So how do we cope with Culture Stressssssss?
Well, like I often said to the parents of my patients when I was a US pediatrician, there is the ideal, and then there is real life. But here goes…with my Top Ten.
10. Get enough sleep and try to keep a routine.
Our baseline “idle” is probably 25-50% higher than normal, and fatigue from trying to understand a foreign language, stay alive, or just decipher Chinglish T-shirts to make sense of nonsense, wears on the brain and body.
Of course, this is not so easy when you have a newborn.
But we try, try, try…
9. Learn to ask for help.
For example, ask someone what the notices posted on the front doors mean. Does it mean blood pressure checks, or that the internet will not be working until you call a certain number, or that your water will be turned off starting tomorrow, for 48 hours? Alternatively, take a picture of the sign and ask your language teacher.
Cell phones with key numbers plugged in, bilingual friends, and instructions printed off in both characters and “our” letters have all been very helpful.
I have even shown a taxi driver a text message with Chinese characters that contained an address, until I learned how to say it right myself.
8. Write things down in a notebook that you don’t want to forget.
Along with that, keep business cards from places you want to go back to, like restaurants, certain businesses, etc.
Also, write down in English on receipts what it was for, before you end up with a mountain of small handwritten identical receipts from school tuition, telephone bill, 5 year warranty for an appliance and have no idea where to look when the landlord says, “now where is that warranty I gave you?”
7. Learn the language.
Duh! As of today, I can finally understand the question they kept on asking me at the hair salon each time I went, and until now could only give them a blank look and friendly non-committal smile. They were asking: “Do you want the 15 RMB service, or the 30 RMB one?” Wow, what a revelation! Baby steps, baby steps.
6. Be willing to laugh at yourself.
As I did when I wiped out with my bike on black ice the other day in front of a bus stop with hundreds of people. It sure seemed like hundreds as I hobbled to my bike with a very sore pigoo and climbed back on as fast as possible.
5. Don’t be too paranoid.
They probably are talking about you, but what can you do about it?
4. Don’t ask why.
Such as: why do the cars honk madly for me to move out of the way as they’re careening down the sidewalk? Why does the grammar work like this yesterday, and like that today? Why does the recycling man wail at the top of his lungs at 4:30 am?
Just accept it. And as a wise person said, The more you understand of the language, the less you will understand about the culture.
3. Be comfortable with making mistakes, seeking forgiveness, and receiving correction.
That includes from your children (No mama, you should write the character for our last name this way), from your beloved husband, from your teacher. In fact, consider every person you encounter all day long your teachers. They are all teaching you how to better thrive in your new culture.
2. Don’t be too anxious to get “comfortable.”
We grow the most during transitions, and God has not called us to be comfortable, but obedient.
Oswald Chambers has a lot of good things to say on this subject in “My Utmost for His Highest.”
1. TBA. I’m still learning.