Monday, August 27, 2007

Culture Shocking

When I hear the words “culture shock” I usually mentally image someone lying in their bed, curled into a ball under the covers afraid to leave, afraid to do anything. While that certainly would count as culture shock, that isn’t necessarily what it usually amounts to.

Having lived in France for awhile I am proud to say that many aspects of culture shock don’t really affect me. The lack of convenience, while annoying doesn’t make me break out into curses. I have no problems walking about or going to the market or a restaurant. I can buy the products I want and order food without a hitch. Well, maybe there are hitches because many of the products I want aren’t available, and I can’t always tell what I am ordering, but I can still navigate these problems without feeling what I’d call culture shock.

However, there are still lots of little things that send me into delirium.

I find that the little annoyances now add up into a giant ball of – I hate this place, this school, this country. For instance, I noted our ant problem in another post. Truth is we had an ant problem at our last apartment in the States. They were annoying, and we put in several complaints to the apartment management, but they never went past the stage of irritation. Ants happen, as they might say.

Yet here they seem even worse. Our kitchen was already bothersome with its lack of good shelving, and our lack of a lot of food and dishes. Add ants to the mix and you get two very frustrated Americans.

The thing is we wind up associating the annoying ants to our troublesome kitchen which is attached to housing that is unfamiliar and different which is then attached to our whole Chinese experience.

Thus China = Annoying Ant Problem.

All annoyances/problems/pains are automatically lumped into this stupid country.

That’s culture shock.

In about thirty minutes I have to go to my first tutoring session without Brian. I am nervous. No, I am scared to death.

Why? Culture. Freaking. Shock.

Logically it is no problem. In a few minutes I will gather my things and walk to the front gate where there will be a taxi, or if there is not a taxi, one will arrive shortly. I have a piece of paper from my tutoree that tells the taxi driver where to go. The taxi driver will take me to the correct place. I will then punch a button on the apartment complex where I will then tell the lady I have arrived. Up an elevator I will go where I will be greeted.

The tutoring session will be hot and long and probably pretty miserable, but it is nothing to be scared of, in fact she is a very nice lady.

When it is over, I will again climb into a taxi, show the driver a card and will be taken home. All of this is simple and without much complication. Even if some complication arises I can easily call someone to help out.

Yet I am all knotted up inside. The reality is all of that is new to me. I have not yet ridden in a taxi by myself. I have not had to find the right apartment and enter the right number. I have never tutored anyone in my life. All of which makes me nervous.

Yet, I know it will be alright.

Edit: Tutoring was, in fact, alright. I had to hail a cab, as one wasn't sitting there waiting, but that didn't take long. He read my little Chinese instructions without a hitch and we were on our way. My tutor lady lives in a high rise apartment alongside a pretty busy highway. Coming from my direction you have to do a u-turn to go along the right side of the highway in order to pull over and let me off. The problem was the taxi driver didn't know exactly where to let me off, and neither did I.

He tried one spot, decided my look of uncertainty meant move on and so he did, around the block. Eventually he left me off and I started walking - to where I wasn't sure. After a block I called Brian and he pointed me the right way.

Nicely this meant that I arrived at the apartment all sweaty, which made her turn on the air conditioner, something she normally doesn't do. The lesson was long and boring and annoying, but OK.

The return home was easy too excepting the 8 minutes I spent trying to find a cab to hail. I'll do it all again tomorrow, a little less nervous, but still a bit uneasy.

Edit, Part II: It has been noticed that I am being negative of late. Truth is I am in full culture shock mode. I'm still quite overwhelmed by everything. But that doesn't mean it is all bad. I'm enjoying many things and mostly we are having a good time. Things will get better and in time we will grow to enjoy ourselves a great deal. This will be especially true when we start getting regular paychecks and can enjoy the great cheap things.


kellieja said...

Thanks for the edit. I was starting to get all nervous for you and I cant handle that.
Adams dad is interviewing for a job in China. I should tell them they are run over with ants I guess.

Beth said...

I think the negative vibe is understandable. Of course it's overwhelming. But you're stepping outside your comfort zone to work in China ... while I continue to slave away in the city I was born in. You rock. I just roll.