who works in the hotel you're staying in that you are REALLY not interested). It seems hard to make friends, and at this point, foreign visitors may begin to believe that the local people are unfriendly (read: you become certain that the only goal in their life is to screw with you). Homesickness begins (along with that annoying tick), and along with it complaints about the new country ("God damned guy walking down the street was LOOKING at me! I mean LOOKING!!! WITH HIS DAMN EYES!!! The nerve on that guy! I hate this country!!!!). This is the stage we hear referred to as "culture shock." It is also the stage where people begin to understand how wars begin.

Stage Three - Recovery. The foreign visitor begins to use the language more fluently, so communication with locals becomes easier ("I am only looking. No, I don't want that. Please leave me alone."). Customs and traditions become clearer ("I don't really have to eat everything to be polite."), and slowly the situation passes from impossible to hopeful. Minor misunderstandings which were stressful in stage 2 become manageable.

Stage Four - Stability. Eventually foreign visitors begin to feel more at home in the new country ("What the hell is that NEW foreigner doing in MY country? Who do they think they are?"). What they do not like about their new country no longer makes them so dissatisfied and unhappy (Your leg muscles have finally gotten used to squat toilets). Life has settled down, and they are now able to find humor in the situations in which they find themselves ("...and then the taxi driver parked in the middle of the highway and started chasing the guy, leaving me stuck in the car!)

Anyway, this has been a long post and I need to wrap up (I am leaving to go to the airport in the next 5 minutes). I am hoping to see how "reverse culture shock" affects me in the next few weeks. I look forward to having plenty of good posts to write about my perceptions now that I have been in China for over one year.

Alright, gotta go! I'll post later from Hanover, Germany!