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|Living in Crete
Living - Culture Shock
When moving to Crete be prepared to experience culture shock. Even if you have spent many holidays on Crete,
and think that you know the country and the people well it can still manifest itself when you are out of holiday mode
and start dealing with a new life. After the initial excitement you may discover that you feel lost and encounter
difficult times and crises in daily life; not knowing how to do simple things that you take for granted in your home
country. Communication difficulties will occur and it can be very frustrating not being understood or not
What exactly should you expect and how can you overcome it?
The following article gives you some answers.
Reproduced with kind permission of Simon Payn www.livingabroadreport.com
The ability to cross cultures is essential if you are to live overseas successfully. Indeed, a mark of the international
citizen is the ability to fit in.
If you can't do that, not only will you be unsuccessful but you'll be unhappy too.
Getting on with people from other cultures is paramount. After all, you will be thrown into all sorts of situations - at
work or in your personal life - where you will need the help and support of people from cultures other than your own.
Those who are successful in an international career are able to adapt to other cultures. Indeed, employers when
hiring look for someone who will feel at home. After all, who wants to be a fish out of water, and who wants to hire
one? It would lead to disaster.
But more fundamentally than that - if you fail to adapt to your new culture, you're going to be unhappy. And unhappy
people end up going home.
If you are continually feeling like you don't belong and that you don't understand the society in which you find
yourself, you are going to be feeling continually isolated and frequently frustrated.
That's no way to live - and it's certainly no way to succeed.
So what does culture shock feel like?
When you're used to things being one way, suddenly being somewhere where things are quite different can be a
huge shock to the system.
It's as if all you ever knew is wrong. People don't behave in the way you expect them to behave; things don't happen
the way you expect them to happen.
This experience is called "culture shock".
Craig Storti, in his book The Art of Crossing Cultures, is careful to make the distinction between country shock and
What is this difference?
Country shock is the shock at the physical differences you encounter in your new home; the different standard of
living, perhaps, or the language. It's the very fact that you are somewhere new - you don't know where anything is or
where to get help. You are lost.
This would be bad enough. But on top of that comes culture shock proper. And with this, we're talking about the
The way people behave differs according to the culture in which they have been brought up and live. Something that
might be culturally unacceptable to you might be perfectly acceptable to them - and vice versa.
An example if queuing - or getting in line. In Britain and North America, people know how to queue. Indeed, it's said
the British like nothing better than a good old queue.
Go to Spain, (and here in Greece!) for example, and it's just the opposite. There's a queue or sorts but, in the words
of Expatica's excellent blogger Sal DeTraglia, it's "three-dimensional". There's no easy to understand line but rather
a huddle of people, most of them shouting to get attention.
It's these fundamental differences that lie at the heart of culture shock.
Culture shock doesn't come on as soon as you step off the plane. Indeed, the first few days and weeks often feel like
a holiday. It's known as the honeymoon phase - you are so happy to be in this exciting new location that you are
blind to its differences and any faults you will later perceive.
But then culture shock sets in. You start to be aware of the culture around you, and you don't feel comfortable in it.
You feel you are being continually assaulted by events, and you start to feel stressed and uncomfortable. You can
even start to hate your new home and the people within it, to the point of being ready to leave and go back home ..
This period can last for a few weeks - until you start to take control. Then you start to recover; you find the skills you
need to cope with culture shock and start to beat it. That's when you can finally be said to have adjusted - to be
functioning properly as a foreigner in a foreign culture.
How long will this process take? It depends on many factors, such as how different the culture is to your home
country and the tools you need in order to accept that culture.
Culture shock begins when the honeymoon ends - when you have to take off your rose-tinted spectacles and face
the real world. It manifests itself in many ways.
You will become aware of silly misunderstandings with people you meet. These can lead to general confusion about
people and events. Aspects of the country - things that are 'not like at home' - start to get to you. You perceive
these things to be so much worse than at home - and you can't seem to understand why things are not done the way
they are back home. After all, the way you are used to seems so much more sensible, so much more efficient, so
much more pleasant. You start to resent the country for not being like home; for annoying you with its
inconveniences, its difficult people. You even start hating the place where you live.
All this leads you to start to feel lost. There feels like there is nothing to hold on to - no familiar places, rituals,
sayings. You can start to feel lonely.
And when you start to feel isolated and lonely, it can get even worse. You lose confidence in your ability to cope -
things start to get difficult in your everyday life at work. Your ability to function is reduced - you're too busy stressing
about the culture that you can't concentrate on the task in hand. Tasks that were easy back home are enormously
difficult. You can no longer take things for granted.
The point is: if you stay in this state, you will be unhappy. You might end up throwing the towel and going back
home. Indeed, culture shock is one of the main reasons that people stop living abroad.
But luckily there is a way to fit it and succeed abroad.
I'm not going to tell you that getting over culture shock is easy. But here are perhaps the three most useful ways to
put an end to culture shock - and perhaps nip it in the bud before it starts.
First - research. It goes without saying that it helps to know what you are getting into before you get into it. If you are
expecting the country and its people to be a particular way, you won't be shocked when you get there. So research
as many aspects about the country and the people as you can. Luckily, there are many resources out there to help
you in the form of websites and books.
Next - accept that people won't be the same as you. It seems simple, but by making this paradigm shift, the shock
doesn't seem so, well...shocking.
If you are expecting someone to behave towards you as you would back home, you'll be shocked and upset when
they fail to do so. But if you expect absolutely anything to happen - and you accept it - you can't be as shocked. So
instead of comparing their behaviour to that you would expect back home - and comparing it unfavourably - just say
to yourself that it is different. Not worse, not better - just different. Now, you don't necessarily have to agree with this
way of behaving - but it won't get to you quite as much as it did before.
Finally - get out there and get yourself muddy. It's easy to give into the urge when culture shock sets in of staying at
home and locking yourself away from the outside world. But this is the worst thing you can do. You must go out there
and confront it, go and keep yourself busy and start meeting people. Not only will that take your mind off the shock
you are feeling, but it will also bring you close to ways of understanding the culture. The more you are exposed to it,
the more you will see how normal (in that particular country) that behaviour is, so the more you will accept it. And if
you are able to meet other people - particularly expats - they will be able to share your frustration...but also help you
find a way through it.