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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Macau, Macau

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?

No training at any point, I had to figure it out as I went along.

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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 did not have any Canto or Mando before moving here. I'm learning Cantonese slowly...started out by asking my work colleagues to teach me words here and there, and now that I have time I am taking a proper class.

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

Of course la! America and China are very different. However, I thought that my knowledge of Spanish could be applied to pick up Portuguese quickly, and that speaking some Portuguese would help me out. That turned out to be false, as local Chinese and Anglos do not speak Portuguese at all, nor do they know the Portuguese name of anything.

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

I think I adapted pretty well to the major obstacles -- being illiterate, learning my way around the city alone, feeling like a monster compared to petite local ladies, etc. It was the subtle differences in "common sense" which were the most challenging, and continue to be so.

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?

Definitely went through all of these stages! Sadly, I didn't realize it at the time, and almost left Macau permanently. I was lucky to meet some well-adjusted people at exactly the right time. Going back to the States would have been a big mistake for me, I think.

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.

During the darkest days, I avoided leaving the apartment for any reason. I simply could not stand the idea of dealing with the daily struggle to get anything done at all. This phase did not last long, but it was very depressing.

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

Most Macau people are very friendly and accomodating -- of course there are exceptions, but generally I have found that they like to laugh and are very excited to teach a foreigner about their home and about Chinese culture.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Communication is difficult, even with skilled English speakers. This is because the unstated assumptions -- "common sense" -- for this culture are so very different from my own. A lot of misunderstandings result from these assumptions, and neither side knows what's going on!

Also, I still have difficulty with the way locals and Mainlanders spit loudly in public, this makes me nauseous every time. Not sure I'll ever get over that one.

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

I probably did, but don't really know about them because I tend to smile sheepishly whenever dealing with a new situation. The locals give me a lot of leeway for not assuming that my way is the right way.

I do get laughed at (giggled at?) by locals all the time, in the most random places (McDonald's? grocery store?) - but fair enough, I imagine all my mannerisms are pretty funny to them!

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

Laugh it off, no matter what it is! If you can't manage a laugh, just shrug.

And remember that the craziest (worst) experiences always make the best stories!

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