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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Algiers, Algeria


Algiers, Algeria

When a woman from Malaysia married a man from Algeria, they needed to decide where to live. She considered living in Algeria, but ultimately convinced him to move to Malaysia. She shares her eye-opening experiences in the beautiful Berber Mountains and Algiers - where they continue to visit regularly!

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

Algiers

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

My Algerian husband and I together with our five year old daughter visit Algeria every two/three years. His family lives in Hydra, Algiers and in the Berber mountains.

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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 understand only a few words in French, my husband's family speaks mostly French and their Berber dialect.

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

Yes, the first time we went was before we had our child and were living in the UK. That visit made me decide to convince my husband to move to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I am from. I decided then that Malaysia would be easier for his family, especially his nieces and nephews to experience life outside Algeria. I found Algiers and the Berber mountains beautiful but neglected, Algeria has so much potential to be a wonderful country with the landscape and the people.

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

Fortunately for me, my husband's family who are Berbers are not too orthodox. I am a Muslim too but a liberal Muslim and in Malaysia, there's hardly any segregation between men and women. My husband's family are extremely nice, even the men. But I do get the stares and strange looks from others as my daughter and I look oriental and they hardly have Asians living in Algeria, more Europeans.

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?

The culture shock was only during my first visit, as we will be making our third visit in autumn this year, I know what to expect already. Good thing is the last time I went, I did notice that they had minor developments like a new airport and a shopping mall. I am hoping to see more progress in this visit.

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.

As I said after the culture shock of the first visit, it made me so homesick of Malaysia that I decided to convince my husband to move to Malaysia. I told him that Malaysia has more beautiful beaches and resorts than in the UK. He has never been to Malaysia and was reluctant to move then but now he told me he couldn't imagine living anywhere else!

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

I love the people, my husband's family that is. They are warm, generous and wonderful. I love their food, couscous and Arabic food.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

One time my mother-in-law's fridge broke down and she cried so hard that I thought someone died in the family. When I found out the actual reason, I scolded my husband for not reassuring her that we will buy her a new fridge immediately. My husband told me it is not the money it is the availability. I was shocked that you cannot just go out and buy one and get it delivered to your house. My husband told me it could be weeks of waiting before a new one is available. So I guess it's things like this that we tend to take for granted that is most challenging.

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

In my husband's village in the Berber mountains they have two fountains, one for female and the other for the men who shares with the donkeys. Needless to day there were many moments when I forgot that I was neither a man or a donkey and accidentally went to the wrong fountain.

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

Anyone who visits Algeria should go with an open mind and if you are from the Far East be prepared for stares and them thinking you are either Japanese or from China. It is no use telling them you are neither especially to the older folks. My in-laws still think I speak Korean, Japanese and all the Chinese dialects especially now that the Korean drama fever has reached even in Algeria!

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A Dutch woman who moved to Algiers said that it took her awhile realise what it was exactly that made it so difficult for her to live in Algeria. She now knows that it's her sense of freedom which she seems to have lost.

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