Reverse culture shock.
It’s mostly worn off now, but for a good few months there, I was finding myself having a little difficulty re-adjusting to Western cultural norms.
Girls in really short skirts in the street made me want to rush over and cover them up whilst shrieking ‘does your father know you’re out dressed like this?’
Obviously I didn’t actually do that, but it gave me a jolt every time I saw people effectively having forgotten to put their trousers on out on the street. This has been particularly bad in Canada, where this season it’s all about short shorts of the most unseemly sort. Leg – a lot of leg – is visible everywhere.
In March I stood in a kitchen in Toronto, picked up a glass and without thinking headed to the tap and asked my pal ‘I can drink the water here, can’t I?’
He launched into a long, and impassioned debate (entirely with himself, I might add) on how fracking was wrecking the water table and releasing lots of hard elements into the water and that he most definitely wasn’t going to be drinking the water and I probably shouldn’t either.
I stood there slack limbed with jet lag, staring like a goz-eyed fool and eventually managed to murmur ‘er, I was more thinking about cholera, or even typhoid. I can’t get that from the water here, can I?’
He pulled himself together, looked a bit confused and said, ‘No, you’re good on the cholera front. We’ve been mostly cholera free for 250 years’
Righto. I’ll be drinking tap water with impunity, then.
When I was back again in April, after my trip to Costa Rica, I walked out of a bar downtown, looked up at part of a particularly well lit building and thought, oh a mosque. Which on second glance… turned out to be the CN Tower.
Which, as you can see, is most definitely not a mosque and to anyone round here is, instead, a much loved and iconic building – and not in anyway to be confused with a mosque. My pal just looked at me like I was mad. I get that a lot.
A small addendum to this being that last week I was telling another pal this story as we drove past it and he started shrieking, ‘My god you’re right, the top bit DOES look like a mosque’. What makes that odd? He’s Muslim, Indian, based in Toronto and only noticed when I mentioned it. Just me then.
Culture shock is bad. Reverse culture shock is just confusing.
Sometimes I find myself still converting prices back into dollars… when I’m actually already working in dollars. So I’m making some weird complex calculation that doesn’t have any reason to be done. And is by it’s very nature, wrong.
But I’m mostly through the culture shock now, though I do still feel slightly daring brushing my teeth with the water from the tap. Cholera fear runs strong with me after all that time in Africa. So the fear triggers pretty easily, despite having been vaccinated against it.
Same with typhoid – last year 8 of my friends in India got it. Lets consider that, again EIGHT people I know got an illness that has a perfectly good vaccine available. The one I had lasts for 10 years, but instead, most people there don’t get vaccinated. And this last year, a lot of people were really very ill as a result. People who can definitely afford to be vaccinated.
Anyway, that makes me a little skittish around water, mosquitos or feverish people who might spread unpleasant illnesses. There is, however, no excuse for mistaking national iconic buildings for mosques.
And on that note, I shall leave you till next week
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