Thursday, June 4, 2015

Ex-Pat Life Series Part 5: Acculturation: What's a trashcan go to do with it?

“You know you’ve acculturated when…” is the question I recently asked on a Facebook group for ex-pats. I got a lot of fun answers:

-“You see a crumb on the floor and automatically assume its gecko poop.”
-“You smile (and mean it) when someone says, ‘You are very fat’.”
-“You never feed the monkeys.”
-“You’re conversation doesn’t stop just because the lights go out.”
-“You can bargain in another language at the market and get a good deal.”
-“Brown water from the faucet doesn’t faze you.”
-“Personal space has no meaning.”
-“Your facebook friends post in 12 languages.”

Acculturation is, the process of adopting the cultural traits or social patterns of another group”. Its something that gradually sneaks up on you and surprises you with its dimming of peculiarities, its normalizing of differences.  One day you’re walking down the street and find yourself questioning the oddness of a hole and torn up sidewalk in the middle of a week day on a busy street in the rain, while vaguely recalling that the same sight a year ago would have sent you into a scathing Facebook status update.

Acculturation is a process of internal change, one of those things that takes time. The longer you live somewhere, the more you adapt and adjust to the customs and culture. Not only that, but the more open you are to new ideas and new experiences, the more flexible your attitude and more positive your outlook, the easier it will be for you to acculturate.

Of course there are always those who don’t seem to acculturate no matter how long they’ve lived overseas. And there are people who, no matter how seasoned a traveler and how optimistic, don’t seem to be able to adjust due to extenuating circumstances.

Last year after our move to China I found myself initially really frustrated by life here. (I still have my “Shang-low” days (as opposed to Shang-“high” days, get it?), but they’re getting further and farther between). There were 2 things in particular that just really irked me about living here: the size of our kitchen trash bin and trash bags, and lack of a garbage disposal. First world problems, I know I know! I knew these were little ticks on the back of world peace type problems, but they were my scapegoat for why I was frustrated. 

“I HATE not having a garbage disposal! How am I supposed to wash dishes? How can we even function like this?”

“I MISS having a large kitchen trash bin! I wish we had brought a stockpile of trash bags, these just don’t hold everything I want to throw out during the day and they always break! It’s so annoying!”

I’m ashamed to admit it now; I know how petty it sounds. Like I said, my kitchen was my scapegoat for the stress of relocation.

One day, upon taking out our kitchen trash yet again, I had an epiphany. I asked myself two questions that empowered me in a stressful situation and shifted my attitude from that day on.

What can I change?

In this situation, I had control! I could find a new, larger trashcan and trash bags, adventure though it may be. I could ask people from the U.S. to bring me trash bags when they visited (er…awkward!). I could find a better garbage situation. Its my kitchen and my trash after all! I could change things if I didn’t like how they were done! I may not be able to change things outside of the walls of my home, but there are things I could change behind them.

What do I need to accept?

There was no way I was going to convince my landlord to install a garbage disposal, really I don’t even know if that’s a thing here. So rather than get frustrated every single time I went to wash a dish (and lets be honest, its not that often), I could choose to accept it and move on. I could learn to do dishes differently. I know that in many countries its not the norm to have garbage disposals and many homes in the States don’t have them, so really this was a luxury that I could easily learn to live without.

These are two SMALL, miniscule even, examples of things to which I needed to adapt. Like I said, I know how petty these things are, and there are things happening in the world that are so SO much worse. In no way do I feel entitled to having a large trash bin or garbage disposal, they were just silly things about my previous lifestyle that required an adjustment.

When moving, especially internationally, sometimes it’s the little things that help make the adjustment just that much easier. Its empowering to take a reality check of your life to determine what is actually in your control, and what is out of your control but you have to live with anyway.

Whether you’re living overseas or in your passport country, the next time you find yourself frustrated by your circumstances, ask yourself what you can change and what you can accept, and watch how your attitude shifts. Hopefully for the better. 

And hopefully you have a garbage disposal in your kitchen sink.

Lived overseas? What bugged you initially and how did you cope?


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