Anyone who has lived abroad knows there is one inevitable condition that you’ll face—culture shock. This is my third time living abroad, and each time I hope I will avoid it, but it always manages to come back to bite me in the butt. But the good news is—it’s normal! And with any luck, you get through it and adjust. Just in time for reverse culture shock to set in when you get home! Here are a few thoroughly researched and tested (by yours truly) ways to deal with it.
1. Pretend you don’t speak English. You’ve been hard at work learning your new language, but you feel stuck, unable to progress, like a moron most of the time (especially when learning German). I’m tired of Germans constantly switching to English because their language is so ridiculously hard (and Germans agree with me that it’s hard by the way). So, yesterday I took a stand of sorts. I went to Starbucks and the dialogue went a little something like this.
Me (in German) – I’d like a small Java Frappucino please.
Barrista (in German) – Is that all?
Me (in German) – Yes, thank you.
Him (in English) – That will be €4.15.
Me (in German) – I’m sorry I don’t speak English.
Him (in German) – Oh you don’t speak English? Really?
Me (in English) No, of course I do.
Him (in German) – haha…ah ok. Do you want whipped cream?
Me (in German) – No thanks. (then in English) Haha….people always switch to English, I thought I’d try something new.
Much laughter and confusion. In the end we finished in German. My work here is done.
2. Eat your favourite childhood food, if you can find it. I used to really love peanut butter when I was a kid (helloooo ants on a log!), but nowadays I only eat it if combined with chocolate or in cheesecake. But, for some reason lately I’ve been on a peanut butter kick. I can’t get enough of it. It feels like home. So find that typical food from home and devour it. Happy results are guaranteed.
3. Pretend you’re a local. There is nothing like the feeling of knowing you are a foreigner but being treated like a local. I’m able to do this sometimes because physically I can pass for a German (if I don’t open my mouth). There is some smug satisfaction with scoffing at the annoying tourists and being asked for directions. Always gives me a happy glow.
4. (Pretend to) Be a dumb tourist. When you get tired of trying to fit in..don’t! You can pull the foreigner card whenever you want. But I caution you, use this one wisely and not very often and use it well.
“I’m sorry Mister Train ticket guy, I didn’t know I was supposed to buy a ticket.” (for women – bat the eyelashes and look innocent, maybe shed a tear)
“Oh I’m sorry I budged in line, we don’t have lines in Canada.” (give them the “really, it’s true” look!)
“Hi there, I’m totally lost and extremely foreign. Can you give me directions?” (when you see a gorgeous man or woman and just want an excuse to talk to them)
5. Write a travel blog. Seriously, best therapy ever. Not only do you get to talk about all your experiences, both good and bad, but people (like you) will read it and enjoy it (you hope) and pass it along. It’s like an e-support group for people living abroad. It seriously rocks. (Oh and thanks again for reading and sharing my blog!)
6. Do one thing every day that completely freaks you out. Okay, maybe not every day, but any day you need a little boost. For me, having a full on German conversation with a cell phone company employee terrified me. But, I did it, we managed and I felt pretty awesome afterwards. Although I’m pretty sure he still has no idea what I meant by “bandwidth.”
7. Send three thousand postcards to jealous friends and family back home. Yes, that might be a bit much. But seriously, how fun are postcards? Even when you are having the crappiest of crappy days abroad (and there will be many) there is something so exotic and exciting about sending a postcard to people back home. A) You know they will love it B) It takes but a few minutes to write and C) You can make your life sound as exciting as you want (even if all you did that day was buy toothpaste aka your scary thing for the day).
8. Sit in a quaint café, sip a quaint drink, write in a quaint notebook, type on a quaint laptop and feel quaint and exotic. Don’t underestimate this one. The great thing about it is, you’re doing your own thing, for as long as you want, but you are surrounded by people so you don’t feel nearly as lonely. Culture shock means some very lonely times, and sometimes you just need to get out of the house and sit in a café. Incidentally, that’s where I’m writing this post. **Please note, this one works especially well in quaint European cafés.**
9. Find your own sacred places in your new city. Okay, so I stole this idea from my mom (Star Weiss)’s book Havens in a Hectic World – Finding Sacred Places and it’s a good one. You don’t need to be religious or spiritual or have any beliefs, you just need to find places where you know you can recharge and shut everything out. I already have a few of these special places in Hamburg and I plan to write a post on them at some point. They will keep you going when you have the sudden urge to completely lose it on the train or start yelling randomly in English at people. Believe me, you’ll need these spots.
10. Do something completely ridiculous or silly or wild. Like sing Thai Karaoke on Hamburg’s famous Reeperbahn, or go to an art gallery in the middle of the night or dress up like a goofy Canadian on Canada day (see Canada day in Hamburg, eh?) or try every single Hamburg beer or….you get my point. Use your imagination and don’t hold back.
This post was originally published here.