If you have ever lived in a continent, country or even region that is not the one where you were were born and brought up, you have certainly suffered the, so called, culture shock. That feeling, depending on the person is shorter or longer to understand, digest and overcome.
There are various well defined stages.
The first phase is kind of romantic. It begins even before travelling. It’s full of discoveries since the image we conceived tends to be unreal, or at least, incomplete. When we talk about India we picture a country full of colours, aromas, unique clothing, or exotic places. You imagine yourself wearing a saree, riding an elephant or having a mehndi (henna tattoo). And you can actually find all that, but India is much more. You find yourself in a place where time doesn’t seem to exist. You enjoy spots, food, people; that is an environment which really differs from what you are used to. You try to soak this culture using their clothes, tasting their typical food, connecting with the locals,… Every detail seems interesting and special. And you laugh (or at least smile) at every cultural anomaly.
But after some time the differences between your ‘previous’ culture and your ‘new’ one begin to manifest and can create some angst. The initial enthusiasm changes into frustration and sometimes even anger. Things such as the language barrier, the hygiene, the traffic or the food, enhance the sensation of disconnection. Your mental balance gets affected (some of us had no balance at all before getting there) but your health can also get some impact. You can meet with insomnia, lack of your period, diarrhea, constipation, among others. (I’ll write about mine in following chapters).
Nevertheless, the most important change in this period is communication. You tend to feel lonely and homesick (not my case!), since you haven’t got used to the new environment yet and you only hang out with folks you are not familiar with. The language barrier can become a crucial obstacle when talking about making friends. Communication includes not only oral expression but also body language. One of my problems in India was not being able to hug or kiss people. It’s not that I’m a cuddly kind of person, but from time to time I need some caress! And there that is inconceivable! It’s OK for boys and men to hold hands or hug each other. It’s quite common to see them doing it in the street. I was shocked the first time I saw two men (with their moustaches) holding hands while walking! I mean, that would be OK in Spain. But in India where homosexuality is a taboo subject… Anyway, it’s not common for the rest of the people to show any kind of affection in public. Never mind! They show (and so did I in the end) their feelings in other ways.
The next stage is when you create your own routine. Then you get a feeling of ‘not belonging there’. Apart from not understanding many of the things that happen around you, there are added difficulties such as facilities (running water, a simple shower, electricity), poverty around you, public transport, hygiene, bureaucracy or disorganization. I guess it’s quite normal to go through mood changes, depression, irritability and insurgency against the system. Talking about me, I didn’t suffer much of the first symptoms (well, I can accept mood changes). But if you know me a little bit, you can imagine how much I rebelled! I tried to fight the educational system, the cast system, the transport system, the way women are treated,… everything. Nonconformity makes us want to change everything we don’t like. And I tried to change the whole of India myself! But India teaches you how to deal with that, too. Little by little things become ‘normal’. You develop abilities to face those ‘problems’ and a positive attitude towards them. That ‘new’ culture begins to make sense. You assume that the circumstances are different and that you cannot expect the same reactions as if you were in your home country. You learn that it is illogical trying to get the country suit you. It’s YOU the one who has to get used to the country!
In India you always need huge doses of patience and tolerance. There are a lot of things that need changing or modernizing, but it will be a long and laborious process which depends on the whole society.Have a look at this hilarious video about gays in India: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO657iDDS4A&feature=related