Perhaps it’s a bit too much to talk about shock. I’m not sure we, or you, are that shocking. I guess it depends on each person’s openness and willingness to share, communicate, maybe learn something. But besides all the over stated uniqueness of each and every of us, and besides the global unicorn culture that we seem to be sharing lately, yep, we’ve got cultures. Ways of doing, thinking, bonding, joking, working, seeing ourselves. We might have lots of different standards for lots of things. And some unexpected similarities that can also feel shocking. One could even question if shock itself is necessarily something bad or hard, or refreshing and enriching, or both, or just a regular part of life. And then find, again, that it depends on the person and some cultural standards. That said, I’m not 100% for cultural relativism. I mean: we Argentines (some not all) tend to drive a bit chaotically and even pass red lights, and that’s a bad one, pretty unkind and unsafe. And we, not all but many, tend to stop and take time and patience to give anybody (specially foreigners) detailed directions, clearly and nicely. That’s a good one.
My general Guia Loreta on Cultural Shock would be:
- Try to learn something before visiting, but do not try to anticipate everything. That is just not possible, realistic, or fun.
- Once here (or anywhere): There can always be a gap between expectations and reality (while traveling as in life), and that doesn’t need to be a problem: walk that distance gracefully, enjoy it, look around, feel the fertile soil it’s made of.
- Ask as many questions as you need, do not assume things, apologize if locals find some questions rude, and don’t take it personally if they find them funny.
- Be also open to answer all kinds of questions and feel free to make it clear if you don’t want to talk about something or if you find something uncomfortable.
- Special note for those beautiful people that have been taught to be nice and end up trying too hard to avoid hurting anybody’s feelings: you certainly do not have to subject yourself to things you find awful or unfair or aggressive or whatever. It is ok if some differences do not fit you. Respect begins with healthy self-respect and has to be mutual.
- I guess it sums up to know that we might have some differences and similarities, and that to adjust doesn’t mean to ignore them, neither judge them or rank them, but to be open, respectful and reciprocal, and try to learn from the best of each other, and to be aware of your own culture and be able to put it in perspective (don’t assume it as natural, or perfect or universal or eternal or sacred). And this goes both for travelers and for locals receiving visitors or immigrants or whatever intercultural experience life could bring.
Intercultural experiences can always be enriching and refreshing, but I get why we talk about shock: all the positive side doesn’t mean the whole thing will be a perfect picnic. There will be awkward, weird, uncomfortable and funny moments, and exactly there is the core, the real intercultural thing, the questioning and re-thinking, the learning, the mind opener, the experience. At that intersection you can learn about yourself, your own culture and the other one.
You can send me your questions and thoughts right now to firstname.lastname@example.org