Expectations and culture shock

Since we had seen her last, our friend had spent three weeks in Japan visiting her family and friends. She wasn’t sure how the visit would go but had no expectations and found the trip really nice. This was a big change from the previous trip to her homeland where she had high hopes of moving back yet ended up feeling less than enthusiastic about Japan and more than happy to return to Canada.

When Hitoshi and I moved to Canada, I was terribly unhappy. I didn’t want to leave Japan, even though we were going for me for school, but H’s heart had moved to Canada a few months earlier! I was grumpy and hated everything. The climate dried out my skin. Public transit users seemed to have no manners and I lost count of the times I was almost hit trying to cross the street. Vegetables and fruits were tasteless. Fish seemed impossible to find, chicken was shockingly expensive and the meat section was a sea of beef. We went to a restaurant and ate soupy, overcooked pasta and I grudgingly tipped. I also knew about culture shock and reverse culture shock and had the stages memorized.

a pickle jar as big as my hand!

Pickle jars are huge in Canada!

This was the third time I’d returned to Canada after an extended period away. Now I had someone to share it with though and I couldn’t figure out why my husband so easily slipped into Canadian life. It wasn’t all a paradise but compared to the dark cloud permanently stapled to my forehead and my almost daily expression that rivaled a wet cat in a wind tunnel, I resented my husband’s happiness. I pleaded with him to join me in my misery but he refused. He even said it was my fault I was miserable and told me his secret, “I have no expectations.”

learning to use a fireplace

Learning how to use a gas fireplace in Canada

No expectations?! Isn’t that what life is all about? I thought about his statement. I got mad. How could he see Canada any other way? (This coming from the same person who insistently and stubbornly told H not to generalize about Canada, Canadians and cultures.) Eventually I started to understand (and maybe even believe) his perspective.

celebratory meal in Canada

Glum me and happy hubby in our first apartment in Canada.

Our friend mentioning expectations over dinner reminded me of H’s similar perspective and I wondered if my frustration was due to my expectations. I’d been expecting my new city to be like my hometown, even down to the weather. In the seven years between finishing my first degree and leaving Canada in 2005, I had built a story of happiness, greatness and wonder about my new city and my dream was hardly realized.

I will dare to generalize and simplify in saying that many of my frustrations and difficulties originate in unrealistic expectations. I am not sure I am ready to amend my rulebook permanently but the next time I narrow my eyes and release a puff of steam or run away in fear, I will try to consider if my expectations need some love.

* * * * * * * * * * *

What experiences have you had with culture shock and/or reverse culture shock?

7 thoughts on “Expectations and culture shock

  1. I think a good storyteller has to have a good sense of humour and a good memory for detail in that order of importance. My husband has what I would call a ‘Northern’ sense of humour, coming from Lancashire in England. He has always made me laugh so much and he says I am his best audience! We British love to laugh at ourselves and things that have happened to us. I want to encourage him to start writing as he would be brilliant.

    • I read an interesting article that talked about memories in the context of memoirs. It said that no one can remember everything exactly as it was and storytelling is usually embellished, and that’s okay. 😀 What do you think?? (I will keep looking for that article – it’s gone for now.)

      • Oh I agree entirely. I think the most important thing is to make an amusing and interesting article even if things are changed slightly. I might even do that on my blog occasionally – nothing important, but just so the story reads better.

  2. This was really interesting. We lived for a few years in Malta and then in Libya back in the late 70s. In Libya you couldn’t ever rely on buying anything, even basics like toilet paper. However the weather was good and the camaraderie of the other ex-pats was great. When I was due to give birth to our first child we returned to the UK. We settled in a picturesque village near Swindon in Wiltshire with such high expectations of happiness. It didn’t work out that way. We had expected so much of life back in Britain and were constantly disappointed. The shops and banks were always closed when you wanted to go, you could find lots of things to buy but never in the size you wanted and worse of all we found it difficult to make friends. We didn’t enjoy living in that village and things only improved when we moved to Aberdeen, Scotland. Yes, happiness is a lot to do with expectations.

    • I’m glad to hear you think so! Yes, me and expectations seem to be forever duelling and I’m generally the loser. I would love to read more about your experiences in Malta and Libya and transitioning to the UK. Have you written about them? I can perhaps imagine the disappointment that you felt after first moving back, especially with a new family. What helped you to choose Aberdeen?

      • No – before doing the photography101 course I had only written for myAberdeenGarden blog. I am hoping that my husband will start writing for this new blog as he is a much better storyteller than myself and has some great Libya stories. We moved to Aberdeen when Mike was made redundant from his job in Swindon and the next job he found was in Aberdeen. I guess most people working in the UK oil industry end up here at some point in their careers.

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