It’s a beautiful day in the small town where we live in the south of France.
My husband Blake and I are walking hand in hand to the outdoor market to buy some fresh produce. Out of the blue, Blake tugs lightly on my hand and quietly say’s
“Watch out for the dog poop”. ( Les Crottes)
I look down and gingerly step to the side to avoid the SOFT GOOEY GOODNESS some dog left behind.
No BIG DEAL!
After more than a year here…
It’s just another day in the South of France.
La di da da da Tra la la la…..
That’s Just The Way It Is!
Don’t let our casual demeanor fool you, I hate poop. Especially poop on city sidewalks.
The dog poop problem is recognized by almost everyone in France but the general attitude is….
“BUT WHAT CAN YOU DO?”
So the solution primarily falls on the governments shoulders which is trying to do what they can by posting signs and fining people who don’t pick up after their dog.
THE DOG POO PROBLEM PERSISTS.
Despite signs like this, I have yet to actually see anyone pick up their damn dog poop.
This is France, for the sake of adapting, we have adopted the French attitude which is to tolerate it, scratch our heads and wonder “what can I do about it?”
Welcome to your new country.
People react and do things differently here. The differences between your culture and the new culture can be very exciting AT FIRST.
Just like my dog poop experience, these differences can also make it very difficult to adjust to your new surroundings and leave you feeling
- You may even feel homesick and want to go home.
The sad truth is that most people underestimate the power of culture shock and / or don’t even realize they are experiencing culture shock which can turn any trip into a nightmare.
Culture Shock Happens To Everyone
The good news is, culture shock is absolutely normal.
As an avid traveller and someone who has lived in many places around the world, I am not ashamed to say that I still get culture shock but I always figure out a way to overcome and adapt.
10 Real Examples Of Culture Shock
To prove that culture shock is normal, I have put together 10 additional examples of culture shock that I and a few other travellers I know have experienced.
Read through them and try to imagine how you you might react or feel in these situations.
WARNING! Some may SHOCK YOU! You have been warned!
1 – FOOD:
I’ll have some roasted rat and chicken feet please!
Did you know you can eat rat on a stick in some countries like Thailand and Africa? Not dirty city rats but wild field rats on a stick! MMMMM.
In China and in many Chinese restaurants around the world, chicken feet is served regularly. I used to eat it with my mum in San Francisco on Sundays when we went to eat dim sum. Yummy Yummy!
Cow brains, horse meat and blood sausage are common fare in France and in some parts of Quebec too. I remember my French Canadian aunt cooking up scrambled brains for me.Those were happy days.
TIP: Expect food to be different. What you think is gross may be considered a delicacy in other countries.
2 – LANGUAGE:
What do you do if you want to go site seeing?
Pretend you are in another country like Japan where the language and the alphabet are completely different. You have no car so you head to the subway station or bus stop like your travel book says to do.
Suddenly you realize you are not sure if you are going in the right direction.
You can’t read the signs and no one speaks English and you have no idea what to do.
This is what happened to me my first 3 months in Japan. I remember feeling helpless and frustrated at my inability to understand things. Everything took extra time to figure out.
Rather than curl up and cower home, I decided to learn Japanese, make some friends and immerse myself in their culture. Doing so helped me really enjoy my stay in Japan because it gave me the confidence to go see and do as much as I could despite my inability to completely communicate fluently.
TIP: Don’t expect people to speak your language. Expect simple things to be more difficult like riding the subway, asking for directions and ordering food. Try to learn a few key words and phrases before you go.
3 – NUDITY IN PUBLIC
It is not uncommon in France to see topless women at the beach.
I’m pretty opened minded when it comes to these things but it still does kind of shock me especially when I am with my husband and teenage boys who are trying their best not to stare.
Boys will be boys.At least my husband seems to have adjusted; no big deal. (see him sleeping in the photo above next to some topless women?)
4 – MODESTY
Do you dress modestly enough?
At the other end of the spectrum are women who must cover most of their body; including their arms, legs, ankles, neck and even their face like the Bedouin Woman (pictured above) and women from Muslim countries who’s custom is to dress this way mainly to enforce female modesty. I have to admitt that this form of culture shock shocked me the most. Not to sound crass or rude, but I found myself starring in disbelief Once I understood the reasons behind their attire, it did not shock me as much.
I met the woman above in Marseille.
In Marseille, where we lived in 2011, there was a very large Muslim population. Most of the women dressed like the woman above.
These women also had to cover their body but they did not wear a veil to cover their face.
Instead they wore what can best be described as a scarf over their head which is called a HIJAB.
TIP: Do some research about proper attire before you go. You may discover certain things are inappropriate and avoid drawing unwanted attention to yourself.
5 – BOOGERS AND SNOTS
Is it polite to pick a winner?
Most of us are taught from an early age that it’s just not polite to pick a winner. One must use a tissue or handkerchief and blow our nose into it, then put the tissue in your pocket until you can dispose of it later.
****Please don’t be offended by what I wrote below or send me hate mail saying you are Asian and don’t do this. I am half Asian myself and have lived in Asia for almost a decade of my life. I’m merely saying that some people in some Asian countries do this. End of disclaimer.
Theodora, a single mom who is travelling the world with her son said that in some parts of Asia, the thought of blowing your nose into a tissue and saving it for later is disgusting.
You’re probably wondering, well how do they blow their nose right?
I don’t have a picture so let me describe how to properly blow your nose in parts of Asia.
Tutorial: How To Blow Your Nose In Parts Of Asia.
Cover one nostril and blow out the other so whatever is up there will get blown out like a projectile and hopefully land on the ground. That’s it.
This may sound gross to you but blowing your nose in a handkerchief is way more gross to them.
TIP: Don’t judge. People see certain things and situations differently.
6- STRANGE CELEBRATIONS & CUSTOMS:
When is it ok to cut and hurt yourself?
There are customs and rituals around the world that would make many of us scratch our heads and maybe even recoil in disgust. This feeling is yet another example of culture shock.
For example, I cannot watch a Spanish Bullfight.
My friends Jennifer and Tony Miller, who are travelling the world with their 4 kids, recently saw a festival in Thailand called the Phuket vegetarian festival. People participating in this festival were causing all kinds of bodily harm to themselves.
- One man was slicing his tongue with a knife.
- Another man was jabbing his cheeks with sharp objects.
Let us just say that there was a lot of blood.
Most travellers and tourists would probably be quite horrified to watch this festival and wonder “WHY?”.
TIP: Every culture has their own customs and rituals. To the rest of the world they may seem strange and bizarre but to them it has special meaning. Learn about their customs to get a better understanding.
If you are interested in seeing Jennifer’s photo essay about this festival, you should go and read about it on her blog here Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Just remember, that you may not like what you see.
7- FEELING HOMESICK:
Can you live without your morning coffee or tea ritual?
Missing the comforts of home and feeling homesick is another effect caused by culture shock.
My husband Blake misses those big to-go coffee cups you get at most of the coffee shop in the US and Canada. Here in France, coffee is not served to go. You must buy it and sit down and the cup sizes are served in espresso cups. Not Large or extra large cups.
I miss Cheddar cheese and spicy chilis and spicy food. All are hard to find in France.
Tracie Burns of http://www.ourtravellifestyle.com/ Said her daughter missed custard back in Australia.
My boys miss good Mexican food. (California where we lived had some awesome authentic Mexican restaurants).
TIP: When travelling expect NOT to find all the comforts foods of home. Even when you do find them, they taste different; usually adjusted to the local taste. i.e. spicy food is not really spicy in France.
8- toilet paper: Essential or not?
Brace yourself for more culture shock: You probably think toilet paper is necessary.
Ha, you are wrong, You don’t need toilet paper!
Brace yourself, in some cultures like India they use their hands to wipe themselves after using the toilet.I know what you are thinking.
WHAT! They use their hands to wipe their bum?
Yes It’s true. Using toilet paper to wipe your bum bum is considered inappropriate and dirty because it smears it around down there. Indian people consider it much cleaner to use your hand and water.
In case you are interested in ever going to India or anywhere else where toilet paper is not readily available, I thought I would give you an education on bathroom Etiquette.
Tutorial: How to use the toilet without toilet paper in India!
Usually there is a bucket filled with water and a smaller container in the bucket called a dipper to scoop out some water.
After you do your business, you scoop water out with the dipper and pour it on your rear while cleaning yourself with your left hand. After it is all said and done, you wash your hands with soap.
This method is considered much cleaner than using toilet paper in India.
Important: You must wipe ONLY with your left hand because you use your right hand to shake hands and to eat.
Watch this video to learn in more detail. It’s very fascinating. I guarantee you will be flabbergasted.
9-Don’t Flush The Toilet Paper Please!
Nancy Vogel of Family On Bikes said in many countries, especially in Central and South America, one should not throw used toilet paper in the toilet.
You must throw it in the rubbish bin.
When I heard this, I immediately thought wouldn’t it start to smell up the bathroom?
It turns out, toilet paper is thrown in the rubbish bins because the septic system cannot handle anything other than human waste; not even toilet paper.
Some hotels even have signs asking guests to throw their used toilet paper in the waste bin and NOT the toilet.
TIP: Once you understand the reasons, you begin to see necessity may be part of the reason why cultural differences exist.
Not all toilets are created equal.
Some toilets have lids, some have a lever you push, some you pull. In other words not all toilets look like American toilets.
In FRANCE: it is not uncommon to find toilets with no seat covers or lids.
When I lived in Japan, I was surprised to learn that many of the bathrooms were actually squatting toilets. If you are really lucky, there was a pole to hang on to so you didn’t lose your balance.
I admit, at first these differences in the toilet do seem a bit strange but after a while you get used to it.
TIP: Learn about the toilet customs before you go. You might thank yourself later.
To Sit or Not To Sit?
Speaking of squat toilets.
Did you know that it is actually much better for your system and body to use a squat toilet?
I won’t go into detail but if you are interested in turning your western toilet into a squat toilet instantly than check out the Squatty Potty.
It might solve all your……….. ummm problems if you know what I mean.
What Can You Do About Culture Shock?
Some people find it impossible to adapt to other cultures while others adapt more easily.
Your best chance at overcoming culture shock is to adapt to your new culture and try to understand the history and reasons why the cultural differences exist.
Look at it as a learning experience to gain a new perspective and develop a better understanding for that other culture.
You just might see things in a whole new way and find it easier to adjust and deal with the differences.
It’s these differences that make travel so interesting. If you want everything to be the same, you can always just stay home
What Do You Think?
Have you ever experienced culture shock? If so share them with me by leaving your comments below. Do you think understanding the differences will help you deal with culture shock even eating rat on a stick?
My friend Sylviane Nuccio who is French has an interesting article about the culture shock she felt when she moved to the USA.