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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Perugia, Italy

Aug 22, 2018


Perugia, Italy

An expat talks about living in Perugia, Italy where locals aren't glued to their cell phones and family values are important. He also talks about the challenges of learning the language, obtaining a drivers license and more.

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

Perugia

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

NO

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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?

No, I speak very little Italian. I rely on my wife who is nearly completely fluent. I also use Google Translate and know a few words.

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

Not really. We lived in Uruguay prior to Italy, and many things are similar in the two cultures, such as stores shutting down in the afternoon and close family ties.

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

The first time, in Uruguay, it was significant especially regarding housing standards and business deals. In Italy, the "shock" is not as great but there is a constant learning curve in terms of getting things done. Buying a registering a car for example. Banking. Buying a house. Taxes. All of these normal daily routines are literally foreign.

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 is a honeymoon phase. In Italy, the beauty and charm is ubiquitous. It is captivating. Then, there can be (and this happened to me) some jarring encounters with people who seek to take advantage and exploit. After this, the sheer magnitude of what it would take to integrate and become familiar with this culture takes shape. Then, finally, it all loops back to "purpose and meaning." What exactly am I doing here, and in life in general? What am I contributing? What gives me meaning? These larger questions always come to the fore after a while. Meaning and fulfillment cannot come from a beautiful view and leisure. Connections with others are important, and difficult in a new land.

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.

The changes accentuated the need for me to take care of myself. This includes exercise and good nutrition. But also daily meditation, connecting with people from the States regularly via Skype, and working actively to reduce the inner noise and expectations that can lead to depression. Basically, the "reset" has been healthy. You cannot stay still. You will regress or evolve. And landing in a new culture can be a healthy disruption that provides an ideal opportunity for renewal.

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

People in general, just walking around town, are not glued to their cell phones. People relate with one another. I often encounter Americans and sense a defensive posture, an guardedness. Italians are very welcoming and effusive. The social fabric are stronger. They have "family values" here. I also like not understanding the language well, It gives my brain a rest. If English is spoken all around me, I can't help but tune in and make judgments and get caught up in other's drama. Here, languages flow around me without my mind giving it meaning. I feel more free here, and less bombarded with media frenzy.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The language. This is THE biggest barrier. Conducting business and getting things done is very confusing. Obtaining a valid Italian driving license is a huge, monumental task that may be beyond my grasp. And, things are legitimately confusing because each region can do things a bit differently. It's hard to find out procedures and how to deal with things because you end up with different answers.

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

I'm sure I have, but ignorance is bliss. A time or two I haven't know if I was in the men's or women's bathroom because there isn't a standard way of designating them.

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

There's an inner journey and an outer journey. Living in a foreign country means that the "operating system" in your brain that worked in the States is now wildly unhelpful. So survival requires opening up to the vast universe of the unknown. This leads to change, to transformation, and learning to be comfortable in the midst of ambiguity. It's healthy, but it can feel unsettling.

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