Monday, January 23, 2006

This is Cyprus...!

Culture shock is a strange beast.

It starts with the 'vacation' period. Someone moving to a new country is immediately interested in obvious differences: how the houses look, what the shops are like, whether cars drive on the other side of the road, how people dress. Some people are truly fascinated, some feel a bit superior, some find much to like or dislike, some are just confused ... but the main feature of the first two or three months in a new country is the awareness of how different it is from one's home culture. Combined, sometimes, with a horrible homesickness for those missing family and friends.

This usually moves into a period of feeling negative about the new culture. Those who are homesick can feel this particularly strongly, but there's almost inevitably a period of another three to six months when newcomers to a country are more aware of the things they don't like about it than the things they do. They know what they miss most, and that lack is uppermost in their minds. When we had been in Cyprus for three months, I'd got mostly used to missing relatives and friends back in Birmingham. But I felt quite negative about the state of the house we were renting, about the church we were attending, about the lack of libraries, the coldness of winter without central heating, the cost of imported items in the supermarkets... so many things. I knew it was right for us to be here, but I certainly didn't feel like I needed to LIKE it!

So for up to a year, there's one form or another of culture shock. We have to learn to change our expectations, or daily routines, our lives. Many of us need to grieve for what we've lost before we can come to accept what we've gained.

After that, slowly comes - for most - of seeing the good things about the new culture. For me, by our second year here, I found there were many things I appreciated: picking fresh oranges adn lemons from our trees; safety for children when out and about, and for anyone walking home late at night; friendly (and very cheap) plumbers and other maintenance men; local clean beaches; no need to worry about locking the house up thoroughly.

But no country is by nature superior to any other. They all have pros and cons, and the final stage of culture adjustment comes with that acceptance: differences are part of life, and are mostly neutral. We find we understand better how local people think, we can love them while acknowledging their differences, and smile at the quirks of the culture as we smile at our own, while being happy to live there.

I say all this as a prelude to a photo of something that never fails to amuse me. I don't want to be accused of being racist, or disliking living here, or laughing at another culture. Cyprus is now part of who I am, and along with the locals I can shrug and smile about its oddities, while not wanting to live anywhere else. 'This is Cyprus...!' is what they say when we query something strange (why DO drivers ignore pedestrian crossing lights, but happily stop in the middle of the street for someone walking across at another place?)

This picture is of a packet of biscuits ('cookies' in the USA, at least roughly so) produced locally. Eager to live up to European standards they now include little pull-strip things to make it easy to open them. They've also spotted that on packets of English biscuits, there's a place that says: 'OPEN' with an arrow. But somehow, they haven't realised that there should be a connection:

(Clicking the photo will show a bigger version. If your screen doesn't show it clearly, 'OPEN' with the arrow is at the right-hand edge of the picture. The blue tear-strip is at the other end of the packet...)


adannells said...

Wow! I definitely don't know what it is like to live in another country, but I do know a little bit about culture shock. When I was 17 I went to Ukraine for 5 weeks on a mission trip. I remember how shocked I was at all the differences. I was really naive about different cultures. When I came home I definitely had more of a larger perspective of the world.
It is really neat that you get to actually get to live in a different country and actually make it your own.
Thanks for visiting my blog! :)

Lora said...

Very funny!

I think the stages you describe can be applied to city any relocation too. Your timeframe seems to coincide with my adjustment to living in Texas. Last winter, at about my 6 month mark, I was not very happy here, but this year I'm enjoying what it has to offer.

Lindy Kingsley said...

:)) I have been living full time in Cyprus for nearly a year now. I so agree with everything you say....Christmas for me this year was just not real, how on earth can you start to feel festive when you are out walking in a T-shirt (I wanted my UK white christmas dream!!). On Christmas day our Cypriot neighbours arrived with cakes, cookies, and good the UK we only knew our neighbours to nod too.

At that point I got it as they say over here sega sega....slowly slowly I am starting to love my new home!