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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Guadalajara, Mexico

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Guadalajara

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

Never

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

I only speak English. At 72, I have no illusions about being able to retain anything beyond the names of those I meet for the first time in my memory... And even that is proving to be a tad too ambitious.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

I was aware of the phenomenon, yet I never dreamed it would charm me, baffle me and then hit me with a brick, almost literally, all in a single day.

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How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Mexico is quite a pleasant place, after a fashion. For some, it can only be taken in small doses. Others will find it as exhilarating as to never consider departing from it in anything but a body-bag. For me, born and bred in the NYC area; it can be the gentle caress of the cool breeze in the afternoon, or the nearly perfect temperature, or the ubiquitous flowers of kinds I didn't even know existed. The laissez-faire attitude and laid-back demeanor of the locals, their strange fascination with ANYTHING (and anyone) foreign, the sing-song of a language I very well know I never will be able to comprehend. And in addition, it can also be the broken sidewalks, the falling bricks of ancient, beautiful but decrepit houses, the protruding live electric wires, tree branches and glass cases of electric meters, that all do their damn best to discourage you from indulging in reveries while walking...

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

Accurate enough: After two years, I still am continuously in a love and hate relation with a nation and its culture that can get you violently ill, charm the pants off of you, confuse you with the most astounding ease and delight you with something as simple as a smell or its profusion of color.

It goes without saying that Manhattan was never perfect, and that the same culture shock exists for old folks like me all across the US: Without leaving our own country, we the survivors of lost eras bemoan the demise of a world as we knew it, only to begrudgingly face the modern, "digital" one...

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

I always have had bipolar disorder. Lately, it became exacerbated by the Northeast winters. Here, there are so many things that can test my patience, no place is long enough for me to catalogue my pet peeves, but I have noticed that Mexico, with its surrealistic approach to life, with its non-morbid acceptance of death, with its childish, innocent view of well, everything (where else do they have people who believe that there are sandals who make you loose weight by merely wearing them, or that you could not possibly annoy your neighbor by parking your car outside and blast music from it at 3AM?), has provided me with a completely different outlook.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Too many to remember them all. But nearly all can be glimpsed above.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The utter lack of punctuality. The casual approach and the scandalous leeway business and professionalism are given. The poverty, perhaps, is the most jarring of them all. Be prepared to be galvanized by it.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

In my clumsy attempts to learn Spanish, I crammed on a few words, so when I went to McDonald's (which, believe it or not, here is the epitome of a swanky hang-out) to buy an ice cream, I said to the girl at the counter "Un coño de vainilla, por favor" (A vanilla cone, please), without knowing that "cono", which is the right word, is NOWHERE similar to the word "coño", which means something quite off-color... I'm no longer allowed at that McDonald's.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

The same I would give to those about to dive off into the ocean, or ready to cross the great beyond: Don't be afraid. It is never the way you think it is.

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