How to Rock Culture Shock

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 019here 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!

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5 Comments

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  1. Right… Most of it. But as far as doing everything the most difficult way possible, mmmm I guess it depends on what it is, in the U.S. there are some things of which the same thing could be said. It’s like how the U.S. media loves to talk about the violence in Mexico, and we all agree about it, but they never put any frame of reference with the statistics, like Chicago’s murder rate and official corruption for example, it rivals any big city in Mexico, and red tape is something most U.S. Citizens complain about and the government keeps making “efforts” to reduce it, tax lows are horrible anywhere I imagine, and treatment in small southern towns in the U.S. have an UNdeserved reputation for hospitality at least towards Mexicans and immigrants or “expats” in general, and the way “Americans” themselves treat each other in some towns as if they were from different planets is something that only people who have lived there can understand, the events in Ferguson come to mind as a recent example, and the never ending fight for ‘equality’ derived from historical facts is something we hardly see in Mexico…. And all of that while the U.S. Calls itself “a nation of immigrants”… The issues you described as an adjustment here, and I’m so glad you finally liked it, are petty compared to the adjustments most Mexicans must endure in the U.S. As someone who’s lived in both countries for years, I believe this country deserves MORE the slogan “the land of the free” than the U.S… even as tourists or visiting any U.S. town. But we welcome you to this great town, and hope you continue to evolve to like it.

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    • Oh, Gerardo, I completely agree with you. People often ask me if I want to return to the US or would prefer to live here or there. My honest answer is that it´s a trade off either way. For the reasons you mentioned above (and a number of others), the thought of returning to the US sometimes makes me shudder. Yet there are some really nice things about living there.

      Just like there are lots of wonderful things about living here. While I haven´t been writing as often as I originally intended, I hope that the overall content on this site is very positive in regard to Saltillo and Mexico. But there are frustrations now and again (as there would be anywhere). I began this site as a resource for those moving here from abroad, and conversations with newbies to Saltillo often have the same pattern. This article was an attempt to address those repeated frustrations with a bit of perspective and humor.

      Thank you for your comments, Gerardo! Honestly, I´ve been pretty surprised that it took few months for this article to catch any flack–thanks for defending your country and city. And again, it is my intention with the majority of these articles to showcase what a great place Saltillo is. Furthermore, it was never my intention to be the sole author on this site–my one very limited perspective can not accurately reflect the “foreign perspective” in Saltillo. I was hoping I´d get a few more people to join me (and you are welcome to join me in writing about your favorite things about Saltillo). But if you´re not interested, I appreciate your response, as it´s handy to know there are saltillenses reading, to keep me honest! 😉

      I have been here awhile, but I realize that my perspective is nothing compared to a saltillense´s perspective on their hometown!

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      • I’m glad you didn’t take offense about my comments, I try to keep them FACTAL and so it is hard to argue with facts even when we don’t like them… As I was told as a teenager, If u don’t like the facts about yourself and your life, then change those facts for the future.

        I was interested to read in your response how sometimes you cringe when returning to the USA, My experience in the 20+years I lived in the U.S., is a mixed one, and mostly it depends in the AREA of life one want to talk about. With the cops it is and always has been horrible, the way Latin people get stopped and harassed, the way the cops line up with you and find ANY small reason to stop you and always asking if they can search your car for drugs, always drugs, so we get an idea how they look at us, and if you pull a verse of the constitution about the fourth amendment about probable cause, they keep you there for HOURS waiting…. I asked my American friends if their experience in the last time they got stopped was similar, and they looked at me like, I HAVEN’T been stopped in years!! While I got stopped several times in SIX months. Now, I know certain people say they’re tired of hearing this sort of thing, and many others, but that’s because they don’t live it. And,it was a mayor reason I left, and only go back when I HAVE TO for work or business. I bet anything that your experience with the law here has been completely different or nonexistent for all the years you have been here? I have traveled to different parts of the country and haven’t had a single incident!!… They don’t stop you for petty crap like the seatbelt even if it is the law and “want to save lives” to me that smells like MORE freedom? Ok, so what about food, I was surprised to read that putting lemon or lime on for is an issue, one of the most nutritious food items that even the U.S. encourages people to use is an issue, and the only reason MUST be to kill all that bacteria in the food? Should we put catchup instead? Like the USA hasn’t had salmonella and bird flu issues all too often, and the idustrialized cattle and pig farms don’t create huge health issues there? etc, etc…
        Ok, what about other things, like U.S. foreign policy? Even with the huge and best propaganda machine (Hollywood) and the endless TV series about patriotism and nationalism (Homeland, 24, sniper, etc etc) where the U.S. Always comes to the rescue, they still can’t block the light shone on to the issue about the USA having military bases in more than ONE HUNDRED countries, and Guantanamo bay Cuba, and the non torture going on there and other Black Sites around the world where people from any country are abducted and sent far from U.S. jurisdiction for… Wait….”intelligence gathering”… It can’t get more Orweillian than that. Yet all U.S. citizens always lift their finger and chant at every sport’s event or any event, that the USA is number one, even though most have never been out of their county or even town!! And of course they all think EVERYONE wants to come to the U.S…. Let’s see, they take over a country’s natural resources, destroy local economies, corrupt local governments, then they “create” jobs whereby now the local people depend on them for sustenance and then they interview them and are surprised to hear they are grateful for the job, but wait, How did these people survived before big brother came to town? amazing they were there at all. No yet these displaced people come to the U.S. as a direct result of us economic and military foreign policy and they are treated like…. That’s foreign policy. If other countries agree with them they are allies if they don’t they are terrorists. Just listen to the most watched TV channel in the U.S., the Fox Channel “fair and balanced”…. The U.S. spends more on military than ALL OTHER countries put together!!…. So yes, they are number one on THAT….
        And the other issues with so called equality and women’s equality, etc…. They make more than half of ALL U.S. university students and yet that is not equal because as a whole they still make a few pennies less on the dollar than males, but they fail to mention that even though they are the mayor it’s in universities they still overwhelmingly choose (no one is forcing them!) to go into careers that are easier and thus pay LESS, that’s the market and a direct consequence of the choices they make if they go to college. And what of “male spreading”, have you heard of it? It Is so first world bull that, the east of the world is laughing, entitlement mentality bull. They don’t want to go where real and DANGEROUS equality issues are happening. They seem to think that doing unpopular, annoying things is the same as doing IMPORTANT things.
        What of quality of life? The most economically wealthy nation on earth is the most unhappy of the “developed” counties. Just check the Hapiness index and see.

        There are many other issues of course, but I was trying to see any reason anyone who is not starving would WANT to go there… Specific real (not petty) reasons I would LOVE to hear. The lines at the ATMs is a functional issue, like the big lines at Walmart in the U.S., not an existential one.

        I live in south Saltillo close to HEB and I love it… I went to university in East Tennessee, and never felt safe, I was the ONLY Mexican there in any of the dormitories, hell, they burned a cross a block away from where I was living at the time and scared that family to move out of THEIR neighborhood. When I was I was told over and over again how we come and take YOUR jobs, yet we may take a job but the U.S. takes over a whole country!! I am 100% sure you never lived anything like it here. So I honestly hope you understand my surprise when I read the issues people have to endure and adapt to when they come here to live. But the Hollywood propaganda machine is full blast still convincing people that to just be able to come and be in the U.S. is the nirvana of life.

        Seriously want to hear reasons to….. NOT stay here!! What BIG issues am I being blind about? I’m not “defending” Saltillo so much as I am exposing facts… So let’s see if your facts compare OR DIFFER here. It’s an exercise not a fight.

        Hope that if these facts are wrong I am corrected, but I hope any Google search will prove these facts. And I honestly hope you stay here permanently. The historical cycles have to stop somewhere.

        Regards— yours, GGR

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  2. Hey there, Gerardo–

    Thanks for further explaining yourself. (Not that you needed to, of course, but you´re helping to sum up a fine line I often feel like I´m treading.) I really do see your point of view, and I´m sorry you had such a tough time in the US. For all the dumbasses you ran into there, my apologies. (Not that I really can apologize for them, because if I had it my way, soooo many things would be different there. In particular, Trump would never have been any kind of vaguely serious presidential candidate. But I digress . . . and so many people are crazy, and then they take their craziness out on fine folks like you.)

    My only reason for wanting to go back is that my family is there. I´d be happy to live near my husband´s family, too, but they´re in Mexico City, and even my very proud chilango husband sets his foot down, as we wouldn´t have near the quality of life there as we do here in Saltillo.

    At this point, we have kids in school, and we´re loving the free, quality, age-appropriate preschool that we can get here. My husband thinks about sending them to the US for middle school/high school, but from what I´ve seen, I think the education they´d receive here is a bit more rigorous. At this point, we´re here for now, and I´m pretty happy about that. The longer we stay, the more roots we put down here, the more attached I get, and the less I want to leave.

    However, as I have made friends with a number of accompanying spouses who are sent here for a few years on business, the same frustrations always seem to surface. Usually, in retrospect, they´re passing frustrations, frustrations with adjustment, frustrations with not understanding the language, the culture, etc. Little things that can snowball. This article was just my attempt to give them perspective through my snarky sense of humor, as–odd and pessimistic as it seems–this technique really helped me out when I was adjusting to Mexico 10 years ago.

    Overall, though, I really do love Mexico (and Saltillo in particular) and hope that the vast majority of the articles here convey that.

    But it sure is nice to know that we understand each other better, Gerardo. 😉

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    • Glad it didn’t go badly with you, I was just showing some facts as I see them. You still didn’t tell me good reasons for NOT staying here permanently, based on what you said earlier “For the reasons you mentioned above (and a number of others), the thought of returning to the US sometimes makes me shudder. Yet there are some really nice things about living there.” and that made me ask myself what “really nice things there are about living there, I sense (suspect?) this is leftover mental propaganda which still not wanting to accept that such things do not exist,mother than the obvious which you mentioned: FAMILY. But other “really nice things” I am at a loss to come up with!!… I’d love to hear it. You mentioned educating your kids here versus there, and your husband Wnts To send them there, but any comparison shows the incredible entitlement problem teens have in general but it is definitely more a problem in the U.S…. my friends kids went to school once and told teachers they were being “abused” by the parents, they didn’t do a proper investigation, the school reported it to Child Services. They went to our friends’ house and wanted to take the kids away “until this cleared up”; upon further, harsher, questioning they found out the parents had grounded their kid for a week misconduct and couldn’t go to a dance that weekend, that’s the sole reason for it, and once the kids found out the government would take them they recanted, they wouldn’t be able to go to that dance either way, but the parents had to endure all that and the “investigation” remained opened and a record kept with that agency. So perhaps it would be good to find out why EXACTLY your husband is so bent in sending them there. Most people froze here want to send their kids there TO LEARN THE LANGUAGE, but if that’s not a problem or something the kids need then…. Perhaps also it is leftover propaganda “musts” your husband has, I know it took me years and years to get rid of all that and get it out of my mind as I kept questioning and comparing FACTS… I laugh now when people know I CAN live in the U.S., but don’t, and ask me why I ever left, they all wNt to go there!! I tell them is not what they expect, it’s notoriety a show of Desperate Housewifves, or Friends or the incredibly helpful people they see in movies and TV, but they STILL want to go!! I tell them Mexicans are MORE helpful and they don’t believe it. So if it’s your kids’ future you are thinking about, perhaps reexaminie your goals and where they can best be achieved?

      You mentioned also in your response that
      “However, as I have made friends with a number of accompanying spouses who are sent here for a few years on business, the same frustrations always seem to surface.”

      One must make a huge difference between people who move here voluntarily and those who are SENT here and what they say…. And compare apples with apples, if they complain about the problems of adaptation to a new country I imagine it would be helpful to compare it with what people have to endure when adapting to the U.S. if they move there… Or at least with people who move from one state to another WITHIN the USA. If you notice they complain about similar things when within as when they leave the country, and they are always small annoying things, but when compared to the big issues others live when moving to the USA…. Just imagine a Muslim Iranian or Palestinian moving to the USA, imagine what they deal with. Or perhaps a Mexican? And think of what an American has to deal with in ANY CONTRY in the world they decide to go? As I said apples with apples.

      But he way, as I lived in the USA for so many years I hasp do to adapt to Mexico too weeny I came back, but I understand it is a bit easier for me…. Still, it is an adaptation.

      Anyhow, somehow I got used to hearing from you and I guess “get to know you”… I wanted to ask you if there is a place expats gather or meet for coffee or whatever so I may join. I ask you this because you mentioned that “”However, as I have made friends with a number of accompanying spouses who are sent here for a few years on business…”” If that’s something doable, I’ll pay the first round!!

      Regards–

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