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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Lake Chapala, Mexico

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

Lake Chapala

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

No, but I've traveled throughout Mexico in the past.

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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?

Ha! A year of college Spanish many moons ago, and now relearning it on the go--a word a day.

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

Oh, sure. This place is surreal. Even the Mexicans don't know what's happening. Or why. Or when. And then it may not be.

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

I'm still in it so it's difficult to say. Somethings are terribly annoying and other things, such as never being on time--the manana por la manana syndrome--is just fine with me. Many USA expats here still insist on being "on time."

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?

I think I'm going through them simultaneously.

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.

Probably frustration. Some homesickness, but for me that's easily resolved. When I get back to the US, I expect to be homesick for Mexico.

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

Fresh food--veggies, fruit everywhere. Street markets that have everything you need, and the smell of cooking. People saying "buenas dias" and "buenos tarde" when passing on the street. No one's in a hurry, except macho jovenes in their cars, and then it's only to the next tope. Tequila and basic Mexican home cooking. The craftsmen and women, who still make items as their parents and parents before them did, and the fact that chicken wire has so many uses.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Narco cartels and the resulting territorial violence is more than challenging--it's scary when it gets close. The unbelievably loud firecrackers and rockets set off anywhere for the slightest pretense of a fiesta, and boomboxes. Opportunistic thievery and denial. The adolescent attitude of the people who are well beyond adolescence in years. Sometimes, this is endearing, other times you really wonder. The poverty.

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

Undoubtedly, but I have selective memory, and most Mexicans have been very kind and tolerant of me butchering their language. I did get "drawers" and "balls" mixed up when I was trying to explain changes to the kitchen. Cajones vs cojones. Yes, those kind of balls.

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

If you are an "A" type personality, change to "B" pronto. If you have the option, rent, before buying. A couple people who shared their experiences suggested going back to the States for six months and taking a deep breath. This sounds like good advice, and that's what I'm doing. Six months in Mexico, six months in the States. I'll either end up culturally confused or happy with a dual life. It's too early to tell,yet.

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