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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

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

Punta del Diablo

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

Before making the move, I read extensively on Uruguay. We had farm animals to sell, as well as equipment & furniture, cars, boats... We had little choice, as we were in an area contaminated by the BP "adventure" in the Gulf of Mexico, our home being 23 miles from the water.

Our animals & farm were contaminated and, having lived near 1/2 my life outside the US, I knew I could do better elsewhere... Had lived/worked in the Yucatan, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, but never visited Uruguay before.

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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 was brought up bilingual in Texas, but there is a bit of new learning ongoing as I transfer my Tex-Mex & "regular" Spanish into pure Castillano - of Castile, Spain.

In some strange way, it's as if my grandparents are enjoying watching me struggle with the purity & beauty of original Olde Worlde Spanish, after my having for year defied their "prissy" English.

Living in the Texas Panhandle & North Texas, one becomes accustomed to spaking the vernacular... Spanglish. Well, it did not serve me here. Thank God for my landlord's mother, a freshly-retired medical doctor, who has become my teacher of "proper" speech in society.

For everyone else, it's like talking to a 6-year old child... Both were professors, one taught English & Lit., the other science & math. Both are laughing at me now.

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

For myself not really. I have lived & worked in Mexico, Guatamala, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Australia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia & Australia, as well as Bali. Being abroad is like a normal state of things for me. However, I had never been as far South since Tasmania, but at least I knew how to pack.

Comfort food, instant stuff in packets nobody cares about, spices, bedding, cooking pots & utensils (favorite herb grinders, etd.), coffee press is MANDATORY. My grandmother's knives, over 100 years old, go with me around the globe...

I was comforted by the fact that I had lived & thrived in Mexico, etc. and excited that Uruguay offered even less corruption (the least in South America) in my experience.

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

We flew with 7 suitcases, that is all. Coffee press, wok, cast iron skillet (we're from South Alabama, after all), a few packets of Low Country Boil & Extra Spicy Slap Ya Mama Shrimp & Crawfish boil, my herbs...

We were stunned how many Uruguayans would say they like food spicy but be unable to eat our "Texas Caviar," jalapenos cleaned of seed & membrane, filled with cream cheese & wrapped with bacon & grilled... WAAAYY too hot for them, it seems... But then, we're from Texas. We brought Tabasco. 'Nuff said.

Difficulty of opening a bank account was another shock. We had to have a utility bill in our own names... We were renting a lovely little bungalow from a fantastic landlord, but all were on the same bill & we just didn't want to put him out to segregate our house from the lot.

Even better, if you don't speak a certain amount of Spanish, you're lost. Come down during low season - winter - cold & damp - is the best time to buy property or cars or anything else. They take you more seriously.l Nobody speaks English. Prepare yourself. Buy Rosetta Stone if you must, but be aware = it teaches Mexican Spanish, not Uruguayan Spanish... But why am I cheating you of a few laughs?

The people here will bend over backward to help you get along, give you recommendations for laundry service, firewood vendors, whatever you want. The key is to keep your heart open to the people.

Strike up conversations in fledgling Spanish whenever you can - at the bus stop or market. Word of mouth is how you will find houses to rent, year-round or during the season, cars for sale or rent, the best deals on firewood, etc. TALK to the locals.

You will find they have HUGE hearts, the least amount of corruption in government in the Western Hemisphere, (US included in that) & a climate almost identical to Alabama, without the Live Oaks & Spanish Moss... (We suffer & enjoy Red Eucalyptus with calla lilies & palm trees.)

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?

We, or rather, my beloved, is in that stage now. He misses home, misses the "real meaning" of "tomorrow," etc. He's slowly learning to relax & go with the flow. Slowly, he is learning that there are no true emergencies, unless one is out of Pilsen or good tannat vino...

We do feel limited because we were spoiled to satellite internet & now WiFi signal is intermittent at best, but we make do...

Biggest issue is that instead of having a washing machine or coin-op washateria in town, I find myself doing laundry in a pail with warm water from the shower, brought to soak, then go into the kitchen sink, then rinse a couple times, then out to the line after a wringing... For a person with fibromyalgia, this is no small feat... Yet what does not kill me makes me stronger... There is a lavandera in town, but the clothes come back smelling of soap & not clean, so I prefer to do them myself like on the Navajo reservation when I was a child...

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 are thrilled with the intense taste sensation of the pears, tangerines, grapefruits & seafood... Beef here is especially good. They allow the animals to mature properly, without antibiotics or hormone injections, totally fed on rich grass. The result is incomparable. Imagine the richest prime rib you've ever had - then triple the flavor... You get the idea..

Yes, we are drinking a bit more - red wine - tannat grapes. They Uruguayos are so smart they refuse to export this lovely wine. We probably consume about a gallon per week, between ourselves & visitors... It's winter now & it helps to warm the blood... Dom Perico in Chuy (border of Uruguay & Brazil) has the best tannat - Sol Chico.

We also eat more dark chocolate - wonderful stuff, at a few pennies on the dollar one would pay in the US.

My partner is having a bit of homesickness... He has 3 kids under age 30. I have a 19-year old son in college. But - they are all adults & we are available on Skype & Email... We can go to Chuy & make international phone calls, no sweat.

Fishing makes everything better. Also, we eat fresh mussels & sea snails a couple nights a week; comfort food always helps.

We are watching the blooms of the aloe vera here - horse tails they call them... When they become really RED, it's time for the whales to be visiting here during migration to feast on the Antarctic krill... They come right up near the beaches, belly up to nurse their young until they need to breach & breathe... I can't wait to be privileged to that sight & take pictures...

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

The lack of the fedral gummint's nose in my business. The fact that people here are more laid back & easygoing in their approach to life.

The fact that there are no "old folks' homes" here. Old folks stay with the family until they die - they don't get farmed out for someone else to take care of because the family can't be bothered...

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Because of 3 previous head injuries, I struggle with remembering precise wording & phrasing of Spanish, especially now when faced with formal Castillano...

But people are so patient & understanding, even if you arrive speaking Mexican Spanish, they still understand you, as most of their TV is in Mexican Spanish...

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

Not here in Uruguay, but many in Thailand I would rather forget... Because I had a migraine, my son went to a friend's restaurant alone & met an "undisclosed ladyboy." We ended up cutting our visit short as a result...

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

Be open to the people of Uruguay. Trust in the natural goodness of humankind here. Nobody is out to fleece you. Visit the provinces & learn about the country people, not just the city of Montevideo & cities.

Learn passable Spanish before you go. Be able to understand what people are saying to you.

Realize this is not a cheap place to live. Prices are similar to the United States; however, there is much more freedom to be found here.

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