As we contemplated moving to Turkey and as I encountered countless people who had made a similar choice albeit to a different country the phrase “culture shock” always seemed to come up. It was a phrase that had little meaning to me before now.
I thought it generally referred to how things are different in another culture that is not your native culture. When I traveled to India, Thailand and Peru, those places are much different than the US, dare I say even less like the US than Turkey, but in each of those cases I was only in those countries for less than a month and I knew when I was going home and I knew it was soon. With Turkey this is not the case.
My assumption was that the things about Turkey that were different would provide me with a sense of shock. While this assumption wasn’t necessarily wrong, I believe I was looking at it from the wrong angle.
It’s not necessarily what is different here that is so shocking; it is what is not here that provides one with the sense of culture shock.
The most obvious example of this is my family and friends. They are not here. I miss them.
But culture shock also lies in the everyday things that many of us take for granted. In the US, I am free to jump in my car and drive to Target or Wal-Mart which are only 20 miles away at most from any given point it seems and get almost anything I could possibly need. There is no such place in Turkey and if there was, it would only be open 10-12 hours a day and I’d need to take a bus or a taxi there.
In the US, I can expect to be understood by the people around me at least 95% of the time. In Turkey that number quite obviously plummets.
In the US, I can expect that if I want to take a steaming hot shower, the heat of which only a fraction of the population could stand, I can do that. I can make that choice. I have that option. I no longer have that option. It is anybody’s guess how warm the water will be when I step into the shower. It’s also a possibility that there will be no water at all or that the pressure will be nothing but a few drips. This is admittedly rare, but it puts into perspective how low one’s expectations must be and how high their flexibility skills must be.
I am not saying this to incur pity or even to complain (well maybe just a little to complain) but overall I say these things because I wish for everyone who happens to read this to understand their surroundings and their culture a little better.
When the water or the power goes out in the US, it is usually for a very good reason and it is fixed in a reasonable amount of time and it only happens once or twice a year in most places. Understand how different of an expectation that is from so many other places in the world. Understand how different that makes the culture and the mindset of those living the US compared to so many other places in the world.
I think what makes western culture today so unique is that because things so often do work that we expect them to always work, from power to water to our cars to our electronics to our toilets to our you name it. There are very few things we expect to fail and thinking such things deems us pessimistic.
To the rest of the world, failing power, water, cars, electronics, toilets or whatever you can think of is a bit more commonplace.
So for my new definition of culture shock, I think I will go with the following: culture shock n. the displacement of a person into an environment where expectations are vastly different from in the previous culture they have lived in often involving the removal of choice.
Yeah, I like that.