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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Geneva, Switzerland

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


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


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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?

They speak French here. I had French in College but that was many years ago. I am beginning to pick it up but would love to take some conversational lessons when we get a bit more settled.

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

No - I love to travel and lived in the middle east in high school. My husband also lived overseas growing up. Our kids are resilient and do well in new situations so we knew they would adjust.

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

I found it difficult to do the simplest of things: buy a washing machine. Figure out my home telephone system, get my son into a local sport, sign a contract for a cell phone. There was also the shock over the expense of meat. We are affluent successful people. we now are unknown insignificant people here. We do not have clout and can not "make things happen". You have to follow the rules and wait.

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?

There was definitely the honey moon stage. Then I used humor to deal with the irritation stage. I do love it here now! There are so many benefits.

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.

We all have lost weight from a change in our food buying habits and cooking - these are directly related to our shock over the price of food. I now drink wine instead of having a cocktail - wine is good and cheap. Booze is expensive. Going out for dinner or a coffee is now a special treat due to the expense. We do a lot less shopping because clothing is very expensive here.

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

We love the public transportation and my teens love their independence as a result. We also love our proximity to great travel destinations. On our calendar is a concert in Paris and a spring break trip to Italy.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The lack of local language skills is at the top of the list. It isolates you and forms a barrier in what in your own country would be friendly, every day, people to people contact situations: such as pleasantries exchanged with a check out clerk or a neighbor while walking the dog.

I also feel out of it with regards to the news: what is going on in the arts, politics. I used to be well informed, now I am not at all. I have been too busy getting my kids settled, hooking up utilities, figuring out our mail forwarding, our taxes, etc.

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

The only thing I can think of is when my daughter & I went shopping - we traipsed through stores trying things on including shoes, coats, make-up, etc. I think perhaps they are accustomed to more formally assisting you where as we are used to helping ourselves. I felt like a bull in a china shop! The reverse is true at the grocery stores-while we are used to having our groceries bagged - here, they shove it down to the end & you are supposed to bag it yourself - in your own bags. If you aren't quick enough, the next person's things get mixed in and they give you a look!

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

The best advice is to have a good sense of humor. You should not make value judgments filtered though the norms of your own country. Just because things are not done the way you do them in your home country, does not mean they are wrong or stupid. By keeping an open mind, you may be surprised by the new things you will learn. Remember that your kids take their cues from you. If you take the difficulties in stride and make things fun, they will adjust more quickly. If you do your best to pave the way for them, they will meet new friends and try new food.

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Comments about this Report

Feb 28, 2011 21:26

I took French at the Universite de Geneve. Good programme and cost effective. The university is located close to the "downtown". I would recommend you check it out (not many "Americans" so you will be forced to learn).

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