Dealing with Culture Shock

Shock is ‘the sudden feeling of being confused, upset, or surprised.’ Culture shock, then, happens when someone goes to a place with a culture very different from there own, and feels shocked by it, perhaps unable to adjust right away.

An example: ‘My friend went to India and had serious culture shock.’

So, I’ve been living in China for the last four years, and I’ve just come back to America. So far, it’s been really intersting, and generally I’ve been enjoying it, but I have a serious case of REVERSE culture shock, which is culture shock upon coming back to one’s own country. Arriving here, in some ways, feels like coming for the first time.

Here are the things which have shocked me most about being back in America:

1 – Bread! Bread, everywhere!

The first thing I noticed upon arriving in America is that practically every restaurant, cafe and small store has sandwiches, or something with bread in it. People here seem to eat bread for every meal. It’s a bread party.

How I’ve handled it:

I eat a lot of Mexican food, because Mexican food has rice, which is what my stomach is used to (it’s similar to Chinese food in some ways). I also find myself buying a lot of fruit and salads. It’s not that I’m trying to be healthy; it’s just that, often, there’s no other choice (BESIDES BREAD!)

I often ask myself, ‘How did I live 21 years of my life eating this food everyday?’

2 – A lot of things are expensive

Want to stay at a cheap hotel? $100

Want to have lunch? $50 (+$10 tip)

Need to pay your cellphone bill? $200

Need to go to the hospital? $2,000 +

While cars and handbags might be cheap, daily expenses are high. I was totally shocked when, after eating a simple lunch, I got a bill for $45.

How I’ve handled it:

One solution to this is cooking whenever possible. Buying things in bulk (a large amount) and cooking throughout the week is the best way to save money.

Maybe the next step is to become a farmer.

For other things, I just try to tell myself, ‘this is normal… it’s normal’ and hope that someday I will get used to it. Regarding hospital expenses, most people find that the cheapest option is to just deal with it, or die. I tend to agree.

3 – People are chatty

If you catch someone’s eye, they will say hi (which I quite like). People will make small talk in almost every situation. The topic is usually ordinary, like the the weather or something relevant to the situation. People always ask questions like, ‘where r’ya headed?’ (where are you going) or ‘lousy weather we’re having today’ (the weather is bad).

How I’ve handled it:

I’ve slowly been adjusting to this kind of constant small talk. The best thing to do is play along, just join in and participate in conversations. You never know where they may lead, but it’s something which still feels foreign to me. I know how to do it, but I’m just not used to actually doing it, yet… maybe I should watch some of my videos.

4 – It’s hard to get around without a car

In most places, except very big cities, it’s really hard to get around (few busses, trains or taxis). Almost everyone over the age of 16 in America has a car (I don’t). Being able to take a taxi to the train station and zip to pretty much any other city was AMAZING in China. I got used to it. I got spoiled.

How I’ve handled it:

Mostly, since I don’t have a car (now), I’ve just been staying in big cities. That means checking bus schedules and getting back before stations close. On top of that, since getting taxis is quite hard in most places, I find myself walking a lot. As I walk I tell myself, ‘this is good exercise. I’m glad I don’t have a car. Good exercise, yes… walking is good… yes.’

Another thing I sometimes do is stay home with a glass of red wine and watch movies. I tell myself, ‘other places are dumb anyway.’

I really need to buy a car…

5. The internet is open, but not always free

Most of the internet in America is about subscriptions now (that means, paying monthly). People use services like Spotify to listen to music, and Netflix to watch movies and TV shows. Things like PPTV and youku often don’t work, or load very very slowly.

How I’ve handled it:

Well, the general answer for me is to avoid watching movies or TV shows. I try to spend a lot of my free time working, so I don’t really notice it that much. However, when I do want to watch something without signing up to some service, I use youtube. Youtube is great. Hooray for youtube.