Attitude adjustment NOT a culture shock


A lot of people told me that moving to Germany would cause me to experience culture shock. Really? I questioned, it’s not far from the UK, both countries demographics are fairly similar, Germans are still people right?

Definition – Culture shock – The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

I’ve left home to go to university and survived, I’ve worked in some awful offices under horrible bullying bosses and survived, I’ve been made redundant and survived, and as a European already I was quietly convinced that moving to Germany was not going to culturally shock me any more than anything I had experienced in my life already.

Sure I was ready for differences, eager to find out if my homegrown cultural stereotypes were right and happily accepting that life in Germany would run a little differently than it had done in the UK. At this point I hadn’t heard of The expat adjustment lifecycle, which was a good and a bad thing. I’m all for being prepared, but a little information can sometimes be a dangerous thing.

You can choose an attitude adjustment over a culture shock, and you should.

Culture shock is a reaction to a situation and your reaction to a given situation is entirely up to you. React positively or react negatively, the decision is yours. Those likely to suffer from culture shock are those who react negatively in a new or unfamiliar situation.

Being positive can be difficult, and I’m not saying you have to be become ‘Mrs Sunshine, puppy dogs and unicorn farts’ but when approaching cultural differences you can choose an attitude of openness, acceptance and trust over one of suspicion, fear and prejudice.

Even with the best attitude to change, to you move, to your new life. You will feel the same feelings that every other expat before you experienced when you come face to face with a situation that should be simple and straightforward, and ends up with you feeling like a raving lunatic/on the verge of a breakdown/completely defeated. You will have negative reactions, we all do.

I get frustrated when people automatically switch to English in the bakery, and then I have to rescue them.
Me – “Hallo, Ich hätte gern zwei Mal Kase Schinken Fladen bitte”
Her – “Oh, these two? with ham and cheese?
Me – “Ja”
Her – “Anything else?”
Me – “Yes, two Cappuccino and four pretzels without salt”
Her – Open mouthed and eyes filled with fear, silence fills the bakery like clouds cloaking a mountain before a storm then a quiet “Wie bitte?”
Me – “Zwei Cappuccino und vier Mal Brezeln ohne Salz”

I get confused very easily by new things, especially at the shops, cash back, loyalty cards, “Did you find everything you needed at Kaufland today?” Oh and here’s a helpful hint, NEVER say no, otherwise you have to talk to a manager (in front of everyone, I got so embarrassed) and Germans do not like to be held up at a checkout for longer than is absolutely necessary.

New situations make me tense, I practice what I need to say to the various workmen, housemeisters, neighbours, medical professionals and even friends, just so I don’t get stuck too much and have to switch back to English.

To cope with these hideous feelings of inadequacy (and daily humiliations) you need to develop a strategy. One which stops you jumping on the next plane home or from screaming at a random staring stranger in the street (true story). Educate yourself, learn the language (at least try), learn about the culture, ask questions, reach out to expats and natives alike, in my experience everyone here has had something unique to say about German culture. Steer aware from responding negatively and making criticisms, doing this through lack of understanding is easy to do but it makes you the idiot.

If your attitude adjustment has been a positive one you will reap the rewards. I’m not saying that your life will be easy or suddenly you’ll love everyday in Germany without exception, but hopefully the feelings of alienation and isolation will be minimised.

Understanding more about German culture will help lessen your negative reactions and help in your acceptance of new cross cultural encounters. Join in, say yes to every invitation, no exceptions, I’ve been to political rallies, hiked up really big hills and drank a lot of beer tea to make me feel connected to my new home. Just do it! A great result of this whole expat experience and choosing positivity is confidence. In yourself. However that manifests itself is completely up to you.

In short

Make an attitude adjustment, choose –

Openness, Acceptance and Trust

Understand your reactions –

Frustration, Confusion, Embarrassment and Tension

Develop a coping strategy –

Learn, Listen and Ask

Results –

Understanding, connection and Confidence

This doesn’t just apply to expats, moving schools, moving jobs, becoming a stay at home mum all require a major attitude adjustment too.

What was the reason for your last attitude adjustment?

Edited 16.07.15 First published on The Erlangen Expat 06.05.14

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