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Monday, July 21, 2014

Culture Shock, Dead On.

I read an article that is by far the most dead on write up on the culture shock I've experienced in India I wanted to share it with you.

This article is written by Neil, an expat living with his wife in India.

He differentiates between culture "shock" and culture "attacks". What he calls attacks personally I
I actually really love seeing the cows... of course I also come
from rural America, so maybe that's why...
call "culture shock" and what he calls culture shock I call "new experiences" or "being in tourist mode." But vocabulary aside, it is dead accurate!

His list of triggers is different from my own. For example so far I've never become exasperated with the head bobble. Actually when Lydia, my best friend from home, came to visit this past November she commented that I did the head bobble! It was totally unconscious, I'd seamlessly picked that one up. I also don't really mind most of the other things on the list (I notice them, but they rarely bother me.)

But the hierarchy, crowds, and too much attention get to me. And since unlike Neil I am a woman, I feel like the hierarchy thing could be expanded upon greatly, since there's the hierarchy I observe with others (for example between employers and employees) and also the hierarchy thrust on me because I am a woman in this culture. I think 90% of my frustrations could be filed under hierarchy, but from different sources so that they still remain shocking.

One of the most interesting comments below the article to me was from "DH" who said:

I was a visitor to the US (from India) once. I am now an American both by citizenship as well as assimilation over a span of 15 years that I’ve been here.
So, here’s my “inverse” perspective: There is some culture shock, especially in the early days, but it quickly dissipates as in most instances you can file it away under the “duh, of course it makes sense” category. As for culture attack: zero, zip, nada, zilch, no such thing. Never had an occasion to vent in an enclosed room. Or anywhere else for that matter.
I found that very interesting and made me understand some people here better. I know several Indians who have been to the US and when I try to talk to them about culture shock they act like I'm crazy (and offensive.) I've actually directly been told by one person, in frustration, that when they were in the US for several years they just got off the plane and were able to deal right away so how come I hadn't already adjusted?? That was when I had only been here two months! I admit I was furious at them and wondered how they could be so unfeeling... but knowing that perhaps the culture shock doesn't go both ways is an insight I needed. So when Indians here who have experienced America talk about culture shock and I talk about culture shock, we probably are discussing two very different experiences. 
I wonder why that is. Perhaps because American culture has been so exported in movies and music and even through corporate business and such it's less shocking? Or maybe because unlike India, America has a very young culture. India's democracy may be younger, but the culture has ancient roots. And plus as an immigrant country, our culture has grown from an intermingling of different influences, making it quite malleable to cultural differences. Sometimes that can lead to a lack of identity, but it makes quite a contrast when put up against India's deeper roots. 
Truthfully, I really like India in many ways! But sometimes those "attacks" come, and as the article says it's nearly an out of body experience. The first time I cried in a grocery store here comes to mind as an example. 

2 comments:

  1. I've run into the same issues with NRI's or past NRI's. They don't go through the same struggles coming to the US as we do going to India. Most of them come here to live with family who cooks Indian foods and live a lot like Indians. Others live with other Indians and the same concepts apply. Not to mention the hardships in India are things we've never faced - like power outages and water only at certain times of the day. I personally feel like it's much easier for an Indian to adjust to American than it is for us to adjust to India. :)

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  2. Undoubtedly there is a "culture lag" between America and India. Undoubtedly, again, there will be people in both countries who have narrow and bigoted perceptions when it comes to 'outsiders'. On the whole, however, people learn to accept others and live with them. India is no exception to that.

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Thanks so much for comments, they delight me! Please keep your comments civil and while I read every comment, I reserve the right to delete ones that are especially negative. Thanks!

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