One of the early side effects of living in a developed foreign country is that you are the happiest person in the land. You glow. You are imbued with a teenager level of knowledge and wisdom that lets you know everything about the country and lets you see things the old, bitter veterans have never noticed before and clearly don’t understand.
Everything about your new home is better than your old, decrepit country. It’s cleaner, healthier, nicer, safer, cooler, more beautiful, more cultured and, in general everything is just more awesomer. Anything that’s bad is, just, well, that’s just something you’re going to have to get used to–it’s not YOU it’s ME–and it’s probably just your lack of language ability causing a miscommunication.
This lasts about three months.
At that three month mark all those niggling little annoyances become big annoyances and full blown culture shock. Suddenly the country you’re in is the most ass-backwards, low-life, 19th century wretched hive of scum and villainy you’ve ever had the displeasure of living in. It’s not ME it’s THEM idiots. Everyone is racist and all those people you thought were cool are just racist metro-sexual scumbags who’ve been lying to you and withholding the truth from you the entire time. You’ve been making all these efforts to communicate with your new language skills but clearly the racists and their racist ears can’t hear a foreigner, however brilliant, speak.
This feeling lasts two to three months and then suddenly the country you’re in isn’t that bad again. It’ll never be as cool as it was, but it’s pleasant. A few months later, the culture shock comes back, but not as bad. That cycle goes on and one, with slowly leveling swings between happy and culture shocked.
Even after all these years, I still experience bouts of culture shock. Normally, it doesn’t bother me that when I’m at the front of a line, especially at a train station, no one in Japan believes that’s the right line. I’ve even seen station masters look confused about which line was which when they saw me. I also find that Japanese are hyper-sensitive to little pronunciation mistakes. When I say the name of the school I work at: Rikkyo, I get lots of puzzled looks. This is because the pronunciation has a slight pause “Reek-kyo” and the “o” is long. If either of those features is left out, puzzled looks ensue, even though there’s no other school with a similar name. It’s like saying “I work at Princetown University in New Jersey” and having people go “where?” even after you’ve pronounced it several times.
However, when I find either of these things making me angry, I know I’m in culture shock. I usually try to relax at home and, whenever possible, try to watch a US news program. Several minutes of suffering that vapid and superficial emptiness, especially if it’s CNN International or NBC, usually reminds me that things could always be worse and I start feeling better. At least until the next time.