Culture Shock

Moving to a completely different country has been the most challenging yet fulfilling experience of my life. Culture shock is a common phenomenon that occurs when you are settling down in a foreign and unfamiliar environment where you have no longer such control of your life as you might have had back home. I have been reading a couple of experiences all over the internet and social media and people differ greatly in the extent to which this culture shock not only affects but also transform them.

See, theoretically, culture shock moves through four different stages:

  1. The Honeymoon Stage, when you are on cloud nine and everything seems perfect in the host culture.
  2. The Frustration Stage, probably the most difficult one, when you start questioning and judging the new culture and the way things are done. Throes of depression and homesickness appear.
  3. The Adjustment Stage, you start relaxing and understanding the new environment without having emotional breakdowns.
  4. The Acceptance Stage, when you embrace it and even develop a sense of sensitivity and belonging to the host culture, sometimes internalizing the very same behaviour criticized before in the second stage.

Going through these phases generally takes months to years for some or even weeks to months for others. There is no time formula.

Bla, bla, bla. Now, I’m going to talk about my own personal culture shock being a warm spicy Venezuelan transplanted into a cold Canadian setting.

For those who have read my ‘First month in Toronto’ post, being able to conclude that that was my honeymoon stage is a no-brainer for sure.

You may be right… to some extent. I am currently swaying amongst all four stages though. And I’m going to explain why.

I came to Toronto and I absolutely loved everything from the beginning. I grew up with this desire of living one day in a Commonwealth nation and suffice it to say I developed this passion for the Anglo-Saxon culture ever since I was a kid. I came here in springtime. The weather was nice for me, 7 degrees Celsius even though the recently ended winter was trying to hold on against the building warmth, now we’re in the middle of the summer with temperatures reaching up to 44 degrees Celsius with humidity (it’s disgusting and I hate it because I don’t have AC at home), but apparently YOU CANNOT complain about the heat here because this season is quite short and the winter season is very long and dreadful. What I keep saying is that at least in winter you can always wear thicker clothes and dress like an onion, but in summer? Bitch I cannot take my fucking skin off! Whatever, I am not in a dictatorship anymore so I get to complain whenever the hell I want to. The people here are generally so nice and polite. The city’s diversity is amazing and I’d never seen anything quite like it. I started my Pathway Classes for College, which I finished last week btw (with hell of a score, 99% out of 100%!) and I’ve made several friends from all walks of life. It’s all suited almost perfectly for a fresh start.

When you immerse yourself in the Canadian diversity, you hear all these different slangs and accents from people from all over the world that make you wonder if you even know English. ‘Un de todito’ as we would call it in Venezuela, I was all like ‘Wtf is that even English?!’ But don’t worry, it happens the first couple of weeks, you eventually get the hang of it…

The very first thing that triggered my also very first Culture Shock symptom was the meal distribution through the day. I stayed with a homestay family the first month, and they gave me breakfast, lunch and supper, and I wasn’t allowed to cook for obvious reasons. They were really nice to me from the first day and I have no complaints whatsoever. However, it was shocking to have just a bowl of cereal for breakfast and an ordinary sandwich for lunch. I was even more shocked when I found out that many Canadians are religiously okay with having a Tim Horton’s coffee for breakfast and then waiting for lunch time for their next food intake. Are you freaking kikiriwiking me? I’m gonna starve to death! Not everything was lost though. Suppers were insane to be fair. My homestay father would put a lot on that plate as if it were for some former ex-con. Truth is, Canadian suppers are served hot and they’re the biggest meal of the day. So, this is me, waking up every single morning looking forward to supper time ‘cause I’m a fucking voracious eater and I’ve been such ever since I was born. Can you relate?

That only lasted for a month to be honest, I then moved out to another place closer to downtown, where I can cook naked and do as I please. Well, not strictly speaking naked because I have roommates but you get the point. Now I can have AREPAS whenever the hell I want, so fortunately for me that starving period came to a glorious end. Let’s move on.

TIME AND PUNCTUALITY. Your life and reputation here relies on chronometry. If you’re five minutes late you receive an immediate backlash from pretty much everyone, and I’m not exaggerating. You know, I like to consider myself as a very punctual person on the whole, but my first encounters sort of gave the opposite impression on people. In my defense, I was an innocent rabbit placed in a foreign environment that didn’t know the way the city operated. Now I do and it’s funny to see the ones who originally gave me those scornful looks when I was unpunctual, apologizing up to three or four times for being 5 or 10 minutes late as though it were a big deal. Well, here it is.

Be that as it may, no Culture Shock experience will ever measure up to when I started dating Canadian guys. Acompáñame a ver esta triste historia…

I need to make an assertion first. As a general rule, we Venezuelans tend to be very fun, warm and loving people. We enjoy being loud and extroverted. When we are dating someone, we usually text or call that person every day to display our interest and affection, and of course, we meet up as often as we possibly can. In a nutshell, we are LATINOS, we are not scared of physical contact without labeling it disrespect for each other’s personal space, if there is such a thing!

I’ve had the adverse outcome with Canadians (bear in mind that, regardless of the diversity here, I’ve only dated native Canadian guys so far). At first, I thought they were just isolated experiences, but I started noticing the same pattern, which prompted me to begin a research and inquisition on the matter. I asked my Canadian friends, and people I know that have been living here for quite a while, and unfortunately they all proved my hypothesis: GUYS ARE F* COLD STONES! Not even a totem is that heartless.

Of course, this is nothing more than a generalization. There might be great warm men with wonderful feelings and spice out there but surely the percentage is significantly low in contrast to the vast majority whose stereotype I have just described above. But it’s there, it’s a cultural thing.

Canadian guys are beautiful but cold. Compared to other guys in different countries that my friends have told me about, Canadians are not even hot ‘and’ cold at the same time as the Katy Perry Song goes, they’re just bloody cold. Perhaps the weather really messes you up that bad here that you unconsciously end up being that cold-hearted (please, pray so that never happens to me). They hardly ever text or message you during the day, not even to check if you’re still alive, and most likely would never find out if you die unless you list them as your emergency contact. You might think they are not interested in you, though they are, but in a very odd and old-fashioned way; truth is, they’re so absorbed in their own world that they’re used to having everyone chase them. But don’t get me wrong, sometimes they’re just really not into you. See? Ese es el peo. You have to  second-guess their intentions and go dive blind-sided. Trust me, it’s off-putting. I dated one for about a month, and I said to myself ‘Oh look, this one’s different-ish from the rest, and he’s so gorgeous, OMG look at that face!’. He was not a bad guy at all, we just faced a lot of cultural differences that in the end led me to reach my threshold, cut my losses and make the decision to stop seeing each other ‘cause I was getting overwhelmed in my own emotional involvement and drama and I couldn’t put up with that cold grey attitude on his end. Besides, what’s with that ‘chase me’ attitude? Hell, I might not be the hottest or prettiest guy but you have to fucking meet me halfway here; this is a two-way street. No me jodas.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying they are bad guys; they are just overly difficult for us Latinos to connect with. If there’s any Canadian reading this, I challenge you to hit me up and prove me wrong. Some people are lucky to build deep, long-lasting emotional connections and that might point out that all the good ones are already taken. As Julie Beck referred to as the dating fatigue, it really is sifting through a lot of crap, maybe the single ones left are just the last people at the party trying so hard to go home with someone.

Anyway, who could have predicted it right? Four months and I’ve already been painted with my first scarlet letter in Toronto.

I just got carried away, let me go back to the point. I got stuck in the Frustration Stage of Culture Shock when I started meeting more and more people; that’s when I started criticizing and judging, wanting my Latinos back.

I still do, just so you know. This is where I sort of reminisced and realized how we take us for granted, and I say ‘we’ because I know this is a prevalent and recurrent Latin fantasy, craving this perfect white guy with blue eyes and sharp body in spite of everything else, and it is just bullshit, but of course, no one raises a red flag there. In the worst case scenario, I’ve already made up my mind to go move to an isolated cabin in the woods with a lot of dogs, cats and a rattlesnake out there in Saskatchewan and sing Look what you made me do’.

There it is, CULTURE SHOCK.

Now, the next thing that pushed this phenomenon to a higher stage was starting losing friends. Indeed, some of the friends I initially made here began to vanish. Don’t ask me how or why that happened, it just did, and it is definitely unsettling because you don’t feel as having the prerogative to discard, get rid of or lose friends when you are exactly recreating your life after leaving family, old friends and everything behind.

That furthered my frustration stage. Nevertheless, there is a significant difference here compared to most culture shock experiences. I may miss my family, my dog, my old school friends and all that, but I do not miss Venezuela; it sounds ruthless and insensitive, but here’s the fact: whatever it is that made Venezuela what it was before is gone. It’s not there anymore. El Chavismo has been a bloodthirsty cancer, consistently efficient in ripping Venezuelan spirit to shreds, if there is any left, now people behave differently and less empathetically; they just don’t care. That, on top of the worst humanitarian crisis in its history and the massive brain drain due to the sheer immigration outflows, by all means I do not miss or take any of that for granted. The only thing I regret is not leaving earlier when I pretty much had the chance. When you arrive in a first world country and you display and put your full potential to use and discover how underestimated it has been for so long, there is no worthwhile questioning of your decision of going away; for sure it is painfully difficult at first but it will work out for the best. I am resolute in my decision and I have not come all this far to be here so as to regret it or wanting so badly to go back to a place that made me (and mostly all my peers) flee in the first place. So, as much as I miss my loved ones (many of them are not living in Venezuela anymore anyway), I will keep up fighting while I can fight because I know I am better up in here, and will be even better throughout time.

The ultimate prompt to my Culture Shock (for now): Canadian parties are pretty lame for us Latinos. We are used to partying like an animal from midnight to dawn. Here, most parties start later in the afternoon and end by 3 am. That’s it. Although this hasn’t been a huge problem for me considering I am not a party animal, sometimes when my darkest demons take control of my weak innocent body I get to miss my ‘acabadas de trapo hasta que amanezca’ nights. It’s alright though, the older I get the harder it is for me to endure those wild nights out anyway. Disclaimer: Exceptions have been and will always be made…

Also, loonies and toonies; what the fuck are those? I had a flashback to when I was a kid and spent my idlest times watching Cartoon Network. Turns out they are Canada’s one and two-dollar coins, respectively. And don’t even get me started on the Poutine, I tried it once and immediately felt as my arteries filled up with fat and cholesterol and my stomach was imploring me ‘dude, for God’s sake just stop’.

Other than that, I am in love with my host culture. Here you have the freedom to be anything and anyone you want and no one is going to judge you or look down upon you. I love Drag Queens now but I don’t want to become one so chill out. I wasn’t free in Venezuela, I was never comfortable with or used to disclosing my sexual orientation with anyone because of fear of rejection and contempt, now I don’t care, and I’m actually throwing shade on the patriarchy every slight chance I get. I have finally become aware of the fact that there is nothing I need from anyone except for love and respect, and anyone who is not willing to give me those things has definitely no place in my life. Granted that and beyond a shadow of a doubt, Toronto has been such an amazing and vibrant place for me; every day I get to wake up to a city that loves to love, yet whereas men don’t love me – sorry, I needed to include more drama in the post; but honestly, I’m so damn lucky to call it home.

So, wrapping up, there is no escaping from culture shock so don’t even try it. However, every single one of us approaches it differently and the impact it has on our lives varies to some extent. My only advice is to be prepared for a shift of paradigm, embrace it as it is and go through all the different stages in the most authentic way; avoid adding an extra pressure on yourself to feel happy when you’re not or fit in certain standards where you don’t belong. Jump on the bandwagon of multiculturalism, but take it one step at a time. As Venezuelans, we are best known for thriving in adverse situations, so this is our chance to make a compelling, successful immigrant experience and prove, wherever we are, that we are a force to be reckoned with.

Y recuerden: Los buenos somos más.

Please, leave me your feedback and share your own personal experience on the comments below (either English or Spanish is ok).


 

9 thoughts on “Culture Shock

  1. Hey Khaled,

    Please translate more of your blog posts so that I can read…

    I don’t have any specific ‘feedback’ but I really love how you ended the post on a positive note. Yesterday I was just half way through it and literally felt like oh shit, all of this happen to me to, is it a bad sign, should I pack my stuff and go home. Haha.

    Now that I’ve read all of it, I felt relief and hopeful. :D

    I myself treasure friendships as well and you can trust me I am not another cold stone. :P Maybe we might end up being disappearing friends in each other life one day, Idk, however, let’s being true to our own feelings, having fun, and all that.

    Thank you for reaching out to me when I was so desperate finding a friend. Hehe. Have an awesome weekend!

    Like

  2. Dear Khaled

    About the whole entire post it reminds me all lived in TO. (Just wait until your first winter comes and you will miss Venezuela weather every single day) BUT let me tell you that all the struggle is worth it for sure even after winter season.

    The cold stones personalities and the losing friends already happened to me too but the closest friends stick with you. The dating part still not conquered at all since I’ve decided last year stay out of the radar for cleaning old karma and patterns. And it worked. With 10 months here I think I’m used to the culture mix but since I’m surrounded by greeks I feel like home… You are on good track… Keep studying and keep going foward… A big hug for you!

    Like

    1. Orlando! Everyone keeps telling me the same thing about the weather haha. I’ve experienced winter in NYC and I’m fully aware that cold here can get a bit harsher but come on, it’s Toronto, not Alberta or Montreal. Regardless, all my life I’ve always been a cold weather kind of person so I’m actually excited to wear all my winter gear.

      Thanks for your feedback my friend! Hugs!

      Like

  3. Dear Khaled,

    I can recall many similarities that happened to me when I had the chance to live for 2 years in NYC while studying at Columbia. I went through those 4 stages but in the end I think I had the best time of my life so far. For the record I felt like native NYkers were as cold as you say about Canadians.

    Actually I am not here to comment about my great time in NYC, but rather what happened to me last year when I tried to move to live and work in Buenos Aires, AR. The honeymoon period was very brief, basically it was reduced to the first day of work and a business trip to Mendoza but it went downhill afterwards and rever recovered.

    I can tell that regarding culture shock I have a funny story and a very upsetting one. The funny one is that Argentinians tend to be “amigueros” which is cool but they rather go to the extreme in the sense that for them is common to hire dwarfs persons to do strip tease or pole dance for them during a bachelor’s party, also they do some other cruel jokes to the groom such as hiring a funerary car for him, rob all his clothes and throw them out in the streets,etc.

    The upsetting cultural shock is that living in Argentina is like going back to the 90s: many payments are only accepted in cash (including apartment rentals and many stores do not accept major credit/debit cards so you are very lucky if you find a restaurant which accepts at least visa and master card at the same time)

    Even if you are a legal resident, to open a bank account you must submit your form and supports at a bank branch one day and await for 3 weeks before your account is opened, afterwards you must request your debit card and that means another 3 weeks of waiting (you will receive a password by regular mail before you get your card and then you will be able to activate it only during business days).

    Moreover: you are allowed to change pesos to dollars at your bank’s local branch but up to a cap per month that varies with every person and you are able to receive wire transfers but you are unable to put your dollars out of Argentina unless you pay a very high fee and that can only be done at your bank’s the main office.

    Electronics and clothing are like 300% more expensive than anywhere else. It is cheaper going to the US and buying all the good stuff even when you have to pay a 50% luxury tax when you bring the goods to Argentina.

    Cellular service: All wireless carriers offer prepaid or post paid plans but neither of them offer you the option to call landline phone numbers, so how do you communicate with landline numbers? You have to go to a “Locutorio” or as we call it cyber-cafe to be able to call(90s flashback). Even post paid service will only give you a few minutes to other carriers

    MOST Subway cars DO NOT HAVE AIR CONDITIONING, NEITHER SUBWAY STATIONS.

    The Weather in BsAs is bizarre as you can have the 4 seasons in one single day, and its very windy.

    I could tell you more things that can be quite upsetting but this is a very long reply so far!

    PS: I liked your post a lot. Take care!

    Like

    1. Hello, Andres

      I’m still having a hard time believing what you’re just telling me about Argentina and the going back to the 90’s reference. It’s so shocking that a well-positioned country in L.A. gets to uphold those backward customs and policies and I’m surprised ’cause I’ve got a lot of friends settling down there (for quite a while now) and they’ve never mentioned such a thing.

      Regardless, thank you very much for reading and sharing your experience! I appreciate the effort.

      Hugs!

      Like

  4. Atinadísimo!
    En muy contadas ocasiones hay entradas como ésta, en que se leen y se sienten las verdaderas experiencias de alguien que deja su país buscando algo mejor. A pesar de tener la sonrisa en la fotografía pisando tierras lejanas, no siempre se sabe el gran esfuerzo de adaptación qué hay detrás de cada toma.

    Siendo un mexicano residente en Alemania y contento con la oportunidad de emigrar, empalmé con las cuatro etapas que describes. Conmigo, la magia que duró un mes, se vino abajo con la frustración y adaptabilidad que perduró año y medio. Ahora con casi cuatro años, me siento mejor, más contento, más agradecido y satisfecho, sin olvidar o menospreciar mi cultura y mis hermosas raíces.

    Los incesantes cambios y despedidas de amigos, la constante adaptación lingüística y cultural e incluso la “frialdad del ligue” (que antes consideré sólo europea) se han vuelto parte del mole que nos toca por emigrar.

    “Unas por otras” digo yo siempre, y aunque ahorita esté muy contento, me intriga saber dónde estaré el día de mañana y con quién.

    Muchas gracias Khaled y muchísimo éxito con esta experiencia. Que tus textos sigan tocando a esos corazones latinos.

    Like

    1. Hola, Tavo!

      Gracias por leer y comentar brevemente tu experiencia. No tengo duda de que estas representando a Mexico muy bien en Alemania, empezando por el struggle con el idioma jajaja. Sigue cosechando exitos!

      Un abrazo calido para nuestros frios entornos!

      Like

  5. First of all I have to say your grammar is really good and I need to emphasize this point because speaking more than one language is a hustle for many and you seem to dominate this very well!

    This is the first time I read one of your posts and I’m amazed by the way you connect with people with your writing and make them feel like you’re speaking to them in person and keep them interested!

    As an immigrant in the US (also from Venezuela), I’ve felt and experienced so many times what you describe above (specially when it comes to meals). Our food is way more delicious (at least for me), our breakfast are heavier than cereal with milk, our lunches are more than a simple sandwich and if my dinners were as big as American’s, I would be probably looking like a beach ball now smh.

    I have to say though, that I loved dating guys here when I was single. I think people in the US are much more casual about dating which takes the pressure off I used to feel when I was dating guys in Venezuela (maybe Canadians are different).
    I’m currently married to an American Army Veteran and I cannot be happier with him. He contributes a lot with the house chores, he’s kind, very respectful, responsible, tender, very romantic and honest with me (I couldn’t find that back home). Of course I have experienced the struggle of feeling like “he’s not interested” because the way they show they care is very different from ours; but if its the right person, he/she will try to adapt to you and you will try to do the same <3

    Once again I loved your post and I cant wait to read the rest of them! Keep going <3

    Like

    1. Dear Mafe!

      Thank you so much for taking your time to read and share your experience. I’m more than happy with the impression I’ve made on you.

      I cannot be happier either after reading your comment. It is amazing to think that you were lucky enough to find such a man. *envy*

      Pa’ lante my friend! Thanks for your good vibes and enjoy the neighbouring country.

      xoxo!

      Like

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