When people travel to other countries, they often speak of culture shock. I’ve experienced this myself on many occasions. But I think culture shock, in general, has an unwarranted bad reputation.
Many people think that culture shock is something to be avoided. They use it as an excuse to remain in their comfort zones and not explore the wider world. Culture shock may be a bit uncomfortable, but I believe that just as a defibrillator can get your heart beating again, a culture shock can get your brain working and nourish your very soul.
Whenever I experience culture shock, I learn something about myself and the society in which I live. It makes me realize that there are certain things that I take for granted that other people do not. It makes me look at myself differently. It makes me appreciate what I have. It makes me wonder about the things that I lack. It causes me to think about the fact that there are many different ways to live, and my way may not necessarily be the best way.
Culture shock can be something very simple, such as going into a McDonalds in the Netherlands and discovering that they ask if you’d like mayonnaise with your fries rather than ketchup. (To this day, I prefer mayonnaise. I cannot remember the last time I put ketchup on anything.)
Or it can be something huge, such as not being allowed to rent a car in Turkey until I could show the agency that I could actually drive it around the block. (I then realized that I was seeing very few women behind the wheel there. It made me really appreciate my feminist freedoms.)
It can be rather jolting, such as going from Mexico, where I was the tallest person in any room, and where their extremely close concept of personal space made me uncomfortable, and then going to the Netherlands, where I was the shortest person in any room, and where their extremely distant concept of personal space made me uncomfortable.
I always thought I was a nice person until I went to Canada, where everyone is really, really, really nice. I always feel 1,000 times fatter when I go to Europe. In Croatia, I realized that I really should take the time to relax more. Spain made me appreciate a good nap. The Bahamas made me truly get how terrifying the thought of sea level rise can be. Turkey reminded me that all of civilization is built upon past history. Hungary taught me that some past history can be rather terrifying.
I have never, ever traveled to another country without learning a great deal about myself and my place in the wider world. I genuinely believe that if more Americans traveled, they’d be a lot more open minded. This trend toward rigid, “America first” inflexibility is scary and extremely detrimental.
It breaks my heart that because of COVID-19, we’re all forced to stay closer to home. I suspect I won’t leave the country again until a vaccine is developed, and that’s frustrating because the older I get, the more I realize how little time I have left. I need the occasional culture shock to appreciate being alive.
Dear reader, my wish for you is that, in healthier times, you get a chance to be shocked by the wider world.
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