I’ve been thinking a lot about the ups and downs of the culture shock cycle recently, mainly because my life IS the culture shock cycle right now. And also because many of the other Fellows here in Indonesia seem to be hitting the low points more often these days. For those of you unfamiliar with the culture shock cycle, it looks a little something like this:
Everyone goes through the stages at a different pace. Some people skip stages. Others cycle through the stages again and again (it is a cycle, after all). Sometimes I stay at one specific stage for several days or weeks, but some days I go through the whole cycle in less than 24 hours. I think I’ve generally been pretty positive about my life in Indonesia so far, but here are some examples of how I’ve hit both low points and high points in my daily life.
- Through my limited Indonesian skills, I was pretty sure my maid told me she was quitting, but I couldn’t understand the reason why. My counterpart later spoke to her and then explained to me that the maid wanted to either work more hours or get paid more for the limited hours she works. I was preoccupied about how to do my laundry since up to that point my maid had been hand washing everything for me.
- My coworker found a WONDERFUL laundry service near my home that not only did a great job washing, drying and ironing my clothes for super cheap, but also offers free pick up and delivery. I don’t need no stinkin’ maid!
- I found flat leaf parsley at the supermarket. Bought some. Brought it home. Put it in my pasta salad. It’s not flat leaf parsley. It’s celery leaf. I don’t even like celery. But I was able to laugh off the mistake. I later learned from a coworker who studied in the U.S. that she made the exact mistake in reverse when she thought she bought celery leaf for her soup! Turns out Indonesians usually use celery leaves whereas Americans tend to use the stalks.
- My supervisor at the U.S. Embassy asked me to send him price quotes for flying to a neighboring island for a workshop. When I called a travel agent recommended by a coworker, the agent wanted to read the airlines’ time tables to me over the phone. I asked her to email me the information instead. She said emailing it would break her computer program. When I pushed the issue, she hung up on me. (This was a straw that broke my back on that particular day: pressure from the Embassy + 90 degree heat + lunch time hunger + limited language skills + frustration that Indonesia doesn’t use the internet to the extent I am accustomed to in the U.S. = small crying episode in my office.) But…
- after taking a breather and eating some lunch, I explained my problem to my coworkers. One of them drove me to a travel agent that same afternoon so I could get my needed flight information in person. (We also stopped at a snack store next door where she walked me through the entire shop, identifying foods and explaining their ingredients, making me feel much better about packages I could only wonder about before.) A few days later I returned to the travel agent and purchased my plane ticket. Hooray – I’m going to a new island in January!
- When taking a taxi to meet a friend for dinner, I suspected the driver was taking me the long way. The final fare upon arrival at my destination confirmed my suspicions. While I was annoyed at being taken for a ride, I was also happy because a) I know my city enough to recognize he was not going the usual way and b) I had enough Indonesian skills to call him on it. Ok, this was a very direct and confrontational American communication style to use in a very indirect and non-confrontational culture, but still – he lowered the fare after I complained.
- Staff members at my new gym are beginning to remember me by name. It’s a comforting thing in a new environment.
- I overheard a woman speaking Spanish in the locker room, something I had never before heard in Indonesia. I asked her (in Spanish) where she was from. Turns out she’s Indonesian, married a Spaniard, and now lives in Spain. She’s here visiting family. We ended up chatting in Spanish for a good 10 or 15 minutes. Afterward I considered my excitement at this. I really miss Latin culture and often find myself comparing it to Indonesian culture. Would I be happier living in Central or South America? Or is it just because my language skills are so much stronger in Spanish that I think I might adjust better in a Spanish-speaking country? Would I fit in more in Latin America, or do I just need to give myself more time to acclimate to Asian culture? I wonder about this a lot.