So... you have taken that big step forward into a new life and relocated your family, pets and belongings. Then a few weeks in, you find yourself on a back foot as everything you have known and your previous knowledge and assumptions about how things work have been pulled out from under your feet.
From the day we are born into a culture we start to assimilate the silent assumptions that run within that culture. When we change the culture in which we live our daily lives, it is like placing all those assumptions into a big jar, screwing on the lid, then seeing which way they land. Every country really is different, and different often in very subtle ways.
Culture shock is the state of mind you experience when moving to another country.
Culture is the attitudes, feelings, values, and behaviour that characterise and inform society as a whole or any social group within it.
Fact: You will experience Culture Shock when you relocate.
If, as part of your relocation package you are offered cultural training for the new country, please make sure you make the time to take this. As even if it is a country you have been to many times on holiday or business, it is just not the same as living in a place. Cross cultural training is unlikely to answer all your questions, or guide you through all the scenarios you will face, but it will set you on the right path. It will open up your eyes to where there are differences in your new culture, and no two cultures are the same. Same language can still mean different culture.
Anthropologist Gary Weaver developed the 'Iceberg Analogy' shown above to explain that culture contains visible elements (above the water line) and invisible elements (below the water line). The invisible elements are far more important in society and the cause for culture shock. Some examples of visible elements are language, arts, religions, dress, cooking, sports and dance. These are things that you can see, hear and touch easily. Invisible elements are based on beliefs, values, thought patterns and myths. Examples include attitudes to physical space, work motivation, facial expression usage, and handling of emotions. These deep culture aspects also include elements such as the definition of sin, concept of justice, word ethic, eye behaviour, definition of insanity, approaches to problem solving, fiscal expression and approach to interpersonal relationships.
Something as simple as how to meet your neighbours for the first time can be a 'make or break' for the future relationship. Get it wrong the first time, and you may find you never speak again to your neighbours. In France it is up to you, as the new neighbour, to introduce yourself and invite your neighbours around for an Apero to get to know each other. If you do not it is presumed that you wish to keep to yourselves, and you will be left alone.
Peter Adler (1975) created a model of culture shock that many feel is an accurate representation. I will go further into this in a separate post, but the stages are:
It will take over a year to progress through these stages as you settle in a new place, and every family member will hit different stages at different times. To learn more about these stages read the article about The Expat Curve and Culture Shock.
This website is designed to aid you make the jump overseas far more enjoyable and informed. Check out my relocation tool-kit page for free downloads and recommendations. The Jump Overseas online Relocation Academy has specific coaching modules to help you through the hardest points in a relocation when you need directional help.