CPH Post


You're Still Here | Making sense of culture shock

Kelly Draper is a British teacher who came to Denmark for work. She acts informally as a critical friend to Denmark. This has not gone down particularly well with Danes, who often tell her she should like it or leave it. Her blog is at adventuresandjapes.wordpress.com. N

August 23, 2014

by Kelly Draper

They say culture shock is always worse when you go back to your old country. You have learned the rules and standards of your adopted country and when you go back you have to unlearn them.

For a while it is like riding a bike after a break: you’re a little shaky but you get the basics. After a few years, you get shakier.

Trapped in Tiger
When you migrate to another country, even on a short-term contract, you have two basic modes. First mode: go native. Adopt your new culture. Assimilate.

Second mode: refuse to change. Continue doing things the way of the old country.

Most people pick and choose from the first and second modes to build their own special blend based on expediency and comfort. 

For example, if I went completely ‘Danish’, I would not bound up to strangers at parties and start conversations with them.

This is not usually done here – you stick with the friends you made at school. But if I didn’t do it, how on earth would I meet new people?

Conversely, if I didn’t move through crowds in a Danish way, I would never get anywhere. I would be trapped in Tiger until it closed.

Caught in a conundrum
There are people who can do it: who go all out and choose the first mode.

When I was fresh off the boat, a handful of these confided to me that they felt desperately unhappy at never being fully accepted by their new community.

So, that was never going to be me. Similarly not for me, the ‘Englisher’ who makes no concession to this culture while simultaneously claiming they absolutely love the Danish way of life. Who are they fooling?

Going ‘home’ for a short visit means having to unlearn the habits I picked up here. But the problem is that I don’t always remember how I did it before.

How far away can you stand from someone in a supermarket queue? Is it okay to walk in front of someone considering their breakfast cereal options?

And besides, my old country has moved on. They haven’t kept their culture on ice for my triumphant return. They make subtle changes all the time. My actions would be half a decade out of date.

Struggling on the stairs
I struggled with it in the early years. A friend who had migrated to Germany told me: “When in Denmark be Danish. When in the UK, be British,” and I considered it.

But what if I forgot how to be British completely? I already have problems with who goes first in a tight corridor. I already cross people on stairs. 

I’m making it sound like I made a conscious decision to go native in certain areas, whereas the situation was much more instinctive.

I am not making a stand over the areas in which I have not assimilated. I just find it more natural.

Honestly, I am not trying to create a parallel society. I just don’t feel comfortable with all the queue jumping.