Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

September 3, 2008

Culture shock. What is it?

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:59 PM

Its been a while since I last blogged mainly because of work but another factor is that once you get home from a long day at work you just don’t feel like thinking and creating a coherent blog post, but I guess I should post a bit more regularly.

I was reading Shipra’s blog and she has a post over there about culture shock that got me thinking: What exactly is culture shock?

In my opinion its just a catch all term that covers all the differences between the culture you are from and the culture you are encountering. This can be as small as finding people driving like sane people instead of drug fueled crazies playing carmagedon and as big as finding women walking around barely clothed (on any US/European beach).

Thanks to the global media and the internet the world is a lot smaller and there are lesser number items that could cause shock. Usually its not the big things that strike you, its the small things. As some of you might know I went to the US for my bachelors in 1999 and was there for ~8-9 years. People asked me if I felt culture shock and my answer to that is yes there was a period of adjustment and you can call it culture shock.

Just to give an example, in India its considered extremely rude to call an elder person by their first name but in the US its common and expected. Infact I have been told to stop calling people sir/mam because it made them feel old.

Another example: In the US if you are good friends with a person you hug them when you meet them, it doesn’t matter if the person is a girl and you are a guy. Infact its expected. While in India this wasn’t the case (Now it has changed and this is a common practice. But 8 years ago it wasn’t the case) I remember being a bit uncomfortable with it when I first went to the US and then when I came back I had gotten used to it and attempted to hug a good friend. She very nicely reminded me that this wasn’t the US.. Now whenever we meet we hug each other.

Office manners differ a lot in the US and in India. In the US you call everyone by their first name no matter what their post is and how much above you that person might be in the hiearchy. In India you call your seniors ‘Sir’. The environment is a lot more formal compared to a similar company in the US. Even in the US there is a difference between offices on the East coast and the West coast. The west coast offices (I have only seen offices in California) tend to be a bit more relaxed and easy going while offices on the east coast (Again, only seen New York and New Jersey Offices) are a bit more strict (as compared to the west coast).

Clubbing is completely different in the US, you can’t go to a club dressed in Jeans and sneakers, you have to wear shoes and trousers (semi-formal/khaki’s etc). In India I have gone to a club in Jeans and T-Shirt. The way you dance is also very different and the dance eticates are completely different.

Recently we had our office anniversary party and after the party me and a friend were discussing the party (Basically making fun of everyone who was too drunk to know what they were doing) and she made a comment about one of my co-worker’s who was asking all the girls to dance a bit too enthusiatically and she said that a couple of the girls were uncomfortable with that as he was acting too familiar with them. I was surprised and didn’t really say anything at the time but afterwards I was thinking that I didn’t find anything wrong with the way he was behaving. I guess it was because I had gotten used to the way people behave in Clubs in the US and for me it was normal behavior in a club.

So is culture shock real?
Absolutely.

Is it really that big an issue?
Depends. On where you are from and where you are going. A person from the middle east will have a major culture shock when they come to the US while a person from France might not have that big of a shock.

I will probably post some more of my experiences later but that depends entirely on how much interest this post generates and how lazy I am feeling at the time. ๐Ÿ˜‰

What are your experiences with culture shock? Do share.

– Suramya

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