Food For Thought

When traveling, you are likely to be shocked by the differences in food. Some people have trouble adapting to different diets. To prepare, do some research about staple foods in the the diet of the country you will be visiting. Before going to Spain, I learned that ham and seafood are a large part of a Spaniard’s diet. I was not surprised when I got there to find restaurants called Museo de Jamón with cured ham hanging from every inch of the ceiling.

What did surprise me was french fries. Shocked? I was too. Americans are known for their high consumption of fast food, burgers and fries. I found that everything in Spain and Italy (the two countries where I noticeably observed it) was served with fries. Pasta, lasagna and pizza with a side of fries. A nice three course dinner at an upscale restaurant was served with fries, oddly after the main course. My Italian cousin ordered a piece of pizza with french fries on top, which is apparently a popular topping.

You should also note that American versions of foreign food are generally inaccurate. Just because a restaurant says it is authentic, does not mean it actually is. Do not go to China and expect food to be like Panda Express. There is no such thing as sweet and sour pork in China. I had friends that thought that Spanish food was the same as Mexican food, and they bare no resemblance to each other. Only when I was in Italy, did I feel that the food matched the American version of it. Of course it was all infinitely better than Olive Garden, or Little Caesar’s $5 pizza, but it had the same integrity.

One of the great joys of traveling is experiencing the taste of authentic food from around the world. I ate crepes from street vendors everyday I was in France because they were so delicious. The chocolate mousse I had in Paris was to die for! I loved every single meal I ate in Italy, adored Belgium waffles (yes they have them) and frites, and ate a Greek gyro each day I was in Greece. Please comment and share some of your favorite food experiences while traveling!

Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse culture shock can be scary, especially if you are not prepared for it. So what is it exactly? Well, reverse culture shock is when travelers expect to pick up where they left off when they return to their home country. I am sorry to say that it doesn’t always happen like that. Whether you like it or not, you were forced to adapt to a new culture while abroad. You have picked up different cultural tendencies, and now your home country may seem foreign. You may have even liked this foreign culture, or even just aspects of it, better than your own. Shocking, right?

If this has happened to you, it is a great sign that you are not ethnocentric! You have broken the mold of the American culture, and that is okay. So upon returning, you just might experience reverse culture shock. This is usually due to travelers reexamining priorities, values and examining their own American culture. Upon returning, you may have idealized your home country while abroad, and expected to be familiar with the culture. 

The great thing about experiencing other cultures is the ability for it to open your eyes to an entire world outside of the United States. Reverse culture shock is normal, so how do you deal with it? This should be familiar to you, because you will essentially go though the same four stages I described of cultures shock, but upon re-entry into your home country. You will experience the honeymoon phase of being home, then frustration due to the new-found differences at home, gradual adjustment and finally biculturalism.

Hopefully after reverse culture shock you do not forget everything you had learned while traveling. Treat those new found cultural experiences as gems, because you are lucky to have lived and experienced something outside of your comfort zone. Please follow me on twitter @lizprovasi to learn more about culture and international business!

4 Stages of Culture Shock

Honeymoon phase. The Honeymoon phase is the feeling that everything is new and exciting. It usually hasn’t hit you that you will be living, or staying in this country for an extended period. If you are taking a short trip, then you might not even leave the honeymoon phase! This is a great stage because you will be amazed and entranced by the new exotic culture. This stage lasts anywhere from a few weeks to three months depending on the individual.

Frustration. This is the phase where people generally feel the negative effects of culture shock. Similar to life, after the honeymoon phase wears off, things are not as exciting as they initially were.

This was the hardest stage for me, as it is for most people, because you become frustrated with all those things you found new and exciting in the Honeymoon phase.The differences between your own culture and the new culture become apparent and generally create anxiety. It usually hits people harder if they are in a country that speaks a different language. Much of my frustration came from the language barrier and not being able to communicate what I wanted or needed. This stage usually lasts about three months.

Adjustment. This when people have identified all the differences between their own culture and the new culture, and then accept those differences.  For me, this is when I started feeling at home in Alicante. I knew my way around and had begun to actually like the differences I found between Spain and the United States. People tend to adjust anywhere from six to twelve months.

Biculturalism. One can only hope to reach this phase because it takes awhile to reach it. Most people only reach this stage after living in the country for at least a year, and even then, some never adopt the other culture. Biculturalism is when you have become comfortable and mastered the new culture. You are at ease and can interact within society without hesitation. Some people will never feel completely comfortable in a new culture, no matter how long they are there. It takes a lot of understanding and open mindedness to fully adopt a new culture.

These are four general stages that people go through in culture shock. This being said, each person will go through these stages in their own way and on their own time. Please leave a comment to let me know about your personal experiences with culture shock!

5 Tips to Ease Cultural Adjustment

Before jumping into cultural specifics, there are a few general tips to follow when traveling abroad. Adjusting to a new culture is not easy, and sometimes you may not have been briefed on the culture. Here are five tips to help the adjustment into any culture.

  • Expect things to be different. Traveling is exciting because it will broaden your horizon. This being said, do not expect things to be the same as the United States.
  • Keep an open mind. Ethnocentrism is the key ingredient to culture shock. If you have the mindset that your own culture is the “right” culture, then it will make it extremely difficult to adjust.  Be open-minded and do not compare everything to how different it is from the United States.
  • Do not stereotype. There is nothing more insulting than using a preexisting stereotype to dictate how to treat people. You are more than likely to hear many American stereotypes when traveling and many times, they are far from the truth and offensive. Also, do not judge an entire culture just because of one person who may have given you a bad impression.
  • Listen and observe. Try to do this rather than simply hearing and seeing. Take time if possible to go sit at a café or in a plaza wherever it may be to people watch. It is amazing what you can learn from a culture if you just sit and observe daily interactions between friends, family, strangers, etc.
  • Have a sense of humor. Making mistakes in a new country is inevitable. Being able to laugh at yourself helps ease cultural blunders and makes you more approachable. If locals see you struggling, yet you come off as friendly and laughing at your mistake, they will be more inclined to help you out.

These are just a few tips to keep in mind when traveling. To make the most out of your trip, make sure to do research on the specific countries or cultures you will be traveling to. Also, try applying these five tips to your own life to raise personal cultural awareness. Think about how your personal culture may come off to someone visiting the United States. If you were surprised at what you found, leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Let’s raise cultural awareness!

Since my first Spanish class in middle school, I have been fascinated with languages. There are over 6000 languages in the world, and one third of those languages are spoken by only 1000 people or less. I am captivated with the idea of being able to communicate with people from all around the world. This love for languages has led to me to study Spanish and International Business at the University of Nevada, Reno. While speaking another language is important, I have learned that it is only one small hurdle to overcome when traveling or doing business.

My passion for traveling and Spanish led to Alicante, Spain where I studied abroad from January 2011 to June 2011. I had first hand experience with culture shock from living in a foreign country and trying to assimilate to the Spanish culture. Anyone that has traveled knows that culture shock is difficult to overcome. While I spoke the language fairly well, it does not help when me when it came to the different customs and cultural norms.

Before any sort of traveling, be it business or pleasure, it is smart to understand the culture. Having knowledge of the culture will help with communication, assimilation and culture shock. Even if you do not have travel plans in the near future, cultural awareness can help communication with anyone traveling or doing business in the United States. To me, learning about different cultures is fascinating because it gives you a sense of how different people from all around the world live.

Sadly, American’s have gotten the reputation of being loud, rude and ethnocentric when traveling abroad. I want to change this reputation so that travelers and business professionals are enlightened and open to new experiences. Each post will focus on a different culture and explore the language, food, customs, business etiquette and many more fun facts. Join me on this exciting journey to raise cultural awareness!