“Caramel Nut Latte? That sounds incredible. I’ll have that.”
We were at Dunkin Donuts™.
My husband loves donuts, but has an interesting history with them in South East Asia. This was the first time he expected a certain flavor, but experienced an unwelcome shock to his senses after the first bite.
The restaurant was advertising “Caramel Nut Latte” donuts. Each one was sprinkled with crushed almonds, caramel icing drizzled generously across the top in perfect stripes. The aroma of sweet, coffee cream in the center of the pastries was overwhelming. Enticing. Especially after a few years of living in a country without such desserts available. Daniel had high expectations. With the familiar sight, scent, and environment of Dunkin Donuts™, who could blame him? Mouths are supposed to water at the sight of something delicious.
Eva and I watched his first bite.
A pause, a flicker of confusion in his eyes, furrowing of the brow, slow chewing, obviously some mental adjustments going on, then a reluctant swallow. Followed by coffee to wash it all down.
Slowly returning the donut to the plate, Daniel told us he’d be right back. He placed it on the counter and began talking with the sales lady.
We heard in broken English:
“Sorry sir! This not Caramel Nut. Today, flavor switch. This is dehydrate chicken and the barbecue sauce. Happy with our new flavor, yes?”
“Surprised, actually. Thanks.”
The tiny pieces of dehydrated chicken on the donut looked the same as nuts. The barbecue sauce looked like drizzled caramel. The cream filling smell was obviously coming from somewhere else instead of the row of donuts labeled, “Caramel Nut Latte,” because this donut was filled with chicken and barbecue sauce.
Once Daniel took time to understand the situation and adjust his expectations, he ended up enjoying the donut. He loves barbecue, but his brain had taken something that looked familiar and placed it into a category that made sense to him. When he found out it was something else entirely, it was an unwelcome shock to his system.
For almost one month our family has been adjusting to a new country in Asia. Many things feel familiar, but we’ve also had a few shocks to our system. Sometimes things seem exactly like the South Asian country we spent seven years in, but end up being something else entirely.
Sometimes we’re aware when we’re comparing the two countries and cultures, trying desperately to assimilate experiences into comfortable, familiar categories in our brains. But sometimes we feel angry, frustrated, or sad and we’re not sure why, until we realize we’re carrying around expectations from South Asia that simply cannot be met here. It is an enjoyable, humbling, and sometimes disorienting process.
I’ve moved a few times in my life. While I’d like to say I think I’ve reached the point where Culture Stress no longer happens, I don’t think that’s possible. International workers- sorry if you were hoping experience and years eventually eradicate it. It’s a continuing process for people who do what we do. Even if you’ve read all the books on transition, Culture Stress will probably still happen for you on some level. The Culture Stress training from your organization wasn’t meant to prevent it from happening, but to equip you to deal with it when it happens.
I can honestly say with time, I think it gets easier to recognize and deal with Culture Stress in myself and in people around me.
This time around, I already know some situations that trigger Culture Stress for me and some constructive ways to help me deal with it.
Ways of dealing with it—some I learned from reading books and attending training at my organization. Very valuable.
But some of the best lessons learned— the ones that really help me grow and stick to priorities when the pressure’s on, came from slow, uncomfortable life experience. I’m having uncomfortable experiences right now because this is a new country. We’re on a steep learning curve with a tonal language and a new rhythm of life. And probably more things we haven’t encountered yet.
We handle life well most days, but there are also days when one or more people in my family experiences a meltdown. We have to take a step back, evaluate our expectations and needs, and prayerfully go from there.
Life isn’t perfect anywhere, but I think international workers can learn to thrive in their host countries. It takes patience, time, and being willing to try over—again and again. Ultimately God has the answers for your situation—not me, but as I wade through changing expectations and culture stress again, I want to be open about what I’m learning and share practical ideas I find helpful. I pray something I share will encourage you as well.
©2017 Chrissy Winslow – All Rights Reserved
Written from the coffee shop where I just took Ibuprofen. I have a “five tones of a new language” headache. And I’m loving every horrible, wonderful moment of it.
❤ Chrissy ❤