I don’t know about you, but for me that’s just a nicer way of saying, “That’s weird.”
There are so many things I see here that I generally throw into the “weird” category. Like the way taxi drivers drive at breakneck speeds, zipping in and around other cars without so much as a honk or turn signal. Or when three (or more) people try getting onto a bus at the exact same time. Or the way locals all tend to stop and stare at a car accident but do nothing to help.
It’s almost instinctual – to regard something as bizarre because it doesn’t align with any of my beliefs or experiences. My immediate response is often to accuse their actions or beliefs as being silly or dumb. In the moment, I believe they are at fault. They are clearly doing it wrong.
But what I’m forgetting in these instances is that I am the foreigner.
Hello, Culture Shock!
One of the hardest things about adapting to a new culture is understanding that this is the way people have lived (and seen others live) their entire lives. Everything they do makes sense to them because it all fits within their paradigm.
As the outsider, I’m coming in with a much different perspective and set of experiences. And so I accuse, I judge, and I discriminate. Maybe that sounds a little harsh, but this is the reality of culture shock. You’re uncomfortable. So you point a finger at the culture and tell it, “You’re doing it all wrong!”
This happens with cultures and it happens in our relationships.
Have you ever met someone a lot different than you? How did you react? What were some of your initial thoughts about that person?
If you’re anything like me, you probably didn’t think, “Wow, they’re so incredible! I need to become more like them because their style is clearly far superior to mine.”
No, that’s obviously not what happens! Usually, we think the other person is a little weird and that we’re the ones who really know what we’re talking about. Let’s call this relational shock. We get stuck inside our own “box” of how a person should think or behave – which is usually based upon our past experiences or what we’ve been taught.
So what’s the solution to culture/relational shock?
Getting Outside of the Box
Here’s the hard part: learning how to engage with both people and cultures that are different require us to change. I’ve only been married for just over a year now and I’ve definitely had to change some of my behaviors in order to improve my relationship with my wife. (Things would not be good if I didn’t change!)
One of the ways that I’m changing is through the questions that I’m beginning to ask. When I encounter new or unusual things, I try to ask, “Why are things that way? How did it become that way?”
Sure, I’ll always have my personal thoughts on the issue, but now I’m actually becoming a better listener because I’m more open to learning. Whether it’s Chinese culture or my friend’s unique personality, I will be more equipped to interact with both of them because I can better understand where they are coming from.
You don’t need to agree with differing beliefs or actions. But are you willing to get outside of your safe little box? Are you willing to admit that the “weird” things you see in another person or culture just might be something that you can grow to accept and appreciate – dare I say even enjoy?
Overcoming culture shock isn’t easy. It can be scary, and definitely a little uncomfortable. But it’s worth it.