Culture shock

Culture Shock

It’s intense, culture shock.

I remember when I first traveled to SE Asia. The plane touched down in Japan’s Narita Airport and there I was, surrounded by a strange new world.

It was exciting at first.

There were new sounds flirting with my ear, artistic characters dancing in my eyes, fresh fish slipping down my throat, and more.

My favorite cultural discoveries are those moments when you cross the line and you don’t even realize. Such as, when you wear your shoes inside a Japanese building — you should have put on slippers. Or, when you snatch the last piece of food from a plate — you should leave it or beg for it. Or, my favorite, when people bow down and you give them a gentle pat on the bum — you should not do that.

As I cycled from city to city, there were a few occasions when small frustrations arose. Whenever I met someone incredible, I couldn’t fully communicate with them. Beyond gesturing like a mime and using a few rudimentary words we both understood (“How are you” – “I’m fine, thank you” “Konnichiwa” “Arigatou” “etc.”).

Now Arriving to Destination Culture Shock.
Please Exit to Your Left & Enjoy Your Stay!

Culture shock impacts in different ways at different places.

For example, here are some of the intense moments and memories I can recall from my travels so far:

  1. Japan: Feelings of isolation, not having genuine friends you could truly and deeply connect with.
  2. South Korea: Getting shunned at country-side restaurants, unable to persuade a hooker in Seoul for her services* (well, that’s not a culture shock, but a shock to my ego!).
  3. Taiwan: Cholestrophobic in a sea of people, overwhelmed by filth and unique quality of life.
  4. Philippines: Sheer sorrow due to abject poverty with a touch of hopelessness and helplessness, sanitary desolation to the point of disgust.
  5. Indonesia: Too damn friendly and invasive, still can’t comprehend why men can sleep in the room as another man but men can’t sleep in the same room with women unless married (this is culturally shocking!).
  6. Singapore: In my case, it was unimaginable to leap from the depths of financial despair to the peaks of financial prosperity; why is the world so segmented by wealth and materialism when we have the means to live in absolute harmony?
  7. China: Every moment of every damn day is a shock to the system.
  8. Malaysia: More isolation sprinkled with extreme boredom.
  9. Hong Kong: N/A

What was your experience with culture shock? Where were you when it happened? How did you handle it? Did you miss your mommy? (Let’s start a discussion in the comments below!)

Jef van de Graaf
Canadian Copywriter & World Traveler
Business | Travel Blog | Connect

* Just kidding — I’ve never done that.

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