Culture Shock

Culture shock has an unwarranted bad reputation.

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.


Enjoy my random musings? Then you’ll love my book!



Letting People Be

Now that I’m residing in the wild and whacky world that is Seattle, I’m surrounded by diversity the likes of which I’ve never experienced before. I’m not just talking about different races and cultures. I’m talking about different lifestyles. On any given day, I can cross paths with a man with bright purple dreadlocks down to his ankles, a woman wearing a witch hat, cross dressers of every stripe, people who will only eat raw vegetables and call you a murderer if you don’t follow their lead, free love activists, and couples who host cuddle parties.

I love this diversity. I revel in it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But I have to be honest. There is a tiny little part of me that feels awkward in these situations. It’s way out of my comfort zone. These are encounters I would never have had in the conservative cultural backwater of ignorance that is Northeast Florida.

I had no idea how sheltered I was until I came to Seattle. Actually, “sheltered” is not the right word. That implies that I was being protected from bad people. It’s more like I was closed off. Shut away. I now totally understand why Florida is such a red state. They don’t know any better. It’s hard to have an open mind when you spend all your time in a tiny little room with no windows, culturally speaking.

Here in Seattle, I seem to be growing up. I’m learning to relax that Florida muscle that instinctively tries to force people into neatly ordered cubby holes. I’m learning to let people be. I have no idea why that should be so hard, but a lot of people have trouble with it.

So, yeah, all this is new to me. And there’s a little squirmy feeling I get inside sometimes because of it. But you know what? Bring it on! I welcome the squirm if it means I get to see the wider world in all its exciting variations.

I feel like I’m seeing the universe in color for the very first time. A little scary. A little unexpected. But oh, how beautiful it is!

[Image credit:]

Transplanting your Roots

I have always envied people with familial roots–People who have lived in the same house or farm or town for generations, people with relatives right down the street, people with family plots in the local graveyard. Roots imply stability and history and solid foundations that the rest of us, of a more nomadic bent, simply do not have.

As much as I love to travel, experience different cultures, take in varied vistas, and eat new foods, there is something very comforting about coming home after a long trip to sleep in one’s own bed. Home sweet home. I can only imagine that this feeling is compounded when everything and everyone around your home place has been there your entire life.

As people become more uprooted and relocate for work and families become more scattered, it is important to make extra efforts to preserve your connections. Wherever you may find yourself, you can always maintain ties by taking the time to observe traditions.

Traditions are intertwined with roots. Whether they are cultural or religious or simply something one’s family has always done, even if the reasons for these traditions have been lost over the years, these rituals help form a solid connection between you and the place that is at your very core. Traditions can be transported to new locations, and often take on increased significance with distance.

So light a candle, do a dance, cook a meal, or say a prayer. Carry your home within you.

roots4 Xavier Cortada

What’s Your Motivation?

The other day I watched an old Twilight Zone episode that never fails to make me cry. It’s called “Time Enough at Last” and (spoiler alert!) It’s about a Walter Mitty type guy who works at a bank, but his true love is reading. Every day at lunch hour he sneaks down into the vault and reads. At home his shrew of a wife berates him for reading. One day, he’s on his lunch break in the vault, and the world is completely destroyed by an H bomb. He of course, survives as he’s in the vault. He crawls out, surveys the wreckage, discovers he’s all alone, despairs, for a while, then finds a library and realizes that he’ll be able to cope after all, because he’ll be able to read. He settles in, as if for a long winter’s nap, and at that moment his coke bottle glasses fall off his face and shatter. And that’s when he realizes he’ll never be able to read again. That’s when I cry.


I used to think I was crying because I love to read, too, and can’t imagine a life without books. While that still holds true, I now know that the reason for my tears is something deeper. We all have a reason for being. For him, it was reading. For you it might be discovering a new type of orchid or making the perfect wedding cake. It’s different for all of us, and no reason is superior to any other. But I believe that until you know what your reason for being is, you can’t truly live a full life. Without your purpose, you have no motivation.

My reason for being is travel. It has to do with this family trait called “Enthusiosity” that I’ve blogged about previously. I was born to find out what’s beyond the next horizon. I want to know how people in different cultures live their daily lives. When I travel, I am truly alive. I’ve been to 18 countries so far, and have explored a great deal of my own. Circumstances have made it impossible for me to travel in the past 4 years, and that’s my own private version of hell on earth. I can only hope things will improve in the future. But at least I know my purpose. That’s a starting point.

You have to have a starting point to run the race of life. Ready. Set. Go!