Welcome back adventurers!
Let’s talk about China, shall we? I know, I know, we technically always talk about China, but I want to really talk about China today.
I am going to assume that you have all heard the term ‘culture shock’ before. I hope that everyone has because you know what they say about assuming things…(It makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and me’)(thanks for teaching me that, Mom). Well just in case you have not heard the term, or even if you have, I want to delve more into the concept itself. I put together this handy-dandy little chart for you all because I (clearly) have nothing better to do with my time. That’s a lie, I could be doing laundry, working off that Korean food I ate earlier, working on my lesson plan for next week, even sleeping, but this is more fun. This is my culture adjustment chart (you probably have to click on it to make it bigger):
Before you ask, yes I did make this chart on Paint, and yes, I am very proud of that. You could definitely give or take a few things from this chart, but overall this is usually the process that people go through when they arrive in a new country. When I lived in Geneva, Switzerland I barely made it to the final adjustment phase because by the time I reached it, after 4 months, it was time to go home. Since you are all smart, lovely people you can probably guess from the title of today’s post that I have begun to exit the honeymoon stage in these past few weeks. However, I don’t like to apply the term ‘culture shock’ to myself. Not that I am an all-powerful being above the lowly affects of ‘culture shock’, but I don’t think that I can really classify how I feel as a shock. I saw everything coming. I didn’t just wake up one day and go, “Wow, all that honking is suddenly really annoying. It sounded like the coo of doves before.” No, it sounded like obnoxious, unnecessary, constant honking. But before I just filed it under my ‘Omg i’m in China’ file and kept on looking at things through my rose colored glasses. Hence the name ‘honeymoon’ phase. After the ‘honeymoon’ phase, the culture shock phase can last for a few months or longer before you finally accept that things in (insert whatever foreign country you are staying in) aren’t going to change because they are not different to everyone else around you. To the locals it is normal, it is you who have to change. It is the adapting part that is the hardest. Overcoming the culture shock can take a relatively short time if you are willing and able to adapt to your surroundings. The longer it takes for you to acknowledge this and accept it, the longer you will remain locked in the frustratingly lonely grasp of culture shock. I believe, and please allow me a moment to toot my own horn, so to speak, that I am able to adapt quite easily. Which is why I don’t like applying the term culture shock to myself. Sure there are things that I will probably never adapt to, and it is inevitable that someone moves through the culture shock phase at some point; even if it is for a short time. However, I believe that I am able to move past culture shock with a relative ease and emerge in the next phase faster than the norm. Although this may also just be me blowing smoke…
The phase following culture shock is that of cultural acceptance. This one is pretty self-explanatory. You finally accept what happens around you as things that you cannot change. Also why would you want to change them? They might annoy you and they might terrify you because they are different, but that is the whole point! You don’t go to another country to experience the same things you do at home. You go to another country to experience new things, and actually live in, not just observe, the world at large. Sure you might miss things from home, that is natural. Even I, who has never really gotten home sick, even as a child, can say for a fact that I miss things. I miss sitting in front of the fireplace in my living room, I miss my cat falling asleep on my chest, I miss cooking and I miss my friends birthdays. I miss a lot of things, it happens. I still wouldn’t want to change China. It’s flaws make China what it is! This cultural acceptance phase lasts up until it is time for you to go home. There will also be, as my handy-dandy chart says, unavoidable ups and downs in however long this phase lasts. That could be said for any country, any city, anywhere. I’m sure there will be days in the future, after I have completely moved into my acceptance phase, that I still get annoyed about the complete disregard of lines, or the lack of good cheese. But all-in-all I will just file it into my new, ‘Oh, silly China’ folder, and move on.
‘Graduation goggles’, a term I believe was coined by How I Met Your Mother, is one that I think works perfectly in this situation. Right before you leave a country, or high school, or leave a boyfriend etc., all the things that you might have not liked about something start looking better. The graduation goggles go on and you forget all the bad things. All those people who you didn’t like in high school seem like your best friends through those goggles. All the flaws in your significant other seem like minor details not worth breaking up over through those goggles. You start feeling nostalgic about all the things that you didn’t like about a country through those goggles.
When you return home from your adventures abroad you then go through a reverse culture shock. Obviously, it is what it sounds like. I have never experienced reverse culture shock because I’ve never been gone long enough. This time however, I think I will definitely have some reverse culture shock. Ordering meals in a restaurant that are not to share? What? Weird. Being able to understand everything being said around me. Huh? Strange, and also distracting. When you have been home for awhile you again accept your surroundings.
Once I am home, it will be a relief to be able to know, really know everything. What I mean is that in a foreign country, especially one where the language and culture is so very different from your own, you can never completely understand all of your surroundings. You have to accept that fact. I had that epiphany a few weeks into my stay here in Hangzhou. But I don’t like not knowing. Not knowing everything about the place you live has its charms every now and then, but It has been something that was difficult for me to begin with and continues to be difficult. I make lists and I plan. I appreciate spontaneity, and I am capable of being spontaneous (sometimes), but I much prefer to plan. At the end of November I will be paying a visit to Hong Kong. I already have my flights, hostel and things to do mapped out perfectly. Being here in China though is sorta like fumbling around in the dark, searching for a light switch that I cannot find. I have to get used to not knowing everything, which will be the hardest part for me. I have to accept, for example, that I won’t figure out the bus systems, even though I really try to and yet they still seem to trick me at every turn! I have to accept that and move on, even though it eats me up inside and I constantly am tripping over the furniture in the dark.
I still don’t think that there is anything wrong with this beautiful country. For there to be something wrong would imply that the things i’m used to are correct or better. I am not conceded enough to believe that America does everything best, and I truthfully feel sorry for anyone who believes that America, or wherever they are from, is totally better than another place. Having country pride is one thing, having country hubris is another (or if we are being technical, it is called being ethnocentric). All that being said, the little things are starting to annoy me. I have left the tropical island resort where China and I spent our honeymoon and now i’m back to reality. I’m starting to realize that China isn’t the exotic, fun country that I thought it was when we got married. China isn’t perfect, it has flaws (which is OK).
Since I have returned home from my honeymoon, I want to share with you some quirky things that I have noticed about China. Some of these things annoy me, some of them I just don’t understand (which is also OK).
1.) Crossing the street, or just walking anywhere, or being outside at anytime. Usually, I can get used to the traffic patterns of a place rather quickly. Switzerland, England, Germany etc. all were fairly easy to get accustomed to and therefore avoid being road kill. Although I did get a verbal lashing from a cyclist in England once for stepping out in front of him. In my defense, I had just gotten there and wasn’t used to looking left on the right side of the street and looking right on the left side of the street.. or wait… something like that. In China, on the other hand, not so much. That might be because there are no discernible traffic laws here, or at least none that I can see. U-turns, scooters on sidewalks, making a 7-point turn in the middle of the street while the cars barreling towards them honk incessantly, weaving through traffic without any regard for other cars, blatantly ignoring red lights, I have seen it all. It isn’t just cars either, scooters and cyclists are also something you have to watch out for. You have to be completely aware of your surroundings. If there are no cars, there are probably scooters coming towards you. If there are no scooters, there are probably cyclists. There is also no look left here and look right there. You just look everywhere. I usually go by the old standby of following the locals, but even that doesn’t always work. I’m dodging where I should be waiting and standing where I should be running. I’m making rookie mistakes over here, and It isn’t getting easier. Maybe by the time I leave i’ll have gotten into the ebb and flow of China traffic… but I doubt it.
2.) Dodging umbrellas. This is something I have managed to get used to. I am an expert umbrellas dodger now. Probably because it rains a lot and when it doesn’t rain there are still umbrellas to shield from the sun. On a similar note, something that I love, love, love about China is that here my pale skin is AWESOME. At home my being nearly translucent is seen as unattractive by the majority of society. Here, however, the paler I get the more beautiful people tell me I am. I can’t wait until March when my skin hasn’t seen the sun in months and I can reflect the sunlight. Helllooooo compliments. Warning to those at home, my ego will continue to get bigger while i’m here. Sorry in advance.
3.) Deodorant. Now I don’t have any science to back me up on this, but i’m just going to assume that Chinese people do not sweat in the fall and winter. Why do I think this? Well as soon as it got mildly colder, and I just happened to run out of the deodorant that I brought with me from home, I went to go buy some more from my friendly neighborhood corner store. They didn’t have any there, but I didn’t think too much of it. It is a small store; I would just wait and go to the big supermarket. Well they didn’t have any either. In fact, they said that they don’t stock it in the fall and winter. Wait, what? Because it isn’t hot out anymore, you stop selling deodorant. I don’t know about you, and maybe this is just me being a sweaty Italian, but I still sweat in the winter! Maybe even more because i’m wearing like 5 layers at all times. So then I thought OK, i’ll just go to the specialty store called Watsons that only sells toiletries etc. NOPE. Zero deodorant to be seen. Do people here stock up before the first day of fall? I don’t understand! At this point I am literally down to the little plastic part at the bottom of the tube, and i’ve been scraping up the bits left with my fingernail. If there was ever a time to say #ChinaProblems, it is now. Luckily, after about 4 weeks of rationing fingernails full of deodorant, my friend gave me one of his sticks of deo that he brought from home. I’m not sure how he was able to get inside intel on the deo situation in China, but i’m glad he did. Although now I perpetually smell like boy. Worth it.
4.) Cutting in line. What is the point of a line if you are just going to cut in front of me anyway. Stop pretending. I’ve come to realize that despite the fact that something may look like a line, if you don’t push and hold your position at the front, you are going to lose it and lose it fast. My being clearly not from around here probably exacerbates the situation. They see little ol’ foreign me and think,
‘She isn’t going to make a stink if I cut in front of her.’ And you know what? They are totally right. I am highly non-confrontational, so I am probably not going to say anything when you cut in front of me. I might at home, but here…at most i’ll make an annoyed noise and glare at the back of their head. Man, i’m scary!
5.) Cheese. Oh sweet, sweet cheese how I miss thee. They have cheese here, don’t get me wrong, but the only good cheese I have found has been in the pricey imported food store. Why? Why China? You have yogurt, and strange non-refrigerated milk that I can only assume is full of chemicals, why don’t you have the next step of dairy product? Delicious, delicious cheese!
6.) Chopsticks. No, I don’t have a problem with using chopsticks. In fact, I have gotten a decent amount of compliments from people here about my ability to use chopsticks. However, I do not understand the need to use chopsticks for everything. Would it not be easier to pick up the chicken wing with your hand and eat it? Worried about germs? Wash your hands. I have enough trouble eating chicken wings with my hands! Watching me eat a chicken wing with chopsticks is probably one of the most painful things you will ever see. I can do it… it just isn’t pretty.
7.) Spitting. I have never been to a place where it is so commonplace to constantly spit. Truthfully it is mostly men, but i’m sure women do it too sometimes. I just don’t understand why it is necessary to constantly hawk a wad of spit onto the ground. At home, I usually don’t take my shoes off when I come into the house. I just never felt the need to. But here I have become compulsive in my need to never let my shoes touch my carpet. In my head I picture all of the globs of spit on the ground as I walk down the street. You know I get it, sometimes you just need to spit, but the amount that it happens here is just unnecessary. Maybe it is because a lot of people smoke here and smokers seem to spit constantly. I remember standing outside during college and watching smokers just constantly spitting on the group like they are dipping instead of smoking their tobacco. I’m sorry, but its gross. I would love to not be walking down the street and hear someone behind me hawk a big loogie on the ground. Nasty? Yeah, it is.
8.) Children peeing in trashcans. This might be something that I just don’t understand because I don’t have a child who has to pee really bad. I just have a hard time not being weirded out by looking around on the subway platform and seeing a parent holding a toddler over a trashcan while they pee etc. into it. It simply isn’t something i’m used to seeing, and i’m not sure i’ll ever be used to it. Does it happen elsewhere? Probably, but I have seen it way more often here than anywhere else I have been. (If I am being truthful, i’ve never seen it other places, but i’m sure it happens?) Maybe I am just not comfortable seeing your baby’s bare butt in the supermarket line. I get it, it is just a baby and baby butts are supposed to be cute and it doesn’t matter because they are babies (or whatever) but … do you not have a diaper? Is that not common here? I don’t know, this is just what I have noticed.
All of those things being said, I still like it here. A few cultural differences aren’t going to scare me back home. I may not understand everything that happens here. I may not agree with everything either, but I didn’t move to China to be comfortable and complacent with my surroundings everyday. I came here to broaden my horizons. I came here to really learn about another culture and, as a result, learn about myself. I came here to challenge myself.
I hope that everyone enjoyed reading about the exit from my ‘honeymoon’ with China. I hope that you know that I am in no way bashing China, in fact I prefer to celebrate it for it’s differences. I may not think that China is perfect, but I also know that it is OK for me to think that. I don’t have to think that every place I visit is perfect. I thought that Switzerland was perfect when I lived there and I now wish that I had admitted to myself that there were things that annoyed me about it. I don’t think you can properly appreciate a place until you take off your rose colored glasses, come back from the honeymoon and realize that every place has flaws. It is those flaws that make a place what it is. Just like it is a person’s flaws that makes them who they are. Imagine a perfect word with perfect people? How boring. I prefer to be terrified crossing the street and make a mess out of my face trying to eat a chicken wing with a chopstick. Now that is more fun.
Adventure begins when you let go of what you know best.
Thanks for sticking with this one until the end; I know it was a long one! Until next time don’t forget:
Adventure is out there, so never stop exploring!