Expats: the exhaustion of culture shock (being an expat teaches you to laugh at yourself – maybe maniacally at times)

I grew up in the UK, lived by the social norms and yes abided by the many, many unwritten rules of our society. I was a Brit through and through (including drinking my tea lol). And then the day came, in 1990, when we emigrated to Australia. Everyone said: you won’t suffer culture shock, it is the same culture and language as the UK…HA! What little did they know. It took me a long time to get used to Australian ways ie of either shortening words or adding ‘ie’ to them (afternoon became arvo, biscuit became bikky, breakfast became brekky – you get the idea). I remember the shock I felt at church on day  (they were announcing the church trip for the following Saturday) when they reminded us to bring our ‘thongs for the beach’ I sat there stunned and shocked and whispered to my husband ‘they remind us to bring our underwear? What type of church have we joined???’ Later someone explained they meant flip flops (ie casual beach shoes). Another time, after my son was invited to a birthday party and we were asked to ‘bring a plate’, I rang the party boy’s mum and offered to bring more crockery if she needed. To which, after she had finished her hysterical laughter, she explained that in Australia ‘bring a plate’ meant to bring a plate of food to share. These are just two of the MANY cultural mistakes I have made, yep being an expat teaches you to laugh at yourself.

And here I am in the USA, another new country…rinse and repeat all over again.

I have been living in the USA, in a rural area, for about a year now. It happened  unexpectedly and wasn’t something that I had been planning. I came here to write a book…then stayed. You would think that I would be prepared for the culture shock, but I wasn’t. I had naively thought America was as portrayed in the media…yes I had watched American TV like ‘Friends’ etc and no, here isn’t like you see on TV or read about in the media. Life is very different to TV programs and media descriptions.  I had been wondering if the city (and city people) would be the America I had read about or seen on TV, because rural life and people were not.  But, my conclusion is that the media never portrays a country, and it’s people, like they really are (Australia wasn’t like ‘Neighbours’ either, the only show I had seen about Australia before I emigrated). One big difference is the place Christianity has in the American society. As I have mentioned before…it doesn’t, not to the extent we all imagined and were told by the media it would have here.

I have gone through the typical cultural shock merry-go-round: You arrive and are in the ‘honeymoon’ period where it is all glossy and new, then the ‘shock’ stage when you stand there and think ‘say what!?!?!? You do what???? Why??’ To things people say, do or you witness. The stage where you can’t believe people do things that way and didn’t they know that isn’t done in other countries…? You feel like an alien plonked on a new planet where they go about their lives in a way that looks the same as your old planet and yet is radically different, words are the same but have different meanings: Trousers (UK term) are not trousers here, they are pants (which is underwear to me 😳). A barbie is a doll here, but a bbq in Australia, ‘bush’ means rural in Australia but it is just a plant here.  Imagine the confusion if I suggested to wear your trousers for a barbie in the bush 😬.  On another note, they love your accent here (what accent? I don’t have one…you all do) but don’t understand your words (see previous comments).  They drive (well kind of) the same but on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.  And you keep questioning ‘why’ and people look at you with that ‘because’ answer, which really isn’t an answer (sorry mum and dad, it never was an answer).  You find yourself thinking ‘this is crazy’, yet to the nationals…it isn’t! And it IS tiring, be prepared for the mental exhaustion of trying to get use to it all. I have found it is easier to just go with the flow of the culture at this stage, and try to push out the negative thoughts that come to mind about them.

Then the peaceful time starts…you go through the ‘settling in’ stage, when you start to accept the differences of your new country. You find yourself relaxing more, not fighting the cultural differences so much and you think you have finally settled in…nope, get that idea out of your head, foolish girl.  Just when you think life is ‘normal’ (whatever that is) when you think you are settling down in the new culture and the worst  of the cultural shock is over, you start back at the ‘shock’ stage, and off we go again on the merry-go-round (milder each time but still tiring). I know this will settle down (it did in Australia), and I keep reminding myself that…it does get better, hang in there.

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1st (and definitely the last 😳) time deer hunting for a city girl (the NorthWest USA) 

OK, so let me say this up front…I have never killed anything in my life, nor seen something killed. So, with that confession over (phew I feel better for getting that out) let me describe the first ‘hunt’ I went on, this week.

It all started with a young woman mentioning that she hadnt yet shot her first deer.  My friend has a farm which has many deer visit it each night, so he suggested that she might like to come and hunt there. Welllll hunting really isnt what I would call it lol. The bucks come down the driveway at the same time slot every night, so in essence it was like shooting fish in a barrel. So, the young lady turned up and we sat around on garden chairs for the allocated time slot. And, exactly on time, the bucks made their entrance.  She was using her grandfather’s rifle and when she shot wow did it make a loud sound. So, this far I am doing ok, I was excited for her.

Deer was killed, with a shot through it’s stomach, so took the standard pictures (that all hunters seem to take) you know the ones…hunter kneeling next to his/her kill with gun in one hand and holding up the animal’s head in the other. Then they said we needed to drag the deer over to the barn for the girl to gut it (yep she had not gut a deer before). What! Here? What!?!? You want to gut it and …here?!?!? Yep I was horrified, ok so in my ‘always lived in a city’ innocence I hadnt thought about what happens in hunts. Turns out you have to gut them soon after killing the animal or it ruins the meat…who knew?!? So next task is putting the deer in the back of the truck to drive to the barn.  This light footed deer they moved soo quickly and stealthily when alive became like a dead weight elephant when dead, it took 4 of us to lift it, and even then it was a struggle (can I just point out that no one had mentioned this BEFORE the hunting). So now with our backs thrown out we heading for the barn. At this stage I was thinking, ok…seen enough and time for me to head back to my place…but noooooo, they needed me to go to the house and get some knives while they dragged the deer off of the truck. OK, I can do that, THEN I am going back to my place, and getting out of here (this city girl had seen enough for today).

So, I get the knives, take them to the others and was just about to leave when they asked me to hold a leg. If anyone asks you to do that after a hunt, just say no unless you want to be in the middle of the gutting. Turns out they needed the leg held so they could cut the stomach open…way too much visual for this little vegetarian. So, I turn away until they ask me to hold the torch…why me? because the others are up to their elbows in guts.  It was like being in a butchers: stomach, heart, liver…guts everywhere and we are standing in a pool of blood…ohhh lovely!  (The gutting was a mess because the shot had been to the stomach). Once they have the guts out they then washed the insides of the deer with a hose, which meant more blood (and any lose remains) going everywhere. By this stage I am smiling like a maniac, not because I was happy but because I was in shock and didn’t know what other expression to wear on my face.

Would I do it again, no. Do I have a problem with hunting, no, not when it is done for meat (as this one was) and not just for a trophy.  It was an experience, and it that left this city girl traumatised for the rest of the day, but I am glad the young woman got her deer (just wished I had gone in and had a cup of tea right after it was shot and hid inside till everything had been done lol)

Holland: Haarlem

On day 3 i visited a town called Haarlem, this is another pretty town (ok, you are getting the idea lol…Holland is a beautiful place to go and visit). The history of Holland is worth reading up on. This town was occupied by the Germans during World War II, and so has a story to tell. To learn a bit of it’s history we visited a house /museum at Barteljorisstraat 19, 2011 RA Haarlem called the Corrie Ten Boom House. This was originally a watch shop and home (the home is attached behind and above the shop) that was lived in by Corrie Ten Boom and her family. She was a Dutch Christian who, along with other family members, helped Jews escape the Nazis during World War II. Her family  acted as a ‘safe house’ and refuge for Jews during the occupation. A secret room was built in Corrie’s bedroom to hide the Jews in.  It was small (no wider than a young man’s shoulders and long enough to hold 6 people (cramped). A buzzer was also installed to alert everyone of danger.  Hundreds of Jewish people were saved by this family.  Ultimately, Corrie and her family were arrested after being betrayed by a fellow Dutch countryman.  The day they were arrested Corrie had been ill and was in bed.  The man who betrayed them came to the house seeking help from her family to get his wife released (whom he said had been arrested). He said he needed money and knew that they helped Jews, so could they help him.  He was sent upstairs to see Corrie.  Though she said there was something odd about the man’s eyes, she offered to help. He left the house and later the Nazis came to the house.  Fortunately Corrie and her family had enough time to hide the Jews who were in the house, in the secret room.  The Nazis came, arrested Corrie and her family and searched the house for the Jews, but didn’t find the hiding place (which was behind a solid wall with access via a linen closet). The family were taken to concentration camps and all died except for Corrie. (The 6 Jews, who were hiding in the house, were later rescued by the Resistance 3 days later).  Corrie was released unexpectedly soon after her sister died (10 months after they were arrested) and just before the Nazis made a new rule of sending all women over 45 years to the gas chamber (Corrie was 50 years old). As a Christian Corrie could see God’s hand in all that happened and, while her sister was alive, was continually reminded by her sister that Jesus is Victor (they had a plaque on the wall in their house that reminded them of this as they grew up) and that one day they would tell the world their story and what God had done for them during this time. As i mentioned, only Corrie survived but she spent the rest of her life travelling around the world and sharing her story of Jesus’ victory. This is a great place to visit, you will see the small space the Jews hid in and also have a tour of the home.  Entry and tour is free and the tour lasts about an hour.  You will find the entry to the house behind the watch shop, be there early as they only let in 20 people at a time for a tour.
   

     The plaque translated as ‘Jesus is Victor’

The rest of my time in Haarlem was spent looking at shops etc.  went into my first Lush store (lol ok this information is probably only for you female readers), great place and the prices are considerably cheaper than in America.

Holland

Holland
I spent 5 days in Holland with some friends and was very impressed by it.  I got there, from Germany, by train which took me approx 6hrs. The journey was an easy one and took me past bulb fields full of flowers, which was stunning
The first thing you notice about Holland is how flat it is and the many canals, this is due to a lot of the land being reclaimed from the sea. Holland is a very beautiful place and I am so glad I got to visit it and one of my old students who lives there now. I stayed in Hoofddorp, a town outside of Amsterdam, this is a great town to use as a base…easy access into Amsterdam and near the Keukenhof garden – a must see place in Spring.  This is a garden surrounded by bulb fields, that comes to life in Spring with masses of flower beds. It has more than 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths that fill over 32 hectares. You will also see a windmill and exhibitions here. My advice is set aside at least half a day to go around this garden.  It cost 16€ to get in and was well worth it.  We cycled from Hoofddorp to the gardens (quite a feat for someone who hasn’t cycled in a few years lol) but, it was definitely the best way to get there. You cycle past the canals, bulb fields, through pretty towns with places to stop and eat or buy cheese (at a much lower price than the main cities). Kinda got me back into wanting to cycle more lol.
   

  Talking about cycling; well you will probably be stunned at how many bikes are used here, but then again who wouldn’t cycle in a flat country 😉 It’s great to see the kids going to school on their bikes, or parents using the special child carrying bikes (see below). And not surprisingly, I didn’t see many people who were obese here. It’s a good, healthy lifestyle.

  

On my first day in Holland I went into Amsterdam, a city with a lot of character and many old buildings.  I went to the Rijksmuseum, a great museum to visit and one that would take about 2 or more hours to walk around. It has a heap of paintings, statues, furniture etc to see. I didn’t go to the Van Gogh museum because all lines were too long and in honesty I didn’t have the patience to wait in a queue for up to an hour lol, I wanted to explore. So, off i walked into the city centre. It only took me about 35 mins and was a really nice walk along the canals, past the bulb market (well worth walking around), past the cheese shops (SOOO many of these, and all with free sampling…yum) down the main street with a heap of shops to explore.
   

      Museum

 This is the bulb market

Germany: Gottingen

I arrived in Gottingen, Germany by IC train (from Paris) 2 weeks ago.  On the first leg of the route I was served a full meal and given free drinks which was great.  The second leg of the trip I was served a tiny (or rather miniscule) bag of sweets and the tea/coffee was not complimentary.  Quite a contrast between the two legs.  The trains were on time and the connections on route were easy to follow.  I found that the staff on both trains spoke English and were very helpful.  

Some things I have observed about Germany so far: 

1) The Germans are very friendly, though not many smile at you when you smile at them…my son explained that it was a cultural thing.  

2) The Germans LOVE cakes etc and they are very cheap to buy, in fact food is a lot cheaper here than in France.  

3) They use bikes here like the Dutch, sooooo many bikes around. Saying that, while walking you need to make sure you are walking on the correct side of the path (one side is for bikes, the other for pedestrians), otherwise you will get ran over. 

4) Using buses is easy, and they run very frequently and on time.

5) You can’t buy large packets of ANYTHING 😳. Everything is sold in small packets, makes buying ingredients for baking frustrating, but hilarious to try to work out what is what ingredient in the shops ie baking powder lol.  I must look very strange to the Germans, I walk around with my phone held up to items to use Google Translate to read what the labels say lol.

6) During the war, Germany and the UK agreed not to bomb university cities, that has meant that Gottingen still has lots of buildings from the 1500’s etc.  

7) The Germans love to practice their English.  Often I ask if they speak English and they say ‘ohhh only a little’, and then promptly hold a conversation with me in perfect English…wow I wish I knew German ‘only a little’.

All in all Germany has been a big surprise for me. It is a beautiful place with very warm and welcoming people in it.

My Final Days in Paris

In two days I head to Germany, so today I spent another 4 hours walking around Paris.  I went to the Parisian Statue of Liberty, which was well worth seeing. It sits on an island in the middle of the Seine, but I would recommend taking a map or using the Google app to find it.



I then walked back upto the Eiffel Tower, it was a cloudy day and there were no queues for tickets – wow! Still military and police around guarding it though.  I then walked back to Montmartre from there. Now, the funny thing is, I popped into a shop called Marks and Spencers (M&S)…those of you who are British will be very aquainted with this shop 🙂 After buying some things I headed back to the studio following the directions of Google Maps (you’ve got to love this app for getting you around).  The app took me down a road that had lots of business men and luxury cars. Eventually I started paying attention to the shops and people…all well dressed carrying Ives San Lauren or another top brand shopping bag and there I was carrying my M&S bag, kinda felt out of place lol.  Eventually I got to the end of the road and saw that I was walking on a side road of the Champs Elysees :). By the way it was a very nice area to walk around, lots of top brands so if you like buying these brands, this is the place to go.

Also wanted to share the following warm and fuzzy story.  On Saturday I went to the local supermarket and after paying for my shopping, the girl on the checkout turned and gave me a single stem yellow rose, what a lovely gesture and one that made my day. Just another example of the friendliness of the French.

My reflections on Paris: a place with beautiful architecture, a lovely setting, kind and helpful people, easy to walk around or use the trains and lots to see. In my time here I have fallen in love with Paris and the French, definitely a place I would come back to and also recommend to bring your loved one to (Paris is known to be the city of love and it holds up to that name very well, a truly romantic place to visit). 



Safety while travelling alone: being followed

Today I was followed by a man, when I walked from the city centre to Montmartre, in broad daylight. Though this was disconcerting, I automatically slipped into ‘alert’ mode.  For those that I have taught self defence to, what I am about to say will just be a reminder.  When out walking, don’t walk with your ear buds in (it means you can’t hear what or who is approaching you), keep to busy areas, be aware of your surroundings, if followed either slow down and look in a shop window (to let them pass), or try to outwalk the person or run. Head to a shop or busy restaurant/coffee shop and above all try to keep calm.  I did all these things; I tried to outwalk him, then slowed down to let him overtake me (but after overtaking he would slow down until I had passed him), I crossed the road and he followed (did this numerous times) I also kept a ‘proximity awareness’ of where he was at all times (eventually he was walking so close to me I could hear his breathing). At this stage I headed to a supermarket where they have security guards (here in Paris). My plan was to approach the security guards, if he followed me into the shop, and tell them about him. Fortunately for him (after following me for 25mins) he wasnt game to enter the shop and literally disappeared.  Before leaving the shop I looked around and checked he couldnt be seen before heading back to the studio. 

Some additional advice: if he produces a weapon, scream and run towards people, and don’t stop screaming. If he threatens to shoot you, still run, it’s harder to hit a moving object and if you don’t know him then he is less likely to start shooting at you but instead will head off for an easier target. If he grabs you then fight, scratch, kick and continue to scream. Try to get away to a busy area, shop/home etc and seek help.  And ultimately my advice is: learn self defence…it empowers you, helps to protect yourself and may one day save your life.