Friday, October 19, 2012
It's the Little Things That Create Culture Shock.
I have discovered that there is much more to culture shock than just becoming accustomed and acclimated to a different language, different style of dress, different dominant religion, different food, different weather. There is also the small, seemingly insignificant details of life that we more or less take for granted. What I have found to be true of culture shock is the impact that these changes have on our psyche.
I have been in the UAE almost two months now. I am unconsciously, slowly acclimating into my life the day to day changes.
Changes such as outlets that are not only different from those in the USA, but don't automatically run juice through them when you plug in an appliance. They have to be switched on manually. The plug is three pronged, and the small switch next to it is the one that has to be turned on. If the red light is glowing, then its on. If it isn't then you aren't going to be able to heat your Lean Cuisine in the microwave.
Another unaccustomed to change are the home air conditioners. I don't have central air in my apartment, although some of the better apartments do, What I have is a wall mounted air conditioner that is controlled by a remote control thermostat. There is also a little switch beside the remote control holder to switch it on. Again the little red light. When I first moved in, the air conditioner in my bedroom, right next to my bed, decided that two a.m would be a good time to spit black ice at me. I had it cleaned and it hasn't spit on me anymore. And I can't think in Fahrenheit. I have to think in Celsius because that is how the thermostat readings are set. Of course, I don't have the Celsius numbers quite right in my head yet (no fault of Jimmy Carter who did at least attempt to switch America over to the metric system in the mid seventies) but I do know that 20 Celsius is pretty cold, is perfect for my bedroom and sleeping, and my friends think my apartment is way too cold.
I also don't drink the tap water. It's all desalinated water filtered through a tank on the roof of the building. Bacteria and other strange items can make their way into the tank. I am told that if you were born or grew up here, then "no problem" to drink it, but if one wasn't, it's a good idea to just stick to bottled water. I even cook with it. So, I have a water service that delivers a huge bottle of water once a week, (although an empty bottle has been sitting outside my apartment for a week now). When the bottle goes empty I have to heft the new bottle up and place it in the holder on the kitchen counter. I weigh about 113 pounds, The bottle weighs about 500 pounds (not really, but it damn sure feels like it). I am just relieved that no one has witnessed me performing this task yet.
I also have a teeny tiny midget sized refrigerator. It didn't make sense to buy a large one. I mean, it's only me. But, it does resemble a refrigerator on par with a circus clown car.
And I don't have a stove. I have a two burner hotplate and a teeny toaster oven in the kitchen. I can see right now that I won't be cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving this year, unless said turkey comes from the same place as my refrigerator did. I need a circus turkey.
My new laundry "room" is another new experience. My washing machine is tucked into a tiny corner of my kitchen. I don't have a clothes dryer (there are no vents in the apartment for one) so I have a "dryer" that is actually nothing more than a Wanna-Be Southern clothesline. If I want clean work clothes I have to remember to wash them at least five hours in advance in order to give them time to dry completely. Of course, some of the teachers bought washer/dryer combos, but they cost more than I wanted to spend and I have heard that they merely transform the clothes from cold wet to hot wet.
My clothes dryer:
One thing I think is a great idea are the drains in the kitchen and bathroom floors. The floors dip slightly towards the drain. This way if anything, like the washing machine or the toilet overflows, you just push all the water toward the drain with a broom. Easy cleanup!
The one aspect I didn't expect is how excited I get whenever I am lucky enough to find American food items on the grocery store shelves. I don't care of I need the item or not, if I spy it, I buy it!! I almost peed on myself the first time I found Jif peanut butter.
Here's my stash:
So the huge cultural differences like the language barrier are merely compounded by the small differences. That's true culture shock. That's the point where you find yourself melting into a crying jag puddle and yelling, "What in the hell am I doing here?" Then you find a jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce in Spinneys grocery store and you think, "I can do this". But the scenario plays out over and over again, leaving you gasping and emotionally drained. Then one day, the cycling in and out begins to feel like the new "normal", and you wonder how you are going to react when you are plopped back home after this adventure.
I miss my old life more than I can say. I miss my Dear Husband and our evenings together, even if we were in two different rooms; him tucked into his study, me in mine- he was just in the next room, and that brought me a sense of comfort and peace. I miss the clean smell of autumn in the air- it is October, after all. I miss Mom dropping by at my house in the evenings, happily surprising me with her loving presence. I miss working in my flower garden, tending, planting, weeding, and the dark Georgia soil burying itself so deeply under my fingernails that even after washing and scrubbing, it is still there like a talisman . I miss hugging my grown daughter to me, inhaling deeply and still catching an undercurrent scent of the little girl she once was. I miss the sound of rain and the earthy smell it coaxes from the red Georgia clay. I miss looking out the window and seeing the squirrels scamper after each other up, down, in, and out of the grand old Methuselah pine tree that stands guard over my home.
But most of all I miss McCormick's brown gravy mix in the envelope.
a friend told me that if you cock your head to one side when you have your picture taken, it makes you look "cute".
Posted by Liti