Culture Shock

By: Mary Ogno

Personally, the term 'culture shock' has always held an aversion with me. When I moved to Tennessee from my hometown in New York, strangers would say in their southern twangs, "New York huh? Well there's yah some culture shock!" With these simple words, the stranger would remind me of every bagel, late-night slice of pizza and skyscraper I so desperately wanted to be reunited with. It was my reminder that I had sacrificed these things for foods fried in grease, cowboy boots and sausage gravy.

Now, living as an expatriate in sunny Sardegna, Italy, the phrase has taken on an entirely new meaning. For me, the feeling of it crept up unexpectedly like a craving from an old addiction, and consumed me just the same. At first, I was so wrapped up in the excitement of simply travelling and experiencing this foreign place that I didn't realize just how surrounded I was by the shock of a different culture. It was everywhere, and it soon became overwhelming.

Culture shock was the goat hanging in the backyard waiting to be butchered, and the texture of it's cooked brain the first time I introduced it to my palate.

But, it was in simple things too, like the bottled water I was now forced to drink because drinking from the tap now had become a dangerous endeavor. It was in the lack of 24 hour grocery stores, everyplace closed on Sundays, and the popularity of walking everywhere rather than driving. I even felt it in the absurd craving I had for fast food even though I hardly ate it in the States, and was now unable to fulfill because the establishment didn't exist on this island.

There is a feeling of defeat when you eventually realize it, it leaves you with justifying your reasons for abandoning home in the first place. Like when you are struggling with a language barrier while speaking to a bus driver, and the longing to go back to your own country spills out of your eyes as you're simply trying to understand what time the next bus is. Because really, homesickness is a huge part of the disorientation, isn't it?

It seems absurd too, that I had suddenly wanted to return to a place I had so excitedly and willingly left in the first place. I was surprised to learn that my swelling pride I gained in myself from living in another country couldn't made all the negative feelings go away. But, it didn't take long for me to realize that culture shock is what you make it. It can captivate and inspire you while at the same time leave you feeling hopelessly lost and confused. There's a lot of beauty in that- learning how to take the bad with the good.

And really, the Sardinian culture is abundant with 'good.' There's the midday break for a two-hour long lunch, wine with every meal, homemade olive oil and artisan bread and cheeses. And of course, even when ignoring the incredible Mediterranean diet, there is such a rich, evident history in this land and its people. You can see it in the faces of the shepherds, fishermen and farmers whose families have been doing what they are now for hundreds of years. Stumbling upon thousand-year-old ruins when you turn a corner is a shock of culture- but in the most exciting, invigorating way.

Now, living outside the United States for a year, I fully anticipate to experience reverse culture shock when I return; the big cars, the processed foods, the materialistic desires of bleach-blonde soccer moms- truthfully, it almost makes me not want to go back. Almost.

Then, I remember those bagels, slices of pizza and skyscrapers.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingMary Ogno is an American expat living in Italy. Blog description: An American expat living in Sardegna working as an au pair where I spend my time; drawing, meeting strangers from the internet, reading, and playing guitar- all while learning the very difficult Italian culture and language.
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Contest Comments » There are 3 comments

Rick wrote 11 years ago:

Another great article! And yes, reverse culture shock can be even more "shocking" because you don't expect it from your own country. Good luck!

Gillian wrote 11 years ago:

Terrific read. I'm in Sardegna now enjoying its treasures. Living in Rome, this island feels like a foreign country! I

Mita wrote 11 years ago:

The reverse culture shock gets me every time I return to the States. I find myself resenting things I would have never dreamed of, and thinking, "Back in Europe this would NEVER happen". Also, since I'm so attuned to picking up on American accents here because they are rare, when I go back to the States, I find myself being overly jumpy when random strangers at the grocery store or on street corners speak.

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