Culture Shock (2 of 3)

Why Is Culture Shock So Shocking?

Culture shock is so shocking because we don’t like things to be different. Change anything and people always seem to have some kind of “shock” reaction to it.

This seems to be magnified when you move into an unfamiliar culture. You go from being a normal productive citizen to being a infant. You go from knowing how to live and “survive” to feeling like you don’t know anything.

Culture has many definitions. I think the easiest way to look at it is “culture is a set of ideas in which a group of people hold or information know by the people around you” and culture adaptation is when you are “trying to attain that information.” (Adapted from L.A.M.P.)

Chinese culture doesn’t have some mystical attribute to it, they just do things differently than I do them and they have done them since they were born. Therefore, what seems natural for them seems artificial to me.

They speak a different language, listen to different music, watch different TV shows and movies. They read different books, have different greetings, and different role models.

Notice they do all the same things that we do, they just do them differently.

I speak a language, listen to music, watch TV shows and movies. I read books, greet people, and have role models. So I am not really learning to do things I have never done before, I just have to learn how to do them the Chinese way.

Here is a simple example: Chinese take their shoes off and wear slippers in there homes. They almost never walk into their house or anyone else’s with their shoes on. Before coming to China, I wore my shoes and took them off as well. But I would wear my shoes inside the house and I didn’t put slippers on. So, am I learning anything new here? Not really, I already have acquired the skills of taking off and putting on shoes, but I did need to learn to do it the Chinese way…when do they take their shoes off, why, and if I don’t is it offensive. It was something that everyone else around me knew to do, but I didn’t. My first reaction to this (something different) is that it is stupid. Every time I want to go to someones house that I have to take my shoes off and put on slippers. It seems inconvenient. These feelings were just a shock reaction to having to do something different. Now, it is not that big of a deal, I realize why and it has become second nature.

When I am used to doing things in a way that comes natural to me, I am fine. But when I add in a foreign concept (a.k.a. change), SHOCK! takes place.

Next Post: So How Do You Deal With Culture Shock?

2 thoughts on “Culture Shock (2 of 3)

  1. Jacques



    I trust your family has survived the coldest months of Harbin. Reading the weather forecast in your neck of the country made us feel a little warmer here in Hohhot!

    I enjoyed reading your perspective on culture shock in China. Having been here for a little over six months as well, I can say that we have dealt with our own kind of culture shock as well.

    For us, culture shock has not been about being “shocked” at the “differences in our cultures.” We experienced quite a bit of Chinese culture back in the San Francisco Bay Area and were already acclimated to a lot of the cultural eccentricities that we have faced in China.

    Instead, for us culture shock has come in two primary forms:

    The first is the obvious frustration of not knowing how to speak Chinese. That to me is more of a big inconvenience than a “shock.” It just makes life and ministry a little more difficult when you cannot communicate what you wish to say (that is an understatement).

    The second is related to the first but more permanent. That is the feeling that we will never “fit” into society. I will admit this came more as “shock” than any thing else.

    In these months in China, I have learned that one of America’s greatest attributes is our diversity. Lady Liberty stills stands proudly as the “Mother of Exiles” welcoming the world with the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    Only in America can 250 million people of countless races, ethnicities, and heritages make up one great nation and culture. This sets us apart from every other country in the world from Western Europe (where countries such as France and England are just now coming to grips with their failed policies of “multi-multiculturalism” which meant encouraging people of different ethnic backgrounds to maintain their own culture as opposed to becoming a part of the culture of their new country), to Eastern Europe (where in the late 1990’s over 10,000 ethnic Albanian civilians were killed by Serbian forces) to Africa (where tribal warfare continues to wreck havoc), and, of course, to Asia.

    In China we have come to realize that no matter how long we live here, how well we speak Chinese, or how many bowls of 面片儿 (noodle soup) we eat, we will never be Chinese. A phrase we have come to know well as we hear it wherever we go is, “外国人!” or “foreigner.” But more literally, the word means “outsider.” And that is how we often feel.

    I think that has been our greatest struggle in adapting to life in China and the meaning of “culture shock” to our family.

    怎么办呢?What do we do about that then?

    Like your family, we are still learning how to adjust to life and ministry in China, but I think the greatest lesson the Lord has taught us is the importance of being comfortable with who we are in Christ. We don’t feel the need to live in “Expat World” where we insulate ourselves from the Chinese culture by retreating to our “little America” and having as little to do with Chinese life and society as possible. We also do not feel the need to never serve another bowl of spaghetti in our home or give our kids and P&J at snack time or ever be fully accepted as “Chinese” by anyone.

    The fact is, we are Americans living and serving the Lord in China. We can plunge ourselves completely into the language, food, and customs of our new culture while not forgetting who we are or where we have come from. We can learn to enjoy life in China in all of its quirks and weirdness while not having an “identity crisis” when we realize we still don’t quite fit in. In a sense, we can lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel in China and find it anew in Christ.

    If we do, I think we will find our lives to be much richer because of it!

    1. Mark (China Ramblings!) Post author

      Hey Jacques,

      We are doing good! I am glad to hear from you. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment, it is a blog post in itself!

      I agree with you. It is hard realizing as much as we work to fit in, at the end of the day, I still have white skin, brown hair, and speak with an accent. BUT, as you said, if we know who we are in Christ, then that is where our comfort, worth, and acceptances comes from. It is in Christ we live. He is our identify. Therefore, no matter where I live and what I enter into, I know that for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!

      Thanks for the encouraging comment and perspective on “culture shock.”

      God bless you and your ministry!


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