I was a perfect fool to think I’d somehow been immunized from culture shock after having lived in three different countries and always within international cities. Though I had heard rumors of this “culture shock” experience, I never thought it would affect me directly, and of all places, in Spain! Two years ago, I had backpacked through several Spanish cities with a friend for a couple of weeks, not once feeling this sense of anxiety, homesickness, or confusion that people talk about in regards to a new culture. For one, I have family all over Spain, and secondly, Spanish is my native language! However, traveling for a couple of weeks to a new country in no way represents the reality of actually living in it.
I think culture shock is best described as that feeling of “What in the world am I doing here? How did this happen? Why? Maybe this wasn’t the best idea…” Culture shock can be triggered by a variety of events, and even the most insignificant difference between what is and what one is used to can spark this phenomenon. Though I wouldn’t exactly say it’s the warmest sensation, I definitely think it is something that everyone should experience at least once if the opportunity presents itself, because in the end, finding ways to overcome that feeling can be a most valuable lesson.
I’ve compiled a rather extensive list of things (both big and incredibly small) that have caught my attention the most in terms of differences between Spain and my life back in the States. Though there are some I highly doubt I will ever get used to, there are others that I’ve truly grown to accept and even appreciate and embrace. For this Part I entry, if you will, on my experience with culture shock, I’ll share five things that “shocked me” from the very beginning, within my first month of being here:
- Tiny glass soda bottles– Forget the huge, refillable cups that are served at restaurants back home. I’m not going to lie, I often miss being soda-spoiled terribly, but at the same time, cutting back on an often unnecessary and perhaps exaggerated lifestyle of refills is probably best. Besides, I’ll appreciate the free refills that much more when I’m back! As for now, cheers to a healthy cut-back and to adorable little bottles!
- Eating EVERYTHING– When Spaniards say they eat everything, they mean it. If you go to a market, you’ll see this for yourself. For instance, when they say they eat pig, they don’t exclude the snout, ears, liver, stomach, feet, or even blood for that matter. Yes, blood. A specialty here is “morcilla”: a mix of blood and rice, stuffed in pig gut. It’s all part of the package, literally!
- Femininity of men– Although many have perfectly plucked eyebrows, wax their whole bodies, wear ridiculously tight clothes, and some even make-up (foundation, for example), their sexuality is not put into question by locals in the least. While in the States we seem to have an obsession with “REAL men” or “manly men”, women here seem to appreciate this…different approach to masculinity.
- Conservation of energy– Something we should probably practice more in the States. For instance, lights are never left on unless they are actually being used. In fact, most light switches are either timed or have sensors in order to assure that a light is never left on. Showers are never more than ten minutes long, escalators have sensors in order to run on low energy speeds when no one is physically on them, and public transportation is incredibly cheap so that people don’t clog the streets with unnecessary traffic.
- Bathrooms– Maybe they take this lifestyle of “saving” a bit far at times. Don’t ever expect to have soap or toilet paper readily available at any given restroom, because you’ll probably be disappointed. In fact, clubs and bars often don’t even have toilet seats. Within a few days here I learned to carry a handy supply of soap sheets, hand sanitizer, and tissue packs with me wherever I go.
…The good news for all is that EVEN germ freaks like me learn to survive, and THRIVE! Stay posted for Culture Shock: Part II!