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Culture shock is a funny thing. They (you know, they) say that it takes some time to set in. But when I was in Russia (I know I bring this up a lot, you guys—whoever you are!—but it’s what I have to compare this experience to) I spent the first several weeks wondering a) why my Russian wasn’t better and b) what I was doing in Russia (it was my first time living and studying abroad, and I dealt with it with my normal level of emotional composure, which is to say no emotional composure at all). And so I didn’t really go through the normal cycle of culture shock. I probably thought I did. But I did not. I realize that now.
Oh, do I realize that now.
Here is the actual cycle of culture shock: You go to a new place and it’s foreign and exciting and you don’t think of all the ways in which you are so very far from home. And then you start feeling them, little by little, bit by bit, until, one day, something stupid and trivial and silly happens, and at first it makes you want to display your normal level of emotional composure and break down and cry, but then it just makes you realize, so fully, that you’re culture shocked.
My father sent me a package a few weeks ago. It’s not an important package, but it’s my package, and it was supposed to arrive long before it did, and it has my name on it (well, my first name, anyway; my last name was misspelled), and I couldn’t pick it up on Wednesday, when I was finally notified that it came into town, and I wanted to get it today.
I went to want I thought was the correct office. The woman there took one, very brief look at the paper I had handed her and sent me to Bahnhofstraße. “We don’t deal with money here,” she told me, and dismissed me.
At Bahnhofstraße the man told me that I had to go back from whence I came.
“But I was just there and they told me to come here!”
“I do not have a package for you here.”
“Okay. That is not your fault. I will tell them.”
“Yes, we have no package here. You must go there.”
“To the one by the Hauptbahnhof?”
“And the bus stop?”
So I went back to the office by the Hauptbahnhof and the bus stop (where, lo!, a woman was dealing with cash), and the woman (a different woman, because it is always a different woman) told me that I needed to go to a third office, down the street. But by the time I walked there the office had been closed for five minutes.
(I then went with my friend to get a bagel. My friend got the last one. At a place that sells only bagels. The woman suggested I eat a yogurt parfait as a substitute. I did not take her up on this. She looked at me with eyes borrowed from the woman who does not deal with money.)
I realize, Reader (Leser, if you’d like), that, in the grand scheme of the world’s problems, these do not even rank. These don’t even rank in the grand scheme of my problems! But they were what made me realize that I’ve been culture shocked. By what now seem like national characteristics of condescension (disclaimer: I know that this is not really a national character trait, and this is just my normal level of emotional composure warping everything, and I apologize, sincerely, to any German feelings that are harmed in the process of reading this blog post) and pride in bureaucracy. Not “Oh, this is our system and it’s an inefficient nightmare but it’s our system, womp womp” (see: former Soviet Union), but, “This is our system, and it works most of the time, and it is better than yours, and why are you still standing there confused as we send you to the third package center in a three block radius?” (see: Germany).
And I know that I won’t remember this in a week or two. But I also know that I wanted to cry outside of a closed package center today. And that I get so frustrated that people here, if they don’t reply to my emails immediately, just don’t reply at all. At always feeling like I know less, or know worse.
But I also, also know that this too shall pass. A shock denotes temporality.
I’m just ready for a different temporal, is all.