"Culture shock is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse. These signs are the thousand and one ways in which we orient ourselves to the situations of daily life: when to shake hands and what to say when we meet people.... when to accept and when to refuse invitations, when to take statements seriously and when not.
"When an individual enters a strange culture, all or most of these familiar [social] cues are removed. He or she is like a fish out of water. No matter how broad-minded or full of good will he may be, a series of props have been knocked from under him. This is followed by a feeling of frustration and anxiety."
I think that even settling into a routine can feel like a letdown. You are buying groceries, paying your utility bills, having good, bad or boring days at work, but because you are in a foreign country, it's easy to forget that you had good, bad and boring days at home as well, and dealt with people that you didn't like, and so forth. This is not a vacation and not every experience is going to be a Kodak moment. And because you've relaxed into a routine, there are moments that you forget and then are surprised to remember you're in a foreign country -- like when you wake up and remember, "Oh yeah, I'm in China and that noise that sounds like an artillery barrage is actually just from the 24-hour construction site next door," or you go out the front door of the apartment building and just for a split-second you think, "What? Is everybody still Chinese out here?"
While I can't pretend that I've loved every minute of my time in China so far, I have made new friends and gotten out and explored the city and kept a smile on my face. Figuring out imaginative ways to get around the language barrier has been more a source of amusement to me than frustration. And on the day I wrote this I had a little triumph -- the taxi driver understood me when I gave her the street names of the intersection near my home. Up to now, I've relied on the handwritten instructions I keep in my purse. Several of my Chinese colleagues, by the way, have been very welcoming and helpful. Any feelings of doubt or anxiety that creep in have more to do with my wish to do the best possible job as a newly-hatched teacher, than homesickness or culture shock.
I will confess to drafting a "Zibo driver's test" in my head:
1) You need to change lanes. Do you: a) check your review mirror, check your blind spot, turn on your blinkers, and change lanes, or b) honk and change lanes.
2) You are approaching an intersection with pedestrians crossing with the light. Do you a) stop, b) slow down, c) honk.
And so forth. And check out the pull-no-punches description of traffic and transportation in China at the U.S. Department of State website:
Traffic is chaotic and largely unregulated, and right-of-way and other courtesies are usually ignored.... Cars, bicycles, motorbikes, trucks, and buses often treat road signs and signals as advisory rather than mandatory. Pedestrians never have the right of way, and you should always be careful while travelling in, or even walking near, traffic.
I call for an Twitter campaign of outrage followed by an "if anyone was offended" apology from Secretary Kerry.
Stereotypes go both ways, of course. The negative stereotype of the disenchanted ESL teacher is one of a dishevelled and morose alcoholic sitting in a bar, holding forth loudly with his complaints against the inhabitants of his host country, and making bigoted reflections on their character, habits, cleanliness, business ethics and morals. I can't imagine myself sinking to that state. Although I will say that I like Chinese beer much more than Canadian beer.