Thursday, September 01, 2005

this is how it feels...

Have you ever heard the term "culture shock?" Well, let me just start by saying that it's a worthless term.

I understand the idea behind such a label, and I guess that a phrase such as "culture shock" works as well as anything. But it falls short of truly understanding the way that I feel as an American adjusting to life in a different part of the world. To someone unfamiliar with the phenomenon, "culture shock" can sound too dramatic-- like some kind of ill-defined-yet-seriously-impairing psychological effect on a soldier returned from a foreign war... Or, to someone intimately acquainted with "culture shock," these words can seem cheap and simplistic; they don't nearly do justice to the depth of emotional shockwaves that can hit a person in such circumstances... Thus either way, I feel that "culture shock" is a problematic term. We can try to wrap up the concept in the ideas of homesickness, frustration with linguistic differences, or ignorance about cultural nuances...

But I believe the only way to truly understand "culture shock" is to experience it.

Culture shock is my current reality. I find it embarassing to admit, almost three years after moving to the Netherlands, but I believe this is one of the hallmarks of culture shock: self-deprecation and humiliation. Truth be told, at this moment I have a mental list of at least five relatively important tasks that need to be accomplished -- all of which could be "solved" through a "simple" phone call or something of that sort... Yet I am paralyzed. And so I am currently in the process of procrastinating and putting off each and every item until the last possible moment (which I secretly hope will hold out long enough to be eclipsed by the Second Coming of Christ).

I simply cannot bring myself to call tech support to fix some issues with our computer (even though it's relating to a fairly significant issue), because I already feel like an idiot talking about computers in English -- and only doubly so trying to do it in Dutch. And who really wants to spend 80 cents a minute to be patronized like a retarded second-grader by some Dutch computer nerd? ... I know that I absolutely must contact our landlord for a copy of our current rental agreement, since we're currently living on a rental agreement that's over two-and-a-half years old (naming an incorrect address at that). But I've become very suspicious that our landlord actually hates me (on a personal level) and intentionally speaks sloppy Dutch so that I am confused into submission and pseudo-serfdom to the evil building owners ... And of course, until I get a current copy of our rental agreement, I cannot follow up with Nuon (the gas and electrical company) -- even though they've suddenly served us with an exhorbitant eindafrekening (closing statement) to settle accounts for multiple months of overdue payments that were never invoiced to begin with (and in spite of the fact that we're not planning to move out of our apartment anytime soon!). But at least I know next steps on this one (sending a copy of our rental agreement), after having spent approximately an hour-and-a-half over two days, in conversation with no less than seven Nuon customer service representatives ... And it turns out that we missed our daughter's appointment with the consultatie bureau (there's no direct equivalent to this in American culture, although check-ups and immunizations with the family physician accomplish many of the same functions) -- so I'll have to call the GG&GD to set up a new appointment time, even though it was their scheduling snafu that caused the problem in the first place. And, well, who really needs another telephone conversation in Dutch with an annoyed receptionist that breaks all of the rules for what my culture would typically teach to "customer service" professionals? ... Then there's the matter of the 2000 euro bank transfer that seems to be lost somewhere between Europe and North America ... Oh, and that high priority e-mail to the owner of our leased ministry facilities -- who just so happen to harbor a hatred for their tenants equal (if not greater than) the hatred for me as a private renter ... With this paralyzing task list clouding my vision, I can only echo the dialogue of Revelation 22:20 where Jesus pledges, "Yes, I am coming soon." And I plea, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (preferably this weekend).

Of course, I know that I will ultimately persist and survive. This current paralysis certainly isn't the first time I've experienced the adverse effects of cross-cultural existence. Over the last few years, I've become very intimately acquainted with that phenomenon that is most closely represented by the phrase "culture shock." Culture shock is talking to a doctor on the telephone and not being able to come up with the word for "vomit" when your kid is desperately ill, further having to use the word for "speedbumps" to define the small raised bumps across the surface of an inflamed bit of skin, and ultimately being told to let a condition work itself out and call them in another week if nothing has changed ... Culture shock is getting excited about the idea of grilling out -- only to discover that the instructions for the grill you just bought are in sketchy Dutch and French (neither of which are making much sense). And once the grill is assembled, you learn that you don't know where to buy lighter fluid, and you don't understand why the charcoal looks so completely different from the stuff that you're used to ... Culture shock is completely missing the point of an entire conversation or entire newspaper article because of a simple misunderstanding of just a couple of letters or syllables ... Culture shock is facing your deepest personal deficiencies and wandering aimlessly through dark days of depression.

Let's face it: culture shock is hell.


At 4:03 AM, Blogger Marcey said...

I was just thinking of sending "Happy Three Year Anniversary" cards to each individual and family as their moving-over date comes up in the next 6 months or so. I would have guessed that culture shock would be so minimal by now, but you remind me that it is cyclical, or maybe orbital is a better word, and it just comes back around at variable intensities.

I just want to say to you that every thing you sacrifice and endure is cherished by your Father. He is so proud of you and Marci and your family. I respect and admire you both, and from where I stand, I just want you to know that you could have no more important job than the one you have now. I was thinking of you the other day and had the thought "You were born to do what you are doing there". I know your family, your friends, your ministry partners, and those you serve there are just so proud to know you and be a part of what you allow God to do through you. We are so proud of you and Todd.

Run hard,

At 4:52 AM, Blogger Maura Grunkelmeier said...


I've been following your Blog's for a few days now...and I can't imagine what it must be like to live in another contry. I once had a class that took a tour of Europe for 5 weeks...which was wonderful, but exahusting. It really generated a feeling of gratitude for being back "home" in my own country where I could easily communicate and navigate life issues. I am certain that God will provide you with the means to complete your "mission impossible tasks"..but in the mean time I will keep you and your family in my prayers!

Also, I came to your Blog via Todd's Blog...which I arrived at because I work with Linda Kitchen's sister back in the states. I belive Linda is part of your church? I do not know her well...except through her sister...but I know she recently experienced the painful loss of her cat. So if you see her tell her I said "Hello!"

P.S. My new "Blogger" identiy is Maura...but my real name is Laura...I don't think Linda would recocnize the other. Ah, so complicated. ;)

At 5:36 PM, Blogger Michaël said...

Would it be of any comfort if I told you that I also do everything I can to put off making phonecalls. Especially to NUON! They just don't seem to understand.
Or would it sound like I totally miss the clue of you story?

Anyway, I think I do get what you're saying. Altough probably not to the full extent.

I probably should just pick up the phone and make my phone calls. You have a reason not to. I don't.

At 9:43 PM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

It is encouraging to remember -- even in the midst of the waves of culture shock -- that our family is blessed with many good friends to help support us through the difficult times... Friends and family back in America (like Marcey)... Friends and spiritual family in Holland (like Michaël)... And even relatives of friends of friends (like Laura)... Thanks to each of you for taking the time to engage with our reality and write something encouraging. It's much appreciated.


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