Mit dem Kulturshock umgehen lernen

A humorous look at life in another culture

Life in a foreign culture brings with it many surprises. Just when you think you have everything figured out, you put your foot in your mouth again. Even after many years, there's still bound to be unexpected moments when you might completely question yourself or the other culture again. Over time, I've gotten a bit used to these moments and have learned to look at them with some sense of humor. Here are some of these situations that still make me smile:

No one should just be left standing outside the door

When my neighbors in Germany just drop off a missed parcel at my house, it always happens quite quickly: open the door, "Hello", parcel is dropped off, "Thank you, goodbye", close the door again. I often did the same thing in Ecuador. Anyone who rings the doorbell, whether it's a neighbor or a sister-in-law with a question, doesn't have to be let into the untidy apartment straight away.

After a long time, I noticed how I was always let in straight away. No matter what: "Pasa, pasa..." (enter). Many years later I overheard a conversation and realized that it was totally rude to “not let people in". Oops...

"I thought we were just having lunch" - flexibility is required!

I had to smile a lot when a German client who is married to an Ecuadorian woman once told me how he had been sitting at the table for half an hour waiting. He was told that the food was ready and he sat down at the table... Logical, right? Meanwhile no one else came, he watched for another half hour as the cheese, which had already been served, was turned into a sauce, while the expensive tarts that he and his wife had brought with them were snacked on like potato chips - there were only crumbs left on the plate. Eventually everyone arrived, the actual meal was quickly over, but there was still dessert, then coffee, then cookies, and so the day came to an end.

New Year's Eve on the beach - or not

In Ecuador, I learned that plans are there to be redesigned. So, we already have a plan A, but it can still evolve into something else. It wasn't so easy at the beginning, when I had already imagined such a beautiful New Year's Eve on the beach. Instead, we stopped off at a friend's house halfway through the trip. Nobody could refuse their invitation to celebrate the New Year spontaneously at their place, despite having booked a meal at the hotel. So, everything turned out quite differently than expected. Even though we still had a great time.

Text messages - The art of small talk

In my home country, I send a short message and get straight to the point. Here, however, every message has to start with a polite "How are you?" or "How was your day?". I always take a deep breath and laugh a little when I write something like that. It doesn´t come natural to me, but I understand how important it is here.

A simple "Can you please help me with X?" without any preamble can be perceived as rude. Small talk may have seemed unnecessary to me at first, but I now see it as a valuable way to maintain and deepen relationships.

Lessons from the exchange

What was often exhausting at the beginning eventually made sense. I just had to understand the underlying values. I come from a very pragmatic culture, to put it that way. And I like the pragmatism of my country of origin. It's predictable, you can rely on times and plans being respected, and we also do this out of respect for others - respect for their time, their plans and their privacy.

Here I understood how respect and connection are shown in another way. It doesn't matter how untidy your home looks or whether you have to leave straight away. You don't just leave someone standing outside the door. An invitation is always a gift, a meal is time spent together. The relationship and the sharing are more important than the timetable. Plans are just plans; the fact that things turn out differently than you think can also be an enrichment.

How deeply do you want to immerse yourself in the other culture?

I also learned to recognize my limits and that I don't have to go along with everything that is perhaps expected of me. That wasn't so easy at first, but over time I realized that there have to be "black sheep" in every culture - in other words, those who step out of line. Even in Germany, I'm not a "typical German" who always plans everything on time. A culture sets out shared values, but these can always be questioned and are not universal rules. People who know you well understand and accept this.

Relationships in the intercultural world

In relationships, it is particularly important that the partner is not expected to adapt absolutely to the other culture. There is a mutual responsibility to shape the relationship in such a way that both cultures are represented. Or rather, that a family culture can be constructed together.

Life in another culture is a journey full of surprises and makes us understand what is NOT self-evident. It challenges us to leave our comfort zone and be open to new experiences. If these are the experiences you are looking for, such "culture shock situations" become exciting challenges.