If you were sent to Mexico with business, you were probably coached on the five stages to culture shock at some point during the moving process. (If HR didn´t help you with this aspect, let me know who they are and I´ll smack them upside the head with a wet noodle.)
If you came on your own, you may or may not have been forced to study these stages. But if you´ve spent any amount of time abroad, rumor has it that you have experienced these infamous five stages of culture shock.
For the uninitiated, what are the five stages of culture shock?
1) The Honeymoon Phase–the destination country is so wonderful. The people here are so friendly! And the weather–can you believe that it´s warm and sunny in the middle of February? Let´s never leave!
Oh, watch out, because Phase #2 rears it´s ugly head with . . .
2) The Rejection Phase–Get me out of here NOW! Why is it so friggin´ difficult to get anything done around here? And I think I´ll be ramming my car into the next dingbat who tries to turn left from the right lane. [OK–that´s not the rejection phase. That´s just a normal reaction.] But is it really necessary for there to be a line of 40 people at every ATM every payday?
Relax. Breathe. Focus on the positive. And just remind yourself that yes, it IS necessary to do everything the most difficult way possible–it´s just part and parcel of being a good Mexican. I promise, I´m not being completely snarky with that comment. Once I explained this theory to my Mexican husband when he was irritated with endless red tape. He sat back, thought about it, and said, “yep, that´s true.”
Upon realizing this, the situation was much easier to bear.
So just embrace the fact that the unofficial national motto is “Yes, we do everything the most difficult way possible.” And then when something does get accomplished in a somewhat efficient manner, rejoice in your good fortune.
Because that means that you´re well on your way to . . .
3) The Adjustment Phase–here we learn the little ways that make an exchange easier. Remember those mannerisms that drove us crazy earlier? Now, sometimes we find ourselves copying them. Or at least understanding better why the toilet paper goes in the trash cans in most public restrooms.
(Because–trust me–if you come to my house in the older section of town and flush the toilet paper in the toilet, it is very possible that toilet paper will still be floating around the bowl two days later. Out north, where the houses and plumbing is newer, it´s not such an issue. My apologies for the TMI.)
4) The Acceptance Phase–those who reach this benchmark have assimilated. Mexican culture is no longer mystifying. The things people do make sense (except for those who turn left from the right lane). But, at this point, you´re aware that this happens. You watch out for the fools who continue to do that. Or, when ordering out, sometimes you even think, “Well, no–I don´t want ice in my drink. I´ve got a cold. In fact, can I have that Coke at room temperature?” You throw lime on everything, not just because it tastes good, but because it kills some germs at the same time.
Congratulations! Welcome home.
But wait a minute! There is another phase. Because often, some of us do go back to that place we once called home.
5) Reverse Culture Shock–Why, when we go “home”, everything feels so weird? Isn´t it rude that the waitresses are throwing the bill on table as soon as they deliver the food? Why don´t my friends and family care about my adventures abroad?
Adjusting to Mexico was one of the harder things I´ve done in my life. It has changed me in ways I couldn´t have imagined. I´m a different person then when I left home. Therefore, going back home requires an adjustment, too.
But don´t worry–it´s usually a much shorter adjustment than the initial 4-step process of adjusting abroad.
Keep in mind, it´s possible to cycle back and forth through those stages. Even after 10 years here, I find myself living through a honeymoon phase at some point every year, followed a few months later by a rejection phase. Sooner or later, it all circles back, and I am happy with Mexico again. There are some things I prefer here. There are some things I prefer from the US.
But while I´m here, I am determined to make the most of this experience.
Do you remember any specific moments when you noticed that you were assimilating culturally?
Feel free to leave a comment!