Staying home from the movies: culture shock and the 2x2s

Today, everyone went off to a movie. I wanted to go. I even bought a ticket, but then I sort of hit a wall and I couldn’t. I was just really too tired. I know that watching a movie only involves sitting in a chair for a while–in this case, for four hours–but even that was too much.

I’ve had a cold, so I blamed it on that, but it’s really not that. Because after an unsuccessful attempt at a tub bath (there is a beautiful, deep tub in my hotel room, but only lukewarm water at the moment) and a cup of tea, I burst into tears.

There is really very little down town in the schedule here. When there is unscheduled time, I feel like I need to be doing something. I still have a cell phone with no SIM card and a laptop with no dongle. I have a bedframe in my house, but I don’t know what size it is, so I don’t know what size mattress to order. I don’t know what kind of heater to buy and I haven’t bought anything for the kitchen, although we’ve seen plenty of dishes and cookware.

The money scares me too. Everyone else is busily converting to dollars–whatever kind of dollars they have in their country, Canadian or Australian. But we’ll be making less than 300 dollars a month. You can’t really do it that way. We’re earning in local currency, not dollars, and so we’ll need to be spending in local currency also.

So I’m anxious about all this, but more than that I’m anxious that I don’t feel clear in my own mind. And gradually it begins to dawn on me: I’m not like everyone else. Among other things, I’m dissociated. I need more time to process new information. It doesn’t just go tumbling nicely into my head. On top of that, I feel anxious when my mind is disorganized. First, because if it’s not organized, I don’t really know if I can function very well. Second, because I feel that old pressure to always make the right decisions as if choosing wisely is still life or death.

That’s why, instead of watching a movie this afternoon, I’m sitting in bed drinking tea and crying over nothing in particular.

This is, in fact, what culture shock is like for me. Culture shock is that point when I’m overwhelmed by too much newness that I don’t have time to work out and I crash in some way, like I did today–just hitting a wall of exhaustion. It’s not shock at Bhutanese culture: we are hardly a part of that. It’s the shock of experiencing our Western culture bubble in the midst of Bhutan.

For lunch, we went out for pizza. Who goes to Bhutan to eat pizza? But it was the first place I’d seen other white people. We aren’t alone in our choice. But I don’t understand it. For various kinds of supplies, we visit a Western-style supermarket–there are several of these–and a few items other people buy you can’t get other places, but mostly they are common items available at any store and in some cases sold elsewhere for lower prices. So why here? Because it’s designed in a way that’s familiar for most people. It’s large, clean, organized, well-lit and has nearly everything you could want.

While TJ says to me at lunch time that he feels calmer and calmer here, I am more and more stressed and anxious. And it’s partly this. They look like me, more or less, but I don’t understand them. I am not like them. I’d rather have a cramped Indian supermarket where the shopkeeper would gather up my items for me. Bhutanese shops here are somewhat in-between: small and cramped, but laid out so that you can pick out your own items. For me, they don’t really take any getting used to for that reason.

At night, I watch English-language television before bed. I need to acclimate to Bhutan soon: At the moment, I need to understand the Western bubble I’m in. I watch them in hopes that I’ll come to understand.

At the same time, it seems I’ve always lived in my own bubble. Two by twos are a collectivist group: they don’t value or appreciate autonomy and independence in the same way that the mainstream culture does. Some of this is in support of a grinding uniformity that prevents independent thought and reasoning. But some of it is to fill the gaping need that wounded people have for connection. In other words, collectivism isn’t all bad.

What makes my head explode is the parts: I don’t believe that collectivism is more comfortable for me although it is. I was told too many times that I stand out to believe that I can carry it off. So I see myself as highly independent, a free-thinker, almost a loner. Consequently, I also behave that way. But I’m not sure how authentic that is.

At the same time, I do feel like an outsider in the group to some extent: I don’t know that that’s accurate or not, but I don’t think that really matters. What’s stressful is feeling, on the one hand, that being an outsider is not allowed. One must always fit in. One must preserve the unity at all costs. And on the other hand, I am not allowed to be a member of this group. They are, themselves, Outsiders. They aren’t the faithful. I should not engage.

Those are the pieces. Maybe I can start putting them together now.


10 thoughts on “Staying home from the movies: culture shock and the 2x2s

  1. thefamilyof5 January 25, 2014 / 8:32 pm

    Make a list! Organise your thoughts on to paper, I always find it helps for me to write a ‘things to do’ list or even a ‘things to think about’ list.
    Failing that just have a good cry, that helps too. Hugs my lovely.

    This massive move/change was always going to be tricky, change is scary, take it slow give yourself some time xx

    • Ashana M January 25, 2014 / 8:38 pm

      Thanks so much for being there and reading along. I did have a good cry and feel sort of normal again. This post really was my way of organizing it all in my mind. (I do have lists of practical things like my shopping.) I’m not sure if the post is very organized, but my mind is now. With this kind of thing, I usually think about your posts about your kids and their hard times with transitions and I do cut myself some slack. Although I think I do like to try new things and I do like a certain amount of risk, the unknown and unexpected is scarier for me, and your writing helps me understand why. In a way, it’s like I’m naturally wired the opposite as the trauma wiring, so I think I end up in conflict sometimes because of that. The things I enjoy make me anxious, so I end up pushing that boundary a lot. It’s a good thing probably, but then sometimes it makes it hard to understand why I’m having a hard time with it. Then I remember. Anyway, I think I’m sorted out for the moment. Thanks again. 🙂 xx

  2. thefamilyof5 January 25, 2014 / 8:35 pm

    In 2006, based on a global survey, Business Week rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world.

    Now that’s gotta warm you inside eh 🙂

    • Ashana M January 25, 2014 / 8:39 pm

      It does. Also, I left my heater on by mistake. So that makes things pretty toasty also. 🙂

  3. desilef January 25, 2014 / 9:34 pm

    Of course you feel different from the Western crew. Most likely once the work starts and you are surrounded by Bhutanese, you’ll feel more at home.

    • Ashana M January 26, 2014 / 2:42 pm

      I think it might be simpler anyway. 🙂

  4. Ellen January 25, 2014 / 9:38 pm

    I got culture shock just moving a few kilometers over in the city. I imagine a move to Bhutan would be worse. Ahem. You’re doing great. Your past does seem to be coming into it also, and you’ve got the insight you need on that. Very odd if the rest of your group is not experiencing any culture shock whatsoever – they may be really good at hiding it. take care

    • Ashana M January 26, 2014 / 2:45 pm

      I think they’re in the “everything is wonderful” stage. I’ve never actually experienced that, but it’s supposed to be typical. But we’re also fairly protected here. There are really few inconveniences or hassles. We did have a Bhutanese moment today though. It’s someone’s birthday tomorrow and we were looking at cakes: uncut it is 600 Nu., cut it costs 500. It doesn’t make any sense given it’s the same cake, but I think things like that are not uncommon. There probably is some reason for it, but it’s obscure.

  5. Ma Belle January 26, 2014 / 11:49 pm

    Ashana, I’m sorry things are hard for you at the moment. It is hard to try to integrate into new groups, and it seems to me that you are trying to fit into two very different groups (Westerners and Bhutanese) at once, which is bound to be hard. And I totally know what you mean about needing more time to process information – and how your mind can go crazy when it doesn’t have that time or space. And I am with you on that whole thing of making life or death decisions…

    It sounds like you are doing a great job of a challenging situation. Thanks, as always, for your insightful posts.

    • Ashana M January 27, 2014 / 6:08 am

      Thanks for your understanding. I had a good cry, wrote it out, and seemed to be just fine again. Yesterday was an especially nice day.

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