Culture clash: Why being annoyed with a foreign culture can be good for you

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You’ve probably experienced some kind of culture clash in your attempt to live a normal life in a foreign country.

You know, those moments when you get so annoyed with the little things that people do that make no sense to you.

You can’t stand how the local people never smile at you.

You can’t understand the drinking laws in the country.

You can barely keep it together when people don’t respectfully stand in line at the cashier.

And you’re absolutely ready to punch someone in the face if they respond to you in English even though you’ve been working so damn hard to learn that damn local language.

[enter a 100 more examples like the above]

and

[cue rants of epic proportions like this and most everything in this group]

But before you get worried that I’m going to tell you to not get annoyed or express that annoyance, let me be upfront and tell you that I will not be saying anything like that.

Experiencing a culture clash is not something to stuff down and pretend like it’s not happening. It’s an opportunity to live outside of our comfort zones.

In this post I’m going to talk about how you can move beyond your comfort zone so you don’t end up feeling like you have to completely lose yourself in the process.

Culture clash: When we don't get why things are different

What is a culture clash?

I’ve written before that living abroad makes us hyperaware of ourselves – what we like and don’t like. 

It also makes us realize all the things that we’re used to doing on autopilot. It’s only when we’re faced with a different way of doing things – and we don’t get the reasoning behind it – that we experience what’s been called a culture clash.

We can experience a culture clash on a larger scale of how governments operate and how bureaucracy is handled.

On a group level of how people interact in a workplace or organize their shared tasks in a team.

We can also experience a culture clash between individuals – how people choose to raise their kids or what kind of food they want to eat.

Culture clashes can be rooted in values, historically entrenched practices and personal preferences.

As I’ve written before, each of us has a personal baggage full of different values, practices, preferences, and abilities. It’s when our baggage comes in contact with things that look and feel different from what we’re used to that we get annoyed.

We get annoyed because the way we have thus far thought the world works suddenly proves to be wrong.

And voilá, [enter rant about something annoying].

Culture clashes are opportunities to move beyond our comfort zone

Culture clashes can be good because they push us out of our comfort zone

I know, I know, I know.

We’d all rather stay firmly in our comfort zone. But how’s that supposed to work with the reality that you chose to move to and live in another country?

Sure, maybe you didn’t really have a choice in moving and maybe you’re not really ready to morph into a new version of you. A version of you that’s a bit like your past life and a bit like your new self. If you don’t feel ready yet, take your time.

But know that if you want to feel at least a little bit more comfortable with where you live, and move on from a perpetual cycle of comparison and ranting, you will eventually have to take on the task of:

1.understanding the reasoning behind why things are done differently where you live

and

2. deciding whether these annoying things are actually something you can bring into a new version of yourself

How I was forced to move beyond my comfort zone

One of the biggest things that has bugged me, annoyed me, and at times made me outright furious living in Denmark is how many local people don’t really make new friends, let alone friends that are foreigners.

Meanwhile I grew up surrounded by new people coming and going in my life. The thought of never meeting and letting anyone new into my life seemed … bizarre at best and terribly boring at worst. That’s my personal baggage talking.

For a long while I internalized the Danes’ rejection of me and thought there was something wrong with me. I also felt incredibly lonely because of it.

It took me years to start asking questions instead of pointing my finger at those cold and unwelcoming locals.

But once I started asking questions, I learned that Danes value their early friendships and family relations very highly. Many (but of course not everyone) would always put those relations above anyone new.

So, what had looked like discrimination, I could suddenly explain through the underlying value of Danes’ continously investing in their long-term relationships.

Which is a value not all that different from my own deep appreciation for my life-long relations, especially alongside all the people that have come and gone.

As a result, I realized that I actually have the same core values with Danes when it comes to long-term relationships. It didn’t mean that suddenly I found more Danish friends. As a newcomer I was definitely not winning from this societal value. But I also stopped thinking of Danes as some evil bunch.

All I had to do to get over this perceived culture clash was to loosen up my rigid thinking and start asking questions. Doing so also helped me let go of a growing sense of annoyance and resentment.

How to adapt to a new culture faster as an expat

How you can move out your comfort zone one tiny step at a time

At the very least, I encourage you to try out and explore whatever-it-is that annoys you, so you can make an educated guess about how it feels to live outside of your comfort zone.

Go ahead and refuse to stand in line at the cashier. Maybe you’ll actually find it fun and realize that nobody will scold you for it.

Go ahead and don’t smile back at people. You might start seeing interactions with people in a different light, or people might in fact start to respond differently to you as well.

Go ahead and ask questions about why things are done in a certain way where you live. You might get explanations that take you completely by surprise and you come to realize that things are not all that different from you.

Just make note of everything that annoys you, pick one thing for every week and try out what it’s like to live a little differently.

See what happens and share your experiences in the comments.

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Miss Footloose
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Miss Footloose

Oh, I know the expat frustrations whereof you speak, having lived in multiple foreign countries. And it’s excellent advice to try to find out what lies behind the “strange” behaviors of the locals. Understanding makes things a lot easier! One particular issue that stands out for me was smiling/not smiling in Armenia. Here’s the link to my story if this is ok to do: Expat Confusion: To Smile or Not to Smile – https://wp.me/pWIVP-m

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