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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Mussoorie, India

Submitted by dmawunker

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

Mussoorie

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

The training I received was only reading through books, browsing websites, etc. I have a background in intercultural work & cross-cultural training & international relocation, so I had some general experience and data to work from.

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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 started learning Hindi just before we left, and have continued studying since our arrival.

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

I was definitely worried - India seems to inspire extreme reactions from people, and I was nervous how I would adjust with all the stories and reactions I kept hearing.

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

The culture shock I experienced wasn't as significant as I had expected, mostly because of the location. Mussoorie is a former British hill station, so there's a little bit less of the Anglo fascination and harassment. Most shops here are fixed-price, many people do speak English, and it tends to be fairly clean of some of the "issues" experienced in other Indian cities (touts, beggars, etc).

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 went through some of these stages, though I think I managed to avoid rejection of the culture, or it was quick enough I didn't notice it. "The honeymoon is over" was intoned, more than once, by my husband or I as we started to get frustrated by the honking as you go around a corner (and Mussoorie is full of them), the hands-to-forehead namaskar'ing as we walk down the street, and language misunderstandings and hiccups.

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.

An unwillingness to deal with people for fear of miscommunication/ misunderstanding/ embarrassment. Here, nothing is automated; your groceries will be delivered to your house, but you have to call. You can get your dry-cleaning picked up, but you have to call. The interaction with the people on the phone and face-to-face was a culture shock struggle as I tried to withdraw back. It was something I did in my home country anyway, just exacerbated some, here.

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

There is a cheerful religious freedom that I have never seen anywhere else - Sikh gudwaras next to Muslim mosques, Buddhist temples, Christian churches, Hindu temples. The variety of food, particularly vegetable-based, is great: even if you're not vegetarian, it's worth trying and usually tastes better than the meat dishes!

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The status of women - despite equality being spoken about, it's clearly not reached everywhere and every strata of the society. I've been harassed in Delhi and here in Mussoorie, and the fact that as a white woman I'm stereotyped, and thus don't feel safe walking alone, is awkward. Wearing local clothes and speaking some Hindi helps, but not always enough.

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

It's all been language based hilarity - the words for /very/ and /ghost/ can be pretty similar.

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

It will happen, no matter how well-adjusted you think you are! Some of the surprises come in the small ways, and some of them are quite large, but be prepared and do some pre-reading on your destination, and you'll be the better for it.

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