Nietzsche, Culture Shock, and the Art of Adaptation

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Photo credit: Bob Writght from http://paw.princeton.edu/issues/2009/09/23/pages/5946/index.xml

Mt. Princeton, Colorado.  Photo credit: Bob Writght from http://paw.princeton.edu/issues/2009/09/23/pages/5946/index.xml

I burst into tears yesterday at the sight of some Rocky Mountains in the western part of the United States.  I moved away two years ago.  Shouldn’t I be over being homesick and culture shock? This question prompted me to research culture shock and reflect on my findings.

Travel vs. Moving = Vacation vs. Permanency

Part of the reason travel is so exhilarating is that you volunteer to go to another place and immerse yourself into culture and place for a duration of time of your choice. In fact, most times travel is all about you and your preferences: city/country, hotel, restaurant, museum/tours, shops, beach, etc all are chosen by YOU.

Relocating however is not a welcomed choice always.  As a trailing spouse, you may not even get to choose the place let alone the time the move happens. Instead, you are choosing your marriage or family over comfort (and career!) and must stay in the new place at least for a while.  So you can’t just ignore what you don’t like because you’re not on vacation. You must adapt or die, as they say.

Culture Shock is an Understatement

The unique or quaint aspects of your vacation destination are the very thing that exasperates you when it is a daily reality of your new home. I think the novelty of a new place wears on someone’s patience after awhile because what used to be easy, convenient or familiar is now absent.  This website stated “Real CultureShock can happen in places you expect to be similar – it’s the accumulation of tiny things that can tip you over the edge. Don’t expect that it’s just that there’s snow, or that the buildings are taller.”  It comes down to little things like customer service or social etiquette.  How the different sexes are treated, whether you have children or not, food preferences and even….past times and hobbies. Maybe just the standard of living, condition of roads and infrastructure, and the severity of blight and crime is new to you. Routine tasks now take all day or maybe a week or more due to perhaps lack of knowledge of services or delays in service.  You can read my post about trying to find emergency pet care and how exhausting and stressful that was.

I remember nothing “made sense” even though I wasn’t even dealing with serious cultural changes in hygiene, language, food, gender, and race.  One article I read stated that all one’s cues on how to act and react are stripped away when you change cultures.  It’s this removal of cultural props that is disorienting and confusing. When you are a tourist, on the other hand,  sometimes it is fun to get lost in another culture.  In fact, I used to travel for this very reason:  I wanted to remove the veneer and rediscover myself in a new context. Then the discoveries were to help me orient myself again back home.   I think we all can agree that relocating is not a fanciful delight but a gut-wrenching overhaul of everything you know and love.

Thus when you see something familiar like a snow-covered mountain in Colorado that is similar to other places you’ve lived and loved, you burst into tears.

For an academic perspective on culture shock, try Paul Pedersen’s The Five Stages of Culture Shock:  Critical Incidents Around the World (1995 Greenwood Press, Westport, CT via Google Books).  It was helpful to know culture shock was a process, unique to each individual and based on experiences and expectations.  I would agree that if I’d had more time to research Wichita before moving here, I would have been better equipped to handle the transition. This hindsight is what compels me to write this blog and urge readers to DO YOUR HOMEWORK before relocating. But also be kind to yourself when things are tough.  Further, Wikipedia offers an interesting discussion on their Four Phases of Culture Shock. Also this blogger describes it in his own words. Either way, isn’t it nice to know it all will pass with time?

IMG_20130801_151652But don’t worry about me…Guess what?  I’m all better now that I’ve shared this with you.  And now that I’ve learned some critically important cultural cues for Kansas and can appreciate Wichita and Kansas norms, the pangs of sadness are fleeting.  Read my other blog post about how it all gets better with time. Don’t forget what Nietzsche said:  “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Let’s hear about your experiences.  Any advice for those who have just moved?

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Trail Food. No granola here.

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I realized last night that Julia Child had also been a trailing spouse early in her marriage.  I also realized I had been creating some marvelous foods here in the Heartland.  I confessed in an earlier post that I’d eaten a lot of sweets and gained weight.  The full story is that I baked and ate a lot of sweets.  But truly: I do love to cook and bake and it was a solace to have such wonderful delights coming out of the kitchen.

Lots of sprinkles always makes things better.

Real ginger. Real lemon. Real molasses = Real pain in the butt.

My first creation was gingerbread cookies.  My husband eats Little Debbie brand cookies by the box, and I was hoping to save some money.  However, they are too much work!

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“yule” want summa dis.

My second adventure was a Bûche de Noël without all the little meringue decorations.  This dessert appealed to me due to its gluten-free nature and tons of WHIPPED CREAM.  However, it was difficult to roll.  But it was very good. Could become a tradition.

yum in my tum

yum in my tum

Then I decided who needs to go to coffee shops to have delectable morning or afternoon sweet treats?  With hubby’s permission, I used the last of the bananas in the house and made this great banana cake, thanks to the Gluten-Free Goddess. They were easy to freeze and marvelous in a pinch.

Gluten-free paleo tart crust Photo credit Elana’s Pantry

Photo Credit from Elana’s Pantry. Gluten-Free tart crust was a real delight the other day.

I made this crust with this Chard Recipe from chard from the garden, although I used greek yogurt instead of all that cheese. Delish!

Recipes for other creations:

Handheld Meat Pies

Southern BBQ Chicken with Lima Beans and Cornmeal Dumplings

Snickerdoodles (gluten-free)

Lemon Blueberry Cake

Chicken Cacciatore

Cold Soba Noodle Salad

Lost and Found: Statues and Fountains

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Ok, so I’m never really “lost.”

I just like exploring and fortunately this town has a little gem around every turn. My first month here I was delighted to discover all the public art: Wichita has an extraordinary amount of public art for the city’s size.  There are murals, statues, fountains, and monuments.

I like the statues and fountains best. There is a book I found that states there is at least 300 statues in this town. Wichita State University also has a virtual tour of its statues here.  Some statues are little fountains too.  Here are some of my favorites:

The Keeper of Plains is part of the Arkansas River bike path system in Wichita.  This beautiful statue is within walking distance of my house.

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At the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Arkansas Rivers, The Keeper of Plains keeps eternal watch over sacred Native American Indian grounds. Donated to the People of Wichita from Blackbear Boisin.

Cowtown Entrance

Frolicking Children with Burbling Brook. Wichita Central Library Outside reading area.

rusty tractor

Part of a larger outdoor art installation at the corner of 3rd and N. Washington.

Corner Clock and Barefoot Reading Man. At his feet are little bubblers.

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Kinetic art installation at the Rotary park across from the Coleman museum. The top spins freely in the wind while the lower cogs move more deliberately. Corner of 3rd and N. St. Francis.
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Eagle at the Wichita Central Public Library outdoor reading area.

Top of courthouse

Sedgwick County Historic Courthouse

Bell at courthousedistance

Entrance of new Courthouse. Replica of Liberty Bell.

Where are you from?

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I thought I had it bad because people always want to know where I’m from.  I must have “NOT FROM HERE” on my forehead that only they can see.  Anyway, when I say “Oregon,” most times folks will nod knowingly and say something like, “They are really liberal out there.  You must be a vegetarian” or mention that my clothes are different.  A couple of men when I started my new job as an Environmental Scientist with the State of Kansas said they hoped I wasn’t treehugger. Wait, don’t we work for the Bureau of Environmental Field Services? Once, someone said to me “you know we don’t say ‘Hey, what’s up’ because that was said in the ’90s.”  This was a professor at the local university.   Oh, sorry, I forgot those of us from Portland are still living the dream of the ’90s.

But my friend Deb reminded me about this great YouTube video.  And I that I should shut my trap because I’m not dealing with racist stereotypes.

Which reminds me, has anyone seen the movie The Guard with Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle? They tackle racism and stereotypes in an interesting way too.

Anyway watch the video and let me know what you think about racist stereotypes.

Disagreement on the use of “trailing spouse”

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Is “trailing spouse” a pejorative or offensive term?

Another blogger, whose husband has a job that relocates them periodically, has taken a strong position on the term “trailing spouse.” You can read her blog post here.

She doesn’t appreciate or identify with the “trailing spouse” description since she’s doesn’t feel like it is accurate:  She and her husband choose to continue to be nomadic.  She doesn’t feel like she’s trailing behind anyone.

It seems to me that she takes offense at the term since its not feminist.  However her particulars are the same as many expats or trailing spouses; yet she has been able to retain her career while others have not.  She doesn’t feel disempowered like many of us do; her career options do not seem to have dissolved due to regional differences in economics, market specializations, or politics. Therein lies the difference, I think.

Trailing spouse isn’t a great term and its use has been challenged by users on the web. What other terms would you use to describe the situation of a person who must [reluctantly] leave behind their career so that their spouse can pursue their own career?

Let me know in the comments below!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Staring, politeness, tailgating. This place rocks, man.

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I wasn’t accustomed to being the odd one.  So it took me by surprise that people stared at us. All the time: In Walgreens, in the grocery store, on the sidewalk, while driving by.  They would see me on my bike and crane their necks out the window as if I had green skin and two heads.

I also wasn’t very experienced with super duper kindness in person upon the first time meeting but then the cold shoulder otherwise after that. But that is how we were (are) sometimes treated here. It makes me leery of any kindness extended, because I am unsure this person will speak to me again.

Finally, I had to adjust my own driving style to accommodate the TAILGATING here! It is so scary.  I just drive a little slower than the speed limit and put my blinker on way before I need to turn.  So many cars here are dented (or worse) and it doesn’t take a genius to understand it’s because of the way they drive.

Of course, now that I’m used to these things, I realize also that people aren’t as touchy feely as I’m used to and aren’t as responsive to conversational opinions either.  Most times I just get a blank stare when I say something. To soothe the awkwardness of social interactions and ease into another culture, consider the following:

  • It is easy to romanticize where you formerly lived and think where you live currently is full of odd cultural ticks.  Even though you might still be in the US, there are regional and even municipal cultural aspects that differ significantly place to place. Accept it: What’s normal for you is balls-out weird for others.
  • Personal space is a key cultural factor.  Figure it out. For example, most people don’t want to be hugged by a stranger during a conversation, but that’s how people operate in Eugene, Oregon. Conversely, I was hugged by an elderly Latina as I dropped her off at her appointment when I was a driver for the Red Cross here in Wichita; I have never seen her again. It just depends.
  • All citizens in the US either are immigrants or descendents of immigrants.  That means that another country’s culture has been transplanted here as well.  So it could help you understand some nuances by learning about what settlers colonized where you live and then read a travel guide on cultural competency for the original country. For example, it helped me to understand that parts of Kansas were colonized by religious Swiss immigrants.  Since I’ve lived in Switzerland too, I started recognizing cultural similarities in small Kansas towns and here in Wichita.  In fact, for some people in Kansas German is their mother tongue, so some Kansas government documents have a German-language version.  Cool!
  • Change.  Don’t do what is comfortable to you.  Mimic and imitate. Observe what locals do. You might fit in more quickly and get a favorable response sooner.  Instead of expecting chatty customer service, I state the facts now and reduce my friendliness to wait staff unless they initiate something more.
  • Get a sense of humor (that’s culturally sensitive).  Everyone likes a good laugh!

What have you done to adapt to your new place?  Let me know in the comments!