Have I (Bjørn) experienced culture shock since moving to America?
When moving from one place to another, one is bound to experience some sort of culture shock. My first one was probably moving to England and realising that the English have thick, fluffy carpets covering their bathroom floors and that they think it’s ok to wear very short, pink tops no matter your body shape or weather conditions.
However, such culture shocks pale in comparison to those one has to deal with when leaving the poorer world (also known as the “developing world”) and trying to reintegrate into the Western world. Here are some main “shocks” I/we experienced after returning from Malawi and Turkmenistan.
- The physical shock. Did you think that the germs and unhygienic kitchens of the poorer countries are going to hurt you? Wrong! Some extra bacteria in your diet might give you a tourist stomach for a couple of days after you arrive in Africa, but overall they are hardly going to harm you at all. Returning from the developing is seriously going to mess up your (digestive) systems though. It took Kim and I weeks to recover from this shock… Why did this happen? Because food in the West/the US is pumped so full of preservatives, artificial flavours and colourants, hormones and steroids that it takes a very well-trained stomach to handle it. The organic and natural produce Kim and I had consumed for years had cleansed our bodies and made us inept at fighting processed foods.
- It is not seen as a sign of prosperity and good health to be overweight. In poor countries poor people are skinny (because of a poor diet); in our countries of plenty, poor people are fat (because of a poor diet)…
- Time is precious! The bus is going to leave when it is scheduled to leave and not only once every seat is occupied. People are on time, they expect you to be on time and they have a limited amount of time to spend on whatever (perhaps except TV). In the developing world, a wood carver is not going to be too bothered if somebody is offering him two dollars for a carving he spent six hours making. When time is the only thing you have plenty of, it logically becomes less important.
- Waking up every day realising that “it is actually very unlikely that I am going to die today…” When living in Africa death is ever-present, almost to the extent that it is part and parcel of everyday life, which in turn means that one cares less about protecting oneself against it. When being back in the Western world it is NOT ok to deal with a strangers’ blood without rubber gloves or to deal with symptoms of illness simply by hoping that they will go away… Here in the West sudden death or any death before the age of 80 is ugly and completely unnatural. Only things that kill you slowly (but surely), such as smoking, eating junk-food, being obese, eating junk (see point 1), pollution etc are ok.
About culture shock, part II