I guess that’s why they call it shock, because it feels like. . .
It’s hard to say. Other than your whole body is involved. Every sense is taken aback, put in it’s place. From the delectable tastes to the smells. And the sounds. The rain patters in a different dialect. White noise of crowds is even more indiscernible and now slightly off-putting. The reason culture shock is so powerful is because we so often feel immune to it. We think that we’ve seen it all. Nothing can phase us. And that is exactly when it does.
Since I was a child I always had an image of a Japanese airport in my mind. Looking back now I know that this airport was really a place to store stereotypes that I was accumulating as a misinformed Western youth. The place was full of neon colors and you could find anything you wanted in this or that vending machine. It was extravagant. For some reason there was an excessive amount of conveyor belts as well. My stereotype of Japan never left he airport. For some reason I never really imagined what it would be like there.
Getting off of the plane at Tokyo Narita Airport the most shocking thing was that it looked like every other airport I have ever been in. Sanitized seats, walls, floors. Brightly lit. Something of a dull drone was delicately draped over the excitement of being in a new place. But perhaps that was the remnant from 12 plus hours in planes.
The language divide is different. When traveling in a country of other Romantic speakers there is an underlying commonality. Signs, while ambiguous can still at least be sounded out. This is not the case in Japan (although there is a fair amount of Latin alphabet usage in public spaces). You look at a sign with symbols, and can recognize it as that, but only that.
It makes me wonder, above and beyond human nature, what are shared commonalities between cultures; and how much off my culture do I carry with me despite my personal attempts to delineate from it? I find myself critical of my culture often, sometimes in the realm of hyper-critical. To find flaw within your culture and voice it is no different then to notice you don’t like the way the furniture is arranged at home. I have reached the point in conversations multiple times where someone will reproach my critical nature and say something akin to “well if you don’t like it so much maybe you should move to (insert far-off sounding country here).” I’m not sure if this is because I’m being a little too worrisome about where the sofa is, or if they are too attached to it’s location. Either way, culture, and our attachment or aversion to it, is a very divisive topic.
Maybe what is most shocking is the realization that I am so deeply ingrained in, and attached to, my culture, despite my criticism.
It isn’t because people are different from place to place. They actually aren’t. Leather bags, food and water goes in, excrement comes out, that’s about it. It’s what they do that varies. It is what they do, and how they do it that will make your eyes widen at the sight of the same food you’ve eaten a hundred times at home, change the smell of a city from acrid to intriguing, and even make the call of a bird sound that much different. Almost like it has an accent.
When was your worst case of culture shock? How do you manage it when it occurs?
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