Lady on bike

Working Through Culture Shock

In only the last six months or so I’ve noticed a shift in my perception and attitude to life here in the Netherlands.  Confrontations or situations that earlier would have left a black cloud hanging over my head for an entire day (or a week, sometimes!) no longer seem to bother me for much longer than a couple of minutes.  Often these days I’ll have a near miss on my bike with an idiot in a car on the way to work and by the time I arrive at the office it has been forgotten.
I have been wondering to myself if perhaps, finally, I’m transitioning through the stages of culture shock.  It is generally understood that culture shock passes within a few months (certainly within a year), but I talk to people here in the Netherlands who are clearly still struggling, often after a few years.  I certainly have been!According to Wikipedia culture shock has four distinct phases; Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment and Mastery.  In the honeymoon phase everything is lovely and new, bright and shiny, exciting and fascinating.  The negotiation phase tends to kick in once one realises that life isn’t actually all roses.  Differences between the home culture and new culture become glaringly apparent, and the differences are often difficult to deal with.  Language, social interaction and perhaps one of the big issues for people coming to the Netherlands is the attitude within primary health care and its magical wonder drug, paracetamol, can become overwhelming.Eventually the negotiation phase fades and the adjustment stage will begin. Wikipedia states that this usually happens between the six and twelve month mark, although if my own experience is anything to go by, it can take much, much longer.  In the adjustment phase one will develop more of a positive outlook and deal with issues as they arise instead of getting bogged down in the differences and difficulties that they would have during the negotiation phase.Finally, the mastery phase.  Basically full integration.  This does not mean losing one’s own cultural identity, but becoming comfortable enough in the new country that they finally feel at home and at ease.I had been struggling along in the negotiation phase for a very long time.  So long in fact, that I don’t even remember the honeymoon phase.  Perhaps my honeymoon phase was in the time when I was just a regular visitor, rather than a resident.  I do remember marvelling at the ING building in Amsterdam Zuid on my first trip and traversing the Oosterschelde and Afluitdijk respectively was an incredible experience for me.

ING building, Amsterdam.  Pic
But, I have so many memories of incidents and hurdles that really bogged me down.  Regular tantrums in the supermarket for not being able to find the “right” products.  Horror and anger that would last for days at a perceived slight from an encounter in public.  Throwing my homework across the room and refusing to continue at the tone of some to the integration coursework.  Uncontrollable tears when I break three wine glasses in one day because I’m just useless and can’t do anything right (that was a merry Christmas, let me tell you).  All things that should in all seriousness be water off a ducks back.  But they just weren’t.  Everything was so much harder.  I would take everything personally.  My husband has been unbelievably patient with me for a very long time and it’s really only now that I’m coming out the other end that I realise just how trying I must have been (who am I kidding, still am!).Why has the transition into adjustment finally come about after so long?  I really think that it has to do with all of the health dramas I’ve had in the past year.  As a consequence of being ill, I’ve had to put myself out there and speak Dutch.  I’ve had to be proactive in interacting with others.  I’ve had to take a good look at myself and my own attitude.Once I realised which stage I was at in culture shock I seemed to immediately recognise patterns and move through to the next phase.  It was like a light switched on in my head.  I’m happier more than I have been in almost four years of living here in the Netherlands.  I can finally have a meaningful conversation with my mother in law as I am much more confident with my level of Dutch.  When I encounter antisocial behaviour (daily) I’ll just think “sukkel” and forget about it almost immediately.  It’s almost to the point where I can just laugh almost everything off.By no means does my new outlook make me reflect and think that my old attitude was ridiculous and invalid.  I don’t doubt that others around me believe(d) that I was behaving like a crazed harpy, but that makes my own feelings no less important or relevant.  Life has been a real struggle for me in the last few years.  I could not count the amount of hours, days or probably even weeks that I’ve spent wishing that I could be in Australia, or even anywhere else if I’m honest.  I do truly believe that there are real social and behavioural issues that need dealing with here in the Netherlands which have been a huge factor in how I’ve felt.  The bubble mentality is so ingrained that it is very obvious that many, many people think only of themselves.  You can enter any supermarket or stand in any queue and experience it.  My husband’s grandfather, who is quite possibly the most lovely man you could meet turns into a shoving monster when he’s put into a queue for free food.  His appalling behaviour has to be seen to be believed!What happens now?  I keep moving up.  I seem to be slowly evolving into more of a glass half full type of person and I’m liking this new outlook.  I’m not walking around with a dark cloud hovering over my head any more.  I can finally see and appreciate my life and how damned good I have it.

I’m going to master this culture shock if it kills me.
Which stage are you at in the four phases of culture shock? How have you coped? How long has it taken you to see the light at the end of the tunnel?
(The original post can be found here)