Monday, January 9, 2012

Double Triple Culture Shock

I've written before about reverse culture shock, something Kath at [insert suitably snappy title here] has described as feeling like "something has grown and it no longer fits like it used to, like a favourite t-shirt you used to wear all the time that accidentally got shrunk in the wash".

I could swear I wrote another post on the topic more recently, where I talked about how going home felt like watching all sorts of once familiar things that I once interacted with, but seeing them through a pane of glass, or Bubble Boy. You're there, you can see, hear and talk to people, but you're somehow separate.

I can't find that post now, but if I do I'll link back to it.

Well, since I've been back in Taiwan from our extended stay in Turkey, I can say that something along the lines of a double reverse culture shock has started to sink in. I'm sure it'll dissipate soon enough; it also only seems to have affected me to the point of me, myself noticing it. Nobody else seems to have.

It doesn't seem like this feeling is terribly common - seems it would be rather rare for someone to move abroad to one country, go through the usual culture shock, and then leave to spend long enough time in another, third country that they'd come back to their second country and culture shock about it all over again, from an entirely different angle. In this way, I'm probably writing about this more for myself and  the perspective that chronicling and describing this brings, but who knows, maybe someone out there in Internetland feels the same way and will stumble across this post.

I also kind of felt that this was strange about my experience in Turkey. I didn't feel  culture shock regarding Turkish ways of life vs. American; I felt it regarding Turkish ways of life vs. Taiwanese.

So of course when I then returned to the USA for a visit I had no fundamental frame of reference for anything at all, and was very confused indeed!

It would be great to be able to articulate exactly why I feel this way, but I can't really. What I can do is give some examples.

 First, I feel that same odd "looking at everything through the skin of a soap bubble" feeling I often get in the US, where I can see just fine, and interact and all that, but there's some barrier there that wasn't there before. I feel I've been relating to my friends differently, but I can't describe exactly how. My values have changed a bit, from being fine with living in a crummy apartment with crummy things but traveling fantastically, to being willing to scale back the travel a little bit and compromise on a nicer apartment and nicer things. I've also become more productive and in some ways, I think more cheerful, even when I'm in one of my fairly common cynical, curmudgeonly, critical moods. The  strict, unending and rapidly-approaching deadlines of our course were such that I've now trained myself - hopefully permanently - to be better with deadlines. I've proven that I can do so, if they're truly important. That's why I always had my class prep done on time but rarely had my reports done on time in the past.

Weather in Taipei is more miserable than I remember it; this is probably due to a month of sunny Turkish skies raising my expectations. Things that either didn't bother me or only nominally annoyed me before - people walking too slowly, especially if they're hogging the sidewalk or dawdling just inside MRT train doors (so nobody can get on quickly behind them! Argh!) or just outside turnstiles or doorways. The habit of pretending to understand something said in English when really, that person doesn't understand. The habit of not just asking when you don't understand - which Turkish students had no problem doing. The tendency to over-adhere to process over usefulness, feeling that keeping with a strict process is enough to feel like one is accomplishing something. I don't see this all the time in Taiwan, but just enough - especially at work - to annoy me. Listening to one's boss as though his or her words are the words of God.  Over-devotion to work: when someone in Turkey says "I have to leave class for a meeting, after that I'll have to go back to the office to finish up a few things", you can assume that once he's done with the meeting he's probably just going to cut out of there and head home if he can. In Taiwan, you can assume that he really is going to go to the meeting then do some work afterwards. Which is fine, doesn't affect me, but it's not how I roll.

I'm not nearly as interested in nightlife, and I don't think that's a function of age. Istanbul reeked of stuff to do at night. Entire neighborhoods were given over to nightlife. The tackiest, but arguably most "lose yourself in the crowd and have fun" of them all was Taksim, walking distance from our apartment. It was as big or bigger than the Xinyi Shopping District and packed bottom floor to top, building-against-building with bars, clubs, restaurants, live music, cafes, lounges, shops and pubs. You quite literally had all the choice in the world, from hippie lounging on beanbags outside among curls of incense with raki and hookahs to hip, red-lit booty-short-tacular dance clubs to fancy dinner at a bistro to coffee with friends in a bookshop. Taipei has most of that, but it's spread out and sometimes hard to find and no one neighborhood has enough of it to have a nightlife vibe.  As a result, I just haven't been going out much: one late night, total, since I've been back (late for me means "out past 2am").

This really isn't hitting the heart of it, though, which shows you that I don't really know where the heart of it is. Taipei is the same; I'm different. I went to Turkey with Brendan, so it feels like we're both just different enough after the trip that we've maintained the same dynamic. I feel different around everyone else, though.

It could be because going to my ancestral homeland of Musa Dagh was an inwardly emotional experience for me, even if it was a relatively quiet trip and quiet day. The full impact of the trip I'd made, the first in my family to do so since the Armenians were killed or forced out of Turkey, has been hitting me in stages. It may well have made me both more sanguine and more maudlin, possibly a bit more phlegmatic than before. I'm more irritated by things I'd previously gotten used to in Taiwan, but my temper flares over it less.

The new apartment could also have something to do with it - I've written before about how it's impacted my life and even my habits and personality a bit. I don't know though; our return from Turkey and our move happened so close together that in terms of emotion, the entirety of November and December is one big, murky pool.

In sum, I just don't know.

Something's shifted. Something's different. I'm definitely feeling that ineffable separation from my surroundings that I get when I culture shock. I can't articulate why in any clear way. I can't even clearly tell if anyone else has noticed the change. All I can say is that it's there and I'm hoping I figure it out or work through it soon.


Nick Herman said...

I felt similarly going to Seoul from Taipei and back.

Kathmeista said...

Just catching up on log reading and I realized you quoted me! I got quoted people! This is quite exciting. Thanks :)