Friday, March 2, 2007

Culture Shock - Part 1 of 3

When one is in a new country for a period of time, one experiences the jolt of "culture shock". Even though I have lived here before, there is always some form/degree of culture shock to be experienced upon returning. That is what I have been told and I can confirm that all of the research is true because we all have been experiencing a bit of good old culture shock this time around.

This current bout of culture shock hasn't been as bad as I expected and I think (and hope) that the deepest ebb has already passed and the light at the end of the tunnel I see is not an oncoming train. Hopefully, we're on the path to getting adjusted and settling into our new life here. We'll see, though.

Having one's family alongside while having culture shock is a mixed blessing because they can help you when you are feeling down, as well as help bring you down when you are doing ok. An interesting phenomenon is when your spouse is having a spot of culture shock, you can be sure that their frustration is almost always over something rather trivial and, oftentimes, their predicament can be slightly amusing to you. However, just wait until you yourself are feeling culture shock and you’ll notice how your spouse can't seem to grasp the gravity of whatever it is you're dealing with, and their amusement at your dilemma is quite annoying!

Overall, for us as a family, going through culture shock together has been a positive thing since we probably feel a closer bond with each other as a result. I’m not talking about “misery loves company,” but rather going through the ups and downs of life together helps everyone to understand each other better. Like they say, "That which does not kill you makes you stronger" (or something like that).

One surefire way to know you are experiencing culture shock is to miss things from home, the little comforts. Things like ice cream.Or more precisely, American ice cream. Israel has a lot of ice cream everywhere. Cartons of ice cream, ice cream bars, ice cream cakes, and so on. The selection is surprising, but it is surprisingly bad. I heard somewhere that they substitute a certain percentage of the milk fat with a kind of aerated vegetable oil. It is close, but no cigar. No big deal though, right? Well, if you have culture shock, it is a very big deal! They do have Ben and Jerry’s in the pint-sized mini cartons, but at nearly $7 a shot (!!). No siree. I’ll manage without it, thank you very much. However it is good to know it's there, you know, just in case...

Another thing that one deals with while in culture shock is the annoying differences found in the new culture. Everything, it seems, is done in a different and seemingly infinitely more frustrating way that I am used to. Like, for example, calling to get information from some office, any office. One time Rima had to call to get information about our children’s vaccinations to see if they were up to date. Instead of the receptionist telling her over the phone, she made her come to the office. It had nothing to do with privacy of the information, but rather the receptionist just didn't want to go find the file. Often, the attitude of receptionists here is, "If they really want the information, they will come here and ask for it in person. Why should I go to the trouble if I’m not sure it is really important?" It would actually be funny if it weren't so incredibly frustrating. This is the case in most countries around the world, so I guess we are just spoiled in America. And blessed.

There are also other little things that will annoy you when you have culture shock that you probably wouldn't give much thought to, normally. Little things like sand, which is EVERYWHERE. This is a picture of what typically comes out of my son's shoes after an average day at school.That's right. Now just imagine what else is in his pockets and hair. Imagine it in the sheets and all over the house. Every day. The reason is that where there isn't grass, there is sand. And all of the school yards and playgrounds have no grass.Sand, sand, everywhere. Everywhere. We finally decided that if everyone else here has to live with sand, so must we. Now it doesn't bother us so much that sand is part of our lives. We still fight it, but we try not to let it win (otherwise one would surely go crazy). Toto, we're not in Tennessee anymore.

-Stay tuned for Part 2 where we'll take a look at a rare form of art not found here.

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