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:
- The Honeymoon Stage, when you are on cloud nine and everything seems perfect in the host culture.
- 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.
- The Adjustment Stage, you start relaxing and understanding the new environment without having emotional breakdowns.
- 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).