Why it should be called ‘attitude adjustment’ and NOT ‘culture shock’

6 May

A lot of people told me that moving to Germany would cause me to experience ‘culture shock’ – Definition – The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

Really? I questioned, it’s not that far from the UK, both countries demographics are fairly similar, Germans are still people right?

As a European already I was quietly convinced that moving to Germany was not going to culturally shock me. Sure I was ready for differences, ready to check if my homegrown stereotypes were right and ready to be accepting that life in Germany would a little run differently than it had done in the UK. At this point I hadn’t heard of the expat adjustment life cycle which was a good and a bad thing, I’m all for being prepared, but a little information can sometimes be a dangerous thing.

Why it should be called ‘attitude adjustment’ and not ‘culture shock’

‘Culture shock’ is a reaction to a situation and your reaction to any situation is up to you. React positively or react negatively, it’s completely your decision. Those who are more likely to suffer from ‘culture shock’, are those who choose to react negatively in a new or unfamiliar situation.

Being a positive person can be difficult, and I’m not saying you have to be ‘Miss/Mr/Mrs/Ms sunshine and puppy dogs’ but when approaching cultural differences you can choose an attitude of openness, acceptance and trust over one of suspicion, fear and prejudice.

Even with the best attitude to change, to your move, to your new life, you will feel the feelings of every other expat when you come face to face with a situation that should be simple and straightforward and ends up with you feeling like a raving lunatic/on the verge of a breakdown/defeated. You will have negative reactions, we all do.

I get frustrated when people automatically switch to English, ‘in the bakery’
Me “Hallo, Ich hatte gern zwei mal Kase Schinken Fladen, bitte”
Her “oh these two? with ham and cheese?”
Me “Ja”
Her “Anything else”
Me “yes two capuccinos and four pretzels without salt”
Silence floods the whole bakery and the poor assistant is frozen with fear “Wie bitte?”
Me “Zwei Capuccino and vier mal brezen ohne salz”

I get confused very easily by new things, especially at the shops, cash back, loyalty cards, ‘did I find everything I needed at Kaufland today?’ Oh and here’s a hint NEVER say no, otherwise you have to talk to a manager (in front of everyone, I got so embarrassed) and Germans really don’t like to be stuck at a checkout for longer than absolutely necessary.

New situations make me tense, I practice what I need to say to the various workmen housemeisters, neighbours, even friends just so I don’t get stuck and have to switch back to English.

To cope with these hideous feelings of inadequacy (and humiliation, ok that’s a little strong but sometimes…) you need to develop a strategy, one which means you don’t jump on the next plane home or scream at a random staring stranger in the street (true story). Educate yourself, learn the language (at least try), learn about the culture, ask questions, reach out to expats and natives alike, in my experience everyone here has something unique to say about German culture. Steer away from negative responses like criticism, doing this through lack of understanding makes you the idiot.

If your attitude adjustment has been a positive one you will reap the rewards, I’m not saying that your life will be easy or suddenly you’ll love everyday in Germany without exception, but hopefully the feelings of alienation and isolation will be minimised. Understanding more about German culture will help lessen your negative reactions and help in your acceptance of new cross cultural encounters. Join in, say yes to every invitation, no exceptions, I’ve been to political rallies, hiked up really big hills and drank a lot of beer tea to make me feel connected to my new home. Like Nike says ‘Just do it’. A great result of this whole expat experience and having to choose positivity is confidence, in yourself, however that manifests itself is completely up to you.

In review

Make an attitude adjustment, choose :-

Openness, Acceptance and Trust

Understand your reactions :-

Frustration, Confusion, Embarrassment and Tension

Develop a coping strategy :-

Learn, Listen and Ask

Results :-

Understanding, Connection and Confidence

And this doesn’t just apply to expats, moving schools, moving jobs, becoming a stay at home mum all require an attitude adjustment.

What was the reason for your last attitude adjustment?


13 Responses to “Why it should be called ‘attitude adjustment’ and NOT ‘culture shock’”

  1. nikki @bookpunks & younggermany May 6, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

    I really like the way you put this. I can’t say I ever experienced culture shock myself–that is far too strong a word, and I think I must have just been following your advice without knowing it–and attitude adjustment seems like a great way to put it to me.

    • The Erlangen Expat May 6, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

      Glad it’s not just me that finds it more of an adjustment than a shock 🙂

  2. katebroadfield May 6, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Reblogged this on katebroadfield and commented:
    A little help from ou virtual neighbors… Now that I have been here 6 months, I can breath and have time to read insight from other expats.

  3. Expat Eye May 6, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    Great post! I hope that after living abroad for a few years, Germany won’t be such a shock, but I guess I’ll find out soon enough – there’s a big difference between going for a few trips and actually living there! But I like to think that I’m open-minded and I do like saying ‘yes’ to stuff 😉

    • The Erlangen Expat May 6, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

      You’ll do great in Germany, you have awesome expat survival skills already!

      • Expat Eye May 6, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

        Ha ha, I do believe that if I can survive LV I can survive anywhere! But we’ll find out 😉

  4. Chris P May 7, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    This is really great. It’s so true that our “culture shock” tends to be another way to describe “attitude problem.” Haha. I just wrote a blog about culture shock (and so that’s how I discovered your post). It’s amazing how much we tend to point the finger at others for being “the weird ones” while we’re experiencing culture shock.

    I find that I get easily frustrated during moments of culture shock, and so that’s when I have to realize that I need to change – not them.

    • The Erlangen Expat May 7, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

      Your blog is so spot on, great minds and all that! I get so frustrated with expats who won’t admit it’s their problem! Come on people embrace the weird 😉

      • Chris P May 7, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

        Exactly! If I had given my blog post a different title, it would’ve been, “I’m the Weird One.” Maybe I can save that for another post. Hehe.

      • The Erlangen Expat May 7, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

        I think it might be the unofficial tagline for expats everywhere!

  5. Kristina May 8, 2014 at 6:16 am #

    Agreed, even if the actual distance between two countries is not much, the cultural difference will always be there and it will always be an adjustment. I have friends living only two hours away in the Netherlands and they’ll tell you it’s a completely different lifestyle.
    I lived in Ireland for a year when I was a teenager and while I was totally ready to leave Germany at the time, I was very surprised how german I felt suddenly in my new surroundings. It made me realize how much we are defined by our roots. At the same time it is so good for us to get out of our comfort zone for a while and experience other ways of living. It also made me realize how unfriendly germans can be when I got back home, ha 😉
    Hang in there during the hard times, it’s worth it!

  6. heatherinde May 13, 2014 at 10:26 pm #

    So well put! I do think that culture shock is a real thing (and reverse culture shock can knock you on your ass), but an attitude adjustment is an absolute necessity. Do some things here make me crazy? Yep, yep they do. But am I going to change eighty thousand people and their cultural norms? Nope, nope I’m not. Adjust, and move on.

    • The Erlangen Expat May 14, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

      Thanks! I am not looking forward to reverse culture shock, but at least I’ll be prepared 😉

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