Monday, April 6, 2009

The ABCs of Culture Shock

You know how when a person goes to live in another country everybody talks about culture shock? That's referring to how a person leaves the very familiar and comfortable home country's environment ("A") and discovers how strange and different the new ("B") country's customs seem in comparison to 'home.'

If you live in B long enough (and especially if you have no plan to return to A to live), it becomes less alien and B's culture becomes the more familiar, so that when you go back to visit A again, you experience reverse culture shock. With that, you get to see with much more clarity the quirks or charm points of your original culture, and you can appreciate that it isn't the only way to live anymore. You have an expanded field of reference. You are a stretched, more globally aware individual. The blinders have been dismantled and you will never again see A as A, but rather, as C, a revised version.

The experience of culture shock, and/or reverse culture shock is a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into the way you tick as an individual. You can discover a lot about yourself: why you are the way you are, and why you relate to others the way you do. I tend to be rather self-analytical to begin with, so such an opportunity is a pleasant and welcome one.

That said, I am left wondering what to call the experience I am having right now, upon returning to Japan after three lovely weeks with my mom in her Ohio home. Is there a reverse-reverse culture shock??? My Japanese home (I called "B" up to this point), is being seen in a new light during the period of adjustment back to Japanese time/space/climate, etc. I'm tempted to call it "D" in fact. "D" for dirty (ha ha), or disorganized (and how!), or disturbingly silent.

This trip back to my mom's house was the very first time I got to spend twenty-two days talking to just my mom (for the most part). Twenty-two days of being cared for and cared about by the one person in my life who has the most invested in me; more than husband, son, brothers, other relatives, students or friends. I was immersed in her love 24/7.

I don't know that I've ever felt it this intensely before, because I was always a Daddy's girl, and my relationship with my mom was like sloppy seconds, or something. Never intentionally that of course, but simply as a result of the dynamics at work with my dad; he was possessive of my affection and his attention defined my value as a daughter. When he forgot who I was due to the Alzheimer's, it was a blow to my identity as a daughter.

Having my existence fulfill a big need in my mom after his death was the beginning of healing that gash in my identity and laid the foundation of the wonderful relationship we are now privileged to share. I have never been happier as her daughter. Talking together as much as we did during those twenty-two days was so stress-free. I didn't need the computer, or TV, or a Game Boy, or movies (all coping methods vitally important for stress-diffusion in Japan). I did miss snacking after a couple of weeks (because we tend to eat three meals a day in her world), and found myself doing that more the last week, so that stress-diffuser was still necessary on some level. I need a little more introspection to figure that one out, I guess.

But all the other ways I battle my loneliness in living in a land where I am more misunderstood than not, and have to work so hard to communicate with others (particularly my husband), were completely unnecessary while in the presence of my mom. She listened when I needed to talk, almost compulsively, after the family reunion (in which my elderly aunt and one sister-in-law did talk compulsively to any and everyone for much of the time), and I listened, too, although not as patiently, I'm afraid. It really meant a lot to me to have her love for me reaffirmed. When Daddy was alive, he hogged the Loving Parent Limelight, and I was just foolish enough not to look beyond him much. I can see now I did her a great disservice. I wish she were here to hug in apology!

Hmmm, I can see my culture shock-related musings have veered off into another reflective direction...which I'll take as my cue to stop for today.


gigi said...

Those are such nice words to hear from a daughter to her Mum that I'd like to be THE Mum !!

Sal said...

Hi Gigi! Thanks for checking out my blog!

My mom and I talked about why it was I came to realize how much she loves me, this late in life. And we both agreed it has something to do with having your own child, who has grown into an adult. I suppose when we feel our adult children don't "get us" as moms (still worrying about them, still wanting to help guide them in their decisions, although we know they aren't likely to listen) is when it finally dawns on us to look at our own moms and realize we have fallen short as their adult kids.

Anyway, you have to wait till your children have their own children, maybe. In your case, Gigi, you have a ways to go before that happens, ne! ;-)