what's the opposite of culture shock?
Barcelona Travel Blog› entry 6 of 10 › view all entries
In all my travels, I don't think I've ever really experienced a strong sensation of culture shock. Here in Spain, whatever culture shock I might have experienced subsided a long time ago. Even before this trip, I had already spent about 3 and 1/2 months in Spain, two months of which was right here in Barcelona. So life here already felt pretty "normal."
But even in Japan, which is probably the most pervasively different place I've ever been, I'm not sure if I felt much culture shock. A lot of the stuff that other Westerners complained about over there, like non-Asians getting stared at, or the lack of availability of familiar foods, just made me feel like, "Meh. I can deal with that."
I try to take my experiences as a foreigner at face value rather than constantly compare life in the foreign country to what I'm accustomed to back in the States. I'm pretty open-minded, rather cynical, and I usually read a lot about a new place before I go there. I guess those factors predispose me towards less "shock" in new cultures.
But still, there are some experiences as a traveler that left me feeling, "WTF???" Here's a few, in no particular order:
1) Beijing train station: I spent a week in Beijing in late 2002, and one day decided I should take a day trip out of the city to a town in the area my guidebook said had some nice gardens. So I went to the main train station and tried to figure out how to buy a ticket. Apparently, you go to a particular window depending on your destination. Well, there are dozens of windows! And the destination names were only written in Chinese script. My guidebook showed the Chinese characters for the place I wanted to go, but looking for them above dozens of tickets windows with hundreds of possible destinations was like searching for a needle in a haystack. So I gave up. Fortunately Beijing itself was never boring!
2) Bulgarian body language: Bulgarians nod to say no and shake their heads to say yes. That's confusing as hell to any non-Bulgarians. (I heard that Albanians do it too, though.) The exception to this are the Bulgarians who realize that their native head movements confuse foreigners. They will make a concerted effort to reverse their head motions, but that just made me paranoid about whether I was getting a Bulgarian nod, which means "no," or a rest-of-the-freakin'-world nod, which means "yes." In any country where I don't speak the language, I find that simple gestures will do a lot of the communicative work for me. But in Bulgaria, you just can't win.
3) Hungarian tourist offices: While staying with an American friend in Budapest in 2003, I decided to spend the weekend outside the city to see a bit more of Hungary. The town where I was going had no budget hotels, but the tourist office would set up travelers with rooms in locals' homes. So I show up in the town (which shall remain nameless) on a Friday afternoon and go to the tourist office to find that it's open Monday through Thursday from 9 to 5, and closes Friday at noon. What the hell kind of tourist office doesn't open on weekends??? So I called my friend in Budapest and told him I'd be taking the next train back.
That last one in Hungary was probably one of the most perplexing experiences I've had as a traveler. That body language varies between cultures or that navigating through a Chinese train station might be difficult, are things that I can ultimately accept. But a tourist office not being open on weekends just seems to defy the logic of even having a tourist office in the first place.