Tag Archives: psychology

Dealing With Culture Shock

Train arriving at Cairo's Sadat station

To visit a country is only to skim the surface.

You can never truly grasp a place in a few days. Sometimes understanding can take months, even years. When visiting a new country, the differences are something you appreciate, the differences are why you’re there, they’re part of the experience, you may even say they are the experience. Staring at the queer fruits and vegetables in a market you say, “Wow, we don’t get these back home!” It excites you. Everything excites you. The voices, the people, the food, the streets, the sky, the mountains. Everything.

Later, you leave, go back to the comfort of your own fruits and vegetables. Back to your own voices, your own people. Back home, to what you know and love. Back to comfort.

Culture shock happens when you try to change that home, even temporarily. When you try to make a transition between the new life you’ve started and the old life you’ve left behind. You can visit a country for a week and believe it’s the greatest place on earth. You can stay another week and the cracks might start to form. You can stay for a month and you’ll go crazy.

Those fruits and vegetables that were once so exciting fill you with resentment. Your mind struggles with the way things work in this new place. You don’t know the new systems. The magic has worn off. Nothing excites you. Everything around you is just a reminder of your old home, everything you are used to. You miss the way things were. You miss your familiar life. You miss your fruits and vegetables. You’re homesick.

In the past I worked with the notion that culture shock didn’t exist when going to a country much like your own. I’ve been to America a few times. People spoke the same language, ate the same vegetables and acted in much the same way. Their culture is the same, I thought. But, I was naive.

A culture is more than what’s on the surface, a culture runs deep. Even when the language is the same, the systems are different.

Chances are you’ve never noticed there are systems at all. Everything around you has always been there, you’ve lived in a place so long that you subconsciously know how things work. You instinctively know what to do in any situation. You understand your world.

Culture shock is understanding nothing. It’s being blind in a world where everybody around you can see. Life becomes a challenge. Riding the bus becomes a scary experience. How do you pay the driver? How do you queue? How do you get off the bus? How do you stop the bus (do you put your hand out, or does it just stop?) Everyday situations, in a new country, become obstacles, something you must overcome.

When you are faced with hundreds of new challenges each day, when buying a pint of milk becomes a task which you must consciously think about, that’s when you get frustrated, and culture shock sets in. But you can learn.

Here’s a skill you probably take for granted. If you have coins in your pocket, you can look at them in your hand and within a moment you will know roughly how much money you have. It’s something you’ve learnt at one point or another, but you never think about it. It’s almost always been there. But you must learn it again. You have to learn it all again.

The easiest way to get from A to B, where to go if you need toothpaste, who to ring if your car breaks down, what brand of tea is best to drink, where to go if you break your tooth, how to haggle at the local market.

Guides can tell you where to go, maps can show you how to get there. But there is no map to use for living. The smallest details are the most important and those are the details people never mention, because they never seem noticeable. But you will learn.

Some things come quickly – learning how to cross the street, mastering the bus, finding out how much those coins are worth. Other things come slowly – learning to talk like the locals, mastering your routine, finding out how to cook with those crazy fruits and vegetables.

Eventually though, there’s nothing more to learn. Life is no longer a challenge. Every little skill you’ve mastered is pushed back into your subconscious. You can look at the money in your hand and know what you have. You can feel comfortable knowing where you are.

Home.

——————

Photo is “Train arriving at Cairo’s Sadat station” by modenadude. Published under the Creative Commons license.

Fear of Freedom

Skydiving

My flights are booked. My visa approved. It was the easiest-tough decision of my life. In 9 weeks, 1 day and 14 hours, I will begin a journey, turning over a new page in my life.

At 25 years of age, I will move to Canada. For 8 months, maybe longer, I will move to Canada. Alone.

I have no real plan. Nowhere to stay. No job. No friends. Just a vague itinerary and the ability to put off thinking about most problems until they face me.

Yet, still, I am shitting myself.

It’s strange how our first reaction to freedom is to be scared. People are planners. We love to be comfortable with our tomorrows – we love to see around the next corner – we love to know.

A fear of the unknown is something most people share. We hate mystery, it pulls at our stomach and wont let go. If something is unknown to us, our imaginations can take over, and nothing can be more damaging than our brain on the loose. We can think up such terrible situations that could never possibly happen in real-life, yet we convince ourselves they could.

The best horror movies play on that fear – involving monsters that we never fully see, only glimpsing the features, making up the horror with our minds. When we do eventually see the monster, usually the movie stops being scary. Once you know what that great horror really is, once it can be understood, it’s no longer a threat. When we can compare the reality to what we imagine, we realise that our imagination was far scarier.

This fear of an unknown future is what stops most people from making drastic changes in their life, even when the changes will eventually be better for them.  When the future becomes a blank void, everything becomes scary. We look forward and all we can see is series of ‘what-ifs’ with no pre-determined path. Anything could go wrong. Anything could go right. We can see no reality, only the imagined. We never know what will happen. Scary.

Most people don’t take the leap. They just stay in a comfortable bubble, they know what will happen tomorrow, some know what will happen in 10 years, some have their whole lives planned til their death. There’s no problem with that, but to me there’s something boring in that inevitability.

A book is no longer fun to me when I can tell what’s going to happen. It feels like I’m just going through the motions, reading for the sake of reading. Life with a huge plan is like living for the sake of living. You already know what will happen, so why bother at all?

I’d rather live for the unknown plot-twist. But to do that I will have to conquer that fear. I will have to jump head first into the unknown, with nothing to protect me but the briefest of hopes that everything will turn out good. Knowing that the future is a blank canvas, that I can do anything with it.

Knowing that I am truly, completely free.

——

Photo is titled Skydiving by Kaipullai(கைப்புள்ள)

A Hoodlum Spat In My Face

Yesterday a stranger spat in my face. Literally, not metaphorically.

I was sitting with a friend at the time – waiting for the bus – when a group of hoodlums walked by. One of these ruffians turned to me, shouted the word “BISCUITS” and spat in my face.

I don’t know why he shouted “BISCUITS”, possibly because he knew that I would go back to this word in an attempt to find some meaning within it. Perhaps he knew that word would keep me up at night, constantly questioning me, forever making me wonder “Why?! Why did he say biscuits?! What does it all mean?!”

Immediately after the spittle hit my face, I felt nothing. I did not feel angry or sad, just apathetic. I was apathetic, precisely because the entire scene didn’t mean anything. He didn’t do it for any reason I could fathom and without a reason, how could I have a reaction?

Later, I searched for meaning, part of me wishing that there was a little drama to the event. That I had somehow wronged this man in some way. That we were part of some tragic Shakespearen tale. I’m not completely against spitting if the scene calls for it. If the spitter minces their way over dramatically, shouting the words “I spit on thee and thy house for the wrongs thou hath done me *hawk-spit*” At least that spitting means something. Spitting in disgust. But I’m not disgusting. Give me some meaning if you’re going to spit on me dammit!

But NO, this spit meant nothing. Not spitting for feminism, or spitting for socialism. Just spitting for the sake of it.  What a waste of spit. Spit that was on my face. Spit that I barely cared enough about to wipe away.

Yet, I must confess, I am perhaps being a little misleading. When I say he spat on me, I know what you’re thinking:

You’re thinking it was in slow-motion. (Such things always happen in slow-motion.) A weasel-looking youth, with a small moustache, looking down on me with a crafty flash in his eyes.

You’re thinking of the sound he made as he built up the spit. A low rumble of phlegm in the throat.

You’re thinking of the quick instant when he shot the saliva out of his mouth. You’re thinking that I watched it slowly gliding through the air towards me as I screamed one long “NOOOOOOOOOO!”

You’re thinking the spit hit me on the eyebrow, my head kicking backwards like I’d been hit by a gun. You’re thinking the ruffian smiled slyly in my direction, so happy with all he’d accomplished.

But let me tell you, you’re thinking is wrong.

It all happened so quickly that I barely had time to realise it was happening. It wasn’t slow-motion, it was fast-motion. Suddenly this man was in front of me, he was shouting “BISCUITS!”, he was spitting.

And the spit was weak. There was no conviction behind it. It was apathetic spit. It was spit that said “meh, I don’t really feel like doing this, but I’ve got to.” It was like the piece of homework you leave until the night before deadline. Lousy, half-hearted and lazy. Just plain rubbish. I was the teacher that received that lousy homework, shaking my head and thinking “come on now, we both know you can do better than this! You’re underachieving. You’ll never make anything of yourself if you go through life like this.”

There was no build up of phlegm, there was no force behind the release. In fact, the lousy little shit didn’t even have the common decency to open his mouth! He instead spat through his lips. It was half spit, half accidental raspberry. His spit dispersed into a number of minute, micro-spittles. It was like when somebody tells you a funny joke, just at the moment you’ve taken a swig of cola. We’ve all been there right? The instinctive laugh that we try to hold in at the last second, which shoots a mist of cola onto our friend. (Or in my case, laptop, because I have no friends.)

That’s how his spit was. A short, shallow mist. If spitting were a sport, then my grandma could have beaten this guy. When the spit hit me I was barely aware that it actually had. When my friend asked seconds later “did that guy just spit on you?” I suddenly started to wonder whether he actually had or not. Had he just spat on me? I felt like running down the street after him. “Erm, excuse me, sorry to bother you, I was just wondering… did you spit on me back there? Just, I’m not sure if you did, which means I don’t really know how to feel about the whole thing. Oh. Oh, right. Oh, you did just spit on me. My mistake. Didn’t mean to trouble you. Oh, wait. Wait, wait, wait! Just one more question before you leave. Uh, soooo… what was that you were saying about biscuits?”

Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong though. Perhaps his friend had just told him a hilarious, long-winded joke. The type of joke that goes on and on, and is all building up to one, perfect punch-line. A punch-line like “BISCUITS!” Perhaps upon hearing this punch-line the ruffian was forced to also exclaim “BISCUITS!” Because after that long build-up the punch-line was so obvious, but also so hilarious. “BISCUITS! HAHAHAHA! MAN THAT’S GOOD!” But maybe all he could do was exclaim “BISCUITS” before trying to hold in his laugh. And maybe that laugh turned into an inadvertent raspberry of spittle in my direction. Maybe he didn’t spit at me. Maybe he just accidentally spat in my direction. Maybe he felt really bad about it, but he didn’t apologise because, well, that’d have been really awkward, wouldn’t it? Apologising to the stranger you just accidentally spat on. Maybe he was just being polite by not bringing me into an already awkward situation. How kind of him.

Maybe he had a medical condition that prevented him from controlling his lips? Maybe he thought I was on fire and was trying to put me out? Maybe he didn’t like my jacket? Maybe, he spat on me for no reason at all. No no. That can’t be right. Ridiculous! It must have meant something! Surely!

Maybe. Just maybe, I reminded him of one thing. The one thing he hated more than anything else in this rotten world. A thing that had haunted him since the day he’d been born. A thing that chased him down long corridors in his nightmares. A thing that had killed his mother, his father, and his pet goldfish. A thing he feared, but a thing he also one day vowed to destroy:

BISCUITS.

__________________________

Photo titled Hoodlum by carbonnyc.

Online Dating and the Cyber-Self

Who am I?

It’s a question I’m sure everybody has asked themselves at some point in time. When we’re unsure of where we are going, or why we have done something. It’s a question that is completely valid to ask, it’s only natural to be introspective. Unfortunately there is no valid answer.

To explain who a person is in a sentence, a word, or even at all, is impossible. No person is so simple. Yet we constantly seek a simple answer. An impossible answer.

From time to time people believe they have found that answer. They believe who they are is finite and fixed. We’re good or evil. Happy or unhappy. Black or white.

But they haven’t found any reasonable answer at all. Who we are is a complex thing, we change constantly. In different situations we are different people. Really, we are a lot like a rainbow (lame!). We consist of a range of different colours and different shades.

A lot of people don’t understand this though. They can’t comprehend that a person is made of many different identities.

There’s an episode of Seinfeld which perfectly illustrates this. George reveals he has two distinct personas. One is “Relationship George”, the type of person he is when he’s with his girlfriend. The second is “Independent George”, the type of person he is with his friends. But George realises that if his girlfriend becomes friends with his friends, then his two personas will be forced together.

We all act differently depending on the person we’re with, or the situation we’re in. We change ourselves to reflect our circumstances.

As technology improves though, our means of communicating have changed. Our circumstances are now almost as complex as our personalities. Which has lead me to ask another question:

Who am I online?

We now have a new persona: a cyber-self – who we are on the internet.

Unlike our real life persona though, our cyber-self is something we are in complete control of. We can be whoever we want to be. We can edit out the bad bits and leave in the best bits.

Reading this blog, I’m sure you’ve already come to a conclusion about what type of person I am. This person is Internet Dan. But the thing is, Internet Dan and Real-life Dan are completely different.

Which leads to a problem. What if you meet Real-Life Dan, when you expect to meet a real-life version of Internet Dan? Can both Dans survive together?

The meeting of Cyber Persona and Real Persona is never usually a problem, we can take into account that people will differ slightly in real-life from how they appear on the internet. But sometimes a real-life relationship might hinge on a relationship made online. Never is this more important than during online dating.

Now it’s time to admit the sad truth. Last year I tried online dating. I say I tried it, but really I never went on an actual date. I signed up to a few sites, and waited. And waited. And waited. But nobody knocked on my door. I started to wonder why. Perhaps it was the unflattering photo on my dating profile that showed how massive my nose is?

So I changed the photo. And waited. And waited. Still no knock.

So I took another look. Maybe it was because I mentioned I was an atheist? If a girl was into her God, that might put her off.

So I changed my religion to Other. And waited. And waited. No knock. Another change. More waiting. No knocks. More changes.

They say the most important thing in online dating is to be honest. Please. We aren’t even honest in real-life, so why should we be on the internet? Honesty doesn’t make a person attractive. Unless you’re the type of person who likes the look of somebody who’s profile says “mostly I just like to sit around in sweat pants and watch TV.”

The problem of how we present ourselves online, has another layer though. Even if we do decide to present ourselves truthfully online, we wont manage to come up with a realistic version of ourselves, because as I’ve said, we can never truly answer the question “who am I?” and whenever we do answer this question it is just our own perspective.

In presenting yourself online, you are making a document of your self-image, the person you see yourself as. But what you see, and what others see can be completely different. We’ve all met people who think they’re hilarious, who think that everybody is laughing at their jokes, when really everybody is laughing at how pathetic they are. If you asked them if they were a funny person they would say “of course, everybody thinks I’m hilarious” and their online-persona would reflect this. But if you asked others they’d say “that guy’s as funny as cancer.”

With all of this in mind, I attempted to make my online-persona more attractive to the opposite sex.

Internet Dan was a millionaire, he owned a small island in the Indian Ocean, his profile photos weren’t even of him, they were photos of a male model, stolen from a website. To top it all off his penis was huge, so huge it was worth mentioning on his dating profile.

Yet still nobody knocked at my door.

Eventually it dawned on me. The reason I was receiving no messages was because girls don’t send messages to guys on dating sites. The guys chase the girls. It’s like being in the playground at school, playing catchy-kissy. You have to catch the girl before you can kiss her.

So I started searching for girls to catch. I started scanning their profiles, looking for my perfect match.

Unfortunately, a lot of these girls weren’t as smart as I was. They were simply too honest in their profiles, or they didn’t understand what persona they were projecting online. Some had pictures of themselves where it was clear they had a double chin. Some couldn’t use apostrophes. Some thought it was a good idea to mention their love of taxidermy.

But eventually I found her. My perfect girl. She was intelligent, funny, she was into baking and Scrabble. To top it all off, she looked smoking hot.

I started to wonder. What’s the catch? There’s got to be a catch, right!? She’s perfect!

We arranged to meet. She’d be wearing a red silk scarf she said. When I arrived I wondered why an obese man had stolen her scarf. Then I realised that the obese man was actually her. I was shocked. She had a full grown beard and everything.

I’m ashamed to say, I snuck away and didn’t speak to her again. I would feel bad, but she’d sold me a lie. Maybe she was intelligent and funny. (She was definitely into baking, you could tell she enjoyed her cakes!) But her physical appearance was so different from her online appearance, that I knew it wouldn’t have been the only liberty she’d have taken in presenting herself.

I realised then, that it was pointless to make Internet Dan the most amazing man alive, because Real-Life Dan could never compete. A girl would only feel disappointed if she met me, because she wanted another guy. Just the other guy would be some freaky version of me. I couldn’t exactly fight myself in a duel, it’d just be suicide.

So maybe the solution is to be honest after all. To let people meet our real-life persona online, so that the transition from online to real-life is easier and harmless. Maybe it’s time Internet Dan became just a part of Real-Life Dan, instead of a separate entity.

Although Internet Dan, really doesn’t want to give up his huge penis.

Is An Orange Beautiful?

Is an orange beautiful?

At first the question threw me off. I’d never previously thought about an orange in terms of beauty. In fact I’ve always just thought of oranges as food. Something to eat and momentarily enjoy.

Over the summer I learnt the pleasures of eating a fresh, in season, organic orange. Whenever I went to a supermarket with another person I’d buy one, peel it and offer a slice. “Mmmm, taste this orange! It’s so good.” A lot of my summer was spent getting people to share my passion for organic oranges.

Yet, at no point did I ever consider an orange to be beautiful. I considered an orange in every way. I argued with a girl I’d barely met about how you MUST peel all the white stuff off the orange before you eat it, she retorted that the white bit was the tastiest part. All I could say was,”are you mental?!”

Continue reading Is An Orange Beautiful?