“Allow your eyes to adjust”.
Per la versione Italiana cliccate qui.
When moving to a different country, sooner or later, culture shock might occur.
It doesn’t have to be the same for everyone as we all have different reactions to the change, but what is culture shock anyway?
In the mildest of cases, it is just the realisation of how differently people behave in everyday situations, and that the difference is not just down to the language, but to habits, culture and lifestyle. From the stuff you can find in houses and supermarkets, to the way people may (or may not) be welcoming, everything can surprise us.
In the worst cases, it might make you feel alienated and unable to adapt to the new place you are in, resulting in a great nostalgia for your home country. Fear not though, as everyone can go at their own pace in adapting to this and the more you know about things, the less scary or odd they usually appear. Of course if nothing works, you could also just realise that the place is not for you after all.
I think the most useful thing to help you overcome the cultural shock is, getting to know people.
Most places in Britain are multicultural, which allows you to meet different kind of people and find your place whatever your background, lifestyle and preferences, in particular when living in a city.
My experience of Wales is that people have always been welcoming and happy to help me understand and fit in at best. You will always find people who are not like that, but that is true in every part of the world, so it is just a matter of choosing the right crowd 🙂
Curiosity helps, a lot! Making comparison with your home country won’t help you to adapt to the new situation. Instead, go and see new places, try new food and ask as many question as you need. You will still wonder if an electric kettle is really necessary in an hotel, why people walk around in shorts when it’s 5 degrees outside, how do you keep calm and carry on with just tea or why are the shops open only while you are at work. You will be amazed at their queueing skills and by the fact that the train service apologises for being late. At the same time they will not understand your obsession with putting salt in the cooking water, why you gesticulate so much even over the phone and how you cannot understand that the gravy doesn’t go on just everything. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to become British, just open your mind and understand how things work here as much as possible. Your English doesn’t have to be perfect for you to communicate, but make sure you make the effort to practise as much as possible and learn to understand the local accent and phrasing.
As I mentioned before, there are many ways you can meet people other than through work and education, some examples are:
There are plenty of nice places to visit around here (and yes an article will follow about this soon) and when you visit most of historical sites like castles and old mansions, useful information is provided to you to better understand what you are seeing. Even just wandering around beaches and parks, visiting museums, entering pubs and trying local food (and drinks) will help you to get a better insight of the place. If you want to know more you can read books about what most fascinated you about these experiences or visit some museum. People are usually quite proud of their culture and love to share their views with you.
Take it as an adventure! Even if you get lost (I am an expert in that), just make sure you have enough cash on you to take a cab back home and explore away.
Go out with friends
Once you start meeting some friends, don’t be shy and go out with them. That will help you to discover new places and things to do that you probably didn’t know before. You will get to know the celebrations and holidays and what to do at Christmas, Bonfire, St. David’s, etc.
The night life here is quite exciting! I can speak mainly about Swansea, since that’s where I live, and I can tell you that at night the city really comes to life and is crowded with people going out to pubs and clubs. The attitude towards alcohol here is a bit more carefree and socially accepted. So if you are not used to it, you might be surprised.
Trying to do some fitness at the gym of joining a course (a fitness class, or even a language or a marketing or a cooking class, etc) will help you to meet new people and try new things at the same time. Maybe you could be adventurous and decide to learn some Welsh 😉
In most cities there are cinemas, theatres, arcades, leisure centres, swimming pools and whatnot.
In Swansea and Cardiff there is a stadium as well, where you can see football and rugby matches.
I am saying this even though I am not a fan of the telly and I watch very little of it. However, when you are trying to understand another country, the mass media, do help. Watching their news, their comedy, their TV show, and even their adverts at least for a while, gives you a better idea of how the communication style, the general perception of things, the humour and the communities work here and also improves your English. And you really should watch some British stand up comedy anyway, because it’s quite awesome 🙂
Meeting friends online
As a last option, if you really are really shy and struggle to socialize in any other way, the internet is your friend. Many people choose this option before they move somewhere, looking for people to befriend through correspondence prior to getting to their destination. Doing this, they have at least one person that might help them find their way at the start or simply be their friend.
There are many forums and websites online that offer pen pals ads. Some websites like Penpal Party or similar, can help you with this. The one I know best is Japan Guide, which as you can guess focused on Japan, but actually lets you add or view ads for other countries too and I have met many nice people from around the world thanks to this website. Another possibility in this direction is a language exchange. If you are from another country, someone might want to improve or learn your language and you can get some help with English and meet people at the same time. Ads for Language exchange can be found even on Gumtree , or on more specialized websites.
Personally, I prefer to mingle with people who are alike me in the mind rather than in cultural background, but nevertheless, if you find yourself desperate to share that joke or that meal that only someone from your country could really appreciate, most likely, you can find people of your same nationality in your new city, maybe even working with you, at the gym or in the shops. The most biggest communities, often organise themselves in meeting places where they can share all of this, so if this helps you, you can most certainly have an opportunity for it in most British cities.
In my experience, the only real culture shock for me, was the boundaries between people, who are obviously different. Coming from Italy, I was used to a different kind of social interaction, that I can only describe as warmer. The British are more introverted and cool when it comes to this; physical contact or eye contact doesn’t happen as often and behaviours that for them are normal, might appear rude to someone not used to this. Also don’t get surprised if everyone calls you ‘love’ and ‘darling’ in the shops and on the bus all the time, because for the sake of consistency, that is just normal. In time though, you learn it is just one of the many differences between our and their habits and you get used to it. Or just keep embarrassing your British friends hugging them for no reason, that’s also an option 🙂
I hope this helped a bit. After several years here, I tend to forget some of the first impressions, so if I missed anything, feel free to contact me!
Art by Mr. Brainwash.