In the Globalization Era coping with cultural shock is a more and more hot topic. I am going to give an example of what happened to me and how I dealt with it.
When I was in Switzerland since less than a year, more or less at a time when I was at the first low of the pattern(*), in a period in which many typical Swiss-life-things gave me stress, I received a letter from the local city hall.
Despite my lack of knowledge of German, I understood at a glance what the letter was talking about .
It was a Friday afternoon, at the end of a rather stressful week. I was happy being finally home and was looking forward to some weekend sleep. I couldn’t wait to see my girlfriend in videochat.
But then I read the letter.
More or less it said: “Dear TheTuscan, you have done something illegal. Therefore you are summoned to the police station at local town hall on next Friday. Bring your residence permit with you. See you soon.”
(I had just purchased a non-refundable train ticket for that day with my home-country as destination, where I would have finally seen my girlfriend again after more than one month.)
At the bottom of the page, written in fine print, it said: “Not responding to a police summons usually has legal consequences.”
You can imagine my despair. My weekend was ruined. Cultural shock seemed to have come straight out of my thoughts and materialized into something real now hunting me!
The word “illegal” got me most worries. I’ve never broken the law in my home-country of origin, which is deemed to be one of the most lenient in the world, and I wound up doing something illegal here, one of the most rule-sticking countries in the world…. and on top of that, without even having a clue on what the heck I had done! And I had to wait until Monday to find out more.
Unanswered questions were teasing me: did my neighbors complained about something? (I had heard that people here hardly complain directly with the person concerned, they usually report directly to local authority instead). Did I do something bad with my car? Nothing that I could remember.
What could I have done? And because they wanted my visa?
Were they about to kick me out of Switzerland?
As you can see, I had all symptoms of cultural shock-related paranoia.
And here we come to the central point of this article: what really helped me in such a situation.
It was having a friend.
Actually at the time she was merely an acquaintance and nothing more.
However, I was that anxious that I chose to call her.
She was very nice and told me, to begin with, that such letters were not uncommon in Switzerland, that everyone could get one, including most “respectable” people. She also said that in German the term “illegal” has a connotation far less severe than in Italian, that it just indicates non-compliance to some rule, etc.
The moral is: in order to mitigate the hardest moments related to moving abroad there is nothing better than a friend. A friend who has been living in the country for much longer than you, who speaks the language, who can give you advice.
Of course making new friends in a foreign country can be not easy at all. In fact, it may be very difficult. But it is also true that you don’t need to find someone to be best friends with.
My advice is: be open to people and in particular to locals, even when it is difficult for you to understand and accept their culture. Even if they don’t seem to be as much open as you’re trying to be with them.
Be open without being pushy. Show yourself being available to talk, to go out, but do not try to convert them to your foreigner’s mentality. That would be futile and would push many of them away. You may not want to hear this, especially if you are experiencing a bad cultural shock right now, but it is just a fact that you moved to their country, not the opposite.
Although it is difficult to interpret others’ behavior in a foreign country, try to trust locals. I guarantee some of those with whom you are so open will trust you back, and that will happen often unexpectedly. That happened to me several times so far.
PS: What I had done.
I had thrown garbage away by using a non-regulatory bag. Here it is mandatory to use special, very expensive bags. I was unaware of that and used normal bags.
So they opened my bag, using gloves, sought (and found) letters with my name and address on it. They photographed everything and filed as evidence.
I got away from that by paying a fine.
I hope that this example on cultural shock and the way I coped with it be of help for people who are going through bad moments right now due to immigration problems.
(*) More on cultural shock patterns later on.