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.
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It’s amazing how different we are, deep down.
I took the picture below at the Highline Heritage Museum. It’s really a densely packed topic, and I love how they have simplified it in a nice graphic display. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
They prefaced this image by saying that about 10 percent of most icebergs are visible above the surface, and that culture is the same way. There’s a lot of culture that’s hidden beneath the surface. Here are some of the cultural encounters I’ve had.
Body Language. In Turkey, raising your eyebrows means no. Once I mastered that, I was able to fend off many aggressive salesmen. But it never came naturally to me.
Personal Space. When I lived in Mexico, I never quite got used to how “in your face” people preferred to be. I’m sure I came off as rather distant and cold.
Self. I once dated a Maori, and his extended family was continually in his house, for weeks at a time. That would drive me nuts. I need my “me time”. I can’t be myself when I’m surrounded by so many people, but he didn’t feel like himself when he was alone.
Time. I’ve long been fascinated by the Aboriginal Australian sense of time, but try as I might, I can’t grasp it.
Animals. I’ve had many friends from many cultures who are horrified that I allow my dog in my house.
Expectations. A Hindu friend of mine once told me that we Americans expect to be happy, and are constantly disappointed when we aren’t. In other cultures, he said, no one expects to be happy, and they’re therefore pleasantly surprised when they are.
More Expectations. A friend from Spain once told me that we Americans always seem to think everything is solved with an “I’m sorry.” He was really surprised by that.
It’s amazing how different we are, deep down, one from another. The picture below really shines a light on that in a beautiful way. There’s more to individuals than the clothes that they wear and the accent they employ. It makes me really want to get to know people beneath the surface.
This may be a cultural thing, but I truly believe that an attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5
What I learned from my very first massage.
Recently, on a cruise in Alaska, I had my very first massage. At age 54. There are several reasons for this.
First and foremost, of course, is the expense. Massages are not for poor people, who usually need them the most. It’s hard to budget for this type of luxury when you are struggling to keep a roof over your head. It is only very recently that I’ve stopped counting myself amongst that number, and even now, it’s hard to get out of the habit of avoiding unnecessary expenses.
Second is the fact that I really don’t like being touched by strangers. It takes me a while to feel comfortable with that level of intimacy. Sure, once you’ve broken down that barrier, I’m all about the affection. I just couldn’t imagine having someone’s hands all over me, invading my personal space, five seconds after meeting, you know?
Third, as I described at length in my post Cruise Ship Feudalism, I don’t do well with the whole class division thing. The thought of someone laboring over me in order to make a living kind of makes me squirm. I hate being catered to. I hate being served.
Fourth is that I’ve always struggled with the concept of being pampered. I was not brought up to believe I deserved such treatment. And I’m not a girly girl. I’ve never been to a spa. I’ve never had a facial or a manicure or a pedicure. I don’t use lotions or creams or gels. I come from a background that’s all about pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and getting on with the business of living. My idea of luxury is a hot bath in a nice deep tub, followed by an afternoon nap. Now, that, I’d do 4 times a week if given the chance. I’m worthy of that, I feel, because it’s free, and it doesn’t involve strangers or servitude.
So you can imagine how much extra tension I was carrying when I went for this massage, which, by the way, I did not book myself. I didn’t know how to act or what to think. I couldn’t look the massage therapist in the eye. My first impression of her was that she was very tiny and that English wasn’t her first language. I thought that she must be lonely so far from home, and her little hands must ache at the end of the day. But that was probably me projecting my unease upon her.
In the end, she was very courteous, dignified and professional. She certainly knew what she was doing. And she used a salt scrub and hot rocks, too. When she finished working on one leg, I could do a physical comparison of the other leg, and I was absolutely shocked at the difference. I had no idea how much my stress manifests itself in physical form. Maybe I do need this. Maybe I deserve it.
In the end, I felt like I had no skeletal system at all. I was just relaxed mush. It was heavenly. They could have taken me out of there in a plastic bucket. My brain was mush, too. I was grateful that the tip is included in the fee, because at that point I wouldn’t have been able to work out what to add on.
So, yeah, that first massage won’t be my last. Maybe. Probably. We’ll see.
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