After much whining during our trip to see family in Brazil last week, my eight year old son announced that he was behaving badly because “everyone here is being mean to me.” Knowing that nothing could be further from the truth, I immediately went from being (annoyed) mother to ethnographer: This was culture shock…a gut reaction to the perceived isolation of being in another environment and communicating across a language barrier.
Here’s a sample of what culture shock looked like in an 8 year old:
- He overindulged (in chocolate);
- He isolated himself (in the bedroom watching movies);
- He reacted or got mad more easily;
- He thought everyone was against him, even those closest to him (that would be me).
Sound familiar? The good news is, once diagnosed, there are some tips to try to ease some of the anxiety of culture shock:
- Don’t overindulge. While it may seem like another glass of wine (or Caipirinha, in Brazil) will make you feel more relaxed, it may make you feel worse about yourself or, particularly in the case of alcohol, exacerbate your gut feelings. (It can also make you gassy and drunk….in which case skip #2.)
- It’s not about you. You may feel that everyone’s against you or doesn’t respect you, but that may actually be because you feel you are not being recognized for your full value. Or, people insist on helping you with (or preventing you from) doing things you’ve done your entire adult life. But this isn’t about who you are; it’s about not being able to communicate everything you have to offer and people more familiar with the area wanting you to be safe and happy. Who you are at your core doesn’t change because of how someone else sees you.
- Learn the lingo. Pick up key words, phrases, etc. that you can contribute. Even Dillon learned “chocolate,” “suco (juice),” “vem Babi” (come, Babi-to call the family dog), and “Por Favor” and “Muito Obrigado” (please and thank you). He latched onto “abacaixi” (pineapple) juice as his favorite, or carne (meat) for main dishes. Those were common items readily available that he learned to recognize from a list-as in would you like the suco de laranja, uva, maracuja o abacaixi? “Abacaixi, por favor.”
Where or when have you felt Culture Shock? Was it in another country, or have you had the same feelings in the U.S. but in a situation where you were the only one of your gender, race, culture, ability, etc. How did you feel? How did you react?