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Cultures and culture shock

We´re thrusting ourselves into a discussion about culture and culture shock: how do you define a "culture", and what does it mean to be "shocked" by it?

I´m standing before a group of twenty-fiveish third-grade students of English at upper-secondary level. Not everyone is able to grasp the issue at hand immediately, and even fewer feel the thrill of talking about this at all. After a while, however, we´re getting into it and we start talking about assumptions, cues, values, attitudes, manners and etiquette.

Among any established group of people there are basic corporate agreements that were negotiated long ago but now taken for granted by most. Often, it is quite subtle. When encountering a culture which is new to you, you may feel out of place among the residents, and you don´t understand the nods and the jokes. What are they talking about, you wonder? Why do it ... this way?

When trying to understand what culture shock is all about Oberg suggests this model of the five stages one goes through when embarking on getting integrated in another culture. Normally, the starting point may be a feeling of excitement (everything is new), followed after a while by a stage of having growing sentiments of irritation and discomfort (it really isn´t like it used to be). Then again new attemps to accommodate to the new world follow and eventually, hopefully, one has learnt to live in both cultures (while perhaps not being uncritical towards modes and expressions of neither culture, now that one has acquired an enhanced eyesight).

Obviously, the concept of culture and culture shock is applicable both when talking about geographically determined cultures, like different countries, on a macro level, but also when considering what happens when starting at a new school, a new work place or going on vacation with another family, that is, on a micro level.

Sting says it all very well in his An Englishman in New York, one of the most cool songs I know of: