What is culture shock?
As the phrase itself states, culture shock is the feeling you experience when facing a cultural situation that is new, different and unknown to you. Although the word “shock” seems rather unfriendly and negative, undergoing culture shock doesn’t necessarily have to be an unpleasant experience. Believe it or not, it can turn out to be a really enriching, positive and life learning one. But, how do you survive culture shock?
Top 7 things that can cause it
First of all, we need to understand that culture shock can be presented to us in both obvious and more subtle ways. We can experience culture shock when coming in contact with different:
- Languages – Especially when meeting somebody from a faraway country whose language is not only spoken differently but it is also written differently. For example, an English speaker being introduced to a Chinese speaker or a Korean speaker being introduced to a Portuguese speaker.
- Weather – This can be even harder for those used to extreme weather. For example, an Alaskan native used to very cold weather traveling to an island on the Caribbean.
- Landscapes – Imagine moving from a mountainous town full of lakes and forests like those in Switzerland to an arid landscape full of cacti like in Arizona, United States, or the other way around.
- Food – Here we’re talking not only about tastes, colours and smells, but also about quantities, meal schedules and customs. For example, in Latin American countries as well as in some European countries, people tend to have a snack between lunch and dinner called “merienda”. And don’t even get me started on breakfast around the world!
- Clothing – This may vary greatly depending on gender, religion and social dress code. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, women must wear long-sleeved cloaks and cover their heads as it is illegal for them to show skin in public.
- Custom and traditions – Although some traditions like Easter or Christmas are celebrated worldwide, there are still some countries that differentiate themselves from others through their unique cultural customs. Let’s say, in some South American countries, for example, people from all ages and genders gather around to drink and share a popular drink called “el mate” – which may seem unsanitary to some people due to the sharing of the same straw.
- Greetings – As simple as it may seem, greeting people around the world can lead to embarrassing moments if one is not aware of the socio-cultural situation. By way of illustration, people may greet each other with a kiss on the cheek or a hug in Latin American countries, while a bow or a handshake is commonly preferred in Asian countries.
Experiencing culture shock
We have asked some of our LingoStar members about their culture shock experiences around the world and this is what they said:
“My first time in Great Britain, I was surprised that people didn’t say ‘Enjoy your meal’ when eating with friends and family.”
“When I travelled to Holland, there were several things that caught my attention: firstly, seeing a man in formal business attire cycling to work (don’t they get dirty in the rain?); secondly, the Dutch don’t put indoor slippers on at home, they walk around in their outside shoes; and thirdly, they don’t have window coverings so when it gets dark, you can see what they’re doing inside their homes.”
“Once in Germany, I was driving on a German highway at a speed of 170km per hour and I was still being overtaken by BMW and Mercedes drivers going 180-200km/hour!”
“When going out in summer in Valencia or Barcelona and coming back to our accommodation at 4am, I was amazed to see the streets still full of people partying and having a great time.”
More examples of culture shock
“I remember experiencing culture shock when traveling in Peru. There was a bus that took you from sea level to an altitude of 4,300 metres and carried passengers in traditional clothing. The bus helper distributed plastic bags at the start of the journey so we could use them if we got altitude sickness once the bus reached a road 3,000 metres above sea level!”
“When I moved from Argentina to the United States, there were many things that caused culture shock: I remember not knowing how to greet people (I used to go for a kiss on the cheek and found the other person stretching their hand at me); I was surprised with the amount of mail and box deliveries people receive per day; and that’s just to mention a couple!”
“I came to Canada from India for the first time and I noticed there were more cultural differences than I thought! Here people are always ready to help you get to know them and their country. Also, Canadian people are always happy! They teach you lessons on how to be honest with your work which I think is a very positive thing about this culture.”
Transform it into a positive experience
Although it can be difficult at first, culture shock doesn’t necessarily have to end up being a bad experience. What’s more, we can learn from the other culture’s traditions and transform that first feeling of non-belonging to a feeling of welcoming. To achieve this, there are some things we can do to better understand the other culture and make the best out of culture shock:
- Firstly, travel around the world to help broaden our perspective about other ways of living.
- Secondly, learn a new language to enable us to better communicate with other cultures.
- Thirdly, research the country and culture to avoid awkward situations and help us better adapt to the circumstances.
- Fourth, be open to new things and enjoy the experience!
Don’t worry, we can help you!
Facing culture shock can seem scary but, don’t worry, we’re here to make it easier for you! At LingoStar, we offer high-quality translations as well as many other language-related services like typesetting, interpreting services, subtitling, and more! For more information, contact us by calling 604-629-8420 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your next language-related project. You can also request a free quote via our website lingo-star.com. We are here to help!