February 4, 2014, by Guest blog

The four phases of cultural shock

Post written by Jack Revell.

I spent a considerable amount of my childhood outside the UK and as such realised at an early age that the absence of readily-available Cadbury’s chocolate and Marmite in the shops doesn’t really constitute a ‘cultural challenge’. But that’s not to say that there haven’t been any such challenges.

According to Wikipedia, people spending extended periods of time abroad encounter a ‘negotiation phase’ (the second step in the ‘four phases’ of culture shock), which usually kicks in around 3-6 months post-arrival (I’ve been here for four). The description thereof paints quite an unsettling picture, with this particular phase allegedly characterised by bouts of anger, frustration and loneliness, due to having to cope with drastic lifestyle changes and being submersed in a foreign culture. I would be lying if I were to claim to have avoided all three since arriving in Melilla, however owing to those periods of my childhood spent abroad I believe I have coped quite well, especially with regards to the lack of Marmite and other British cultural comforts (a never-ending source of woe for my fellow language assistants).

As alluded to previously, I have however felt quite frustrated at times. While home to a significant number of Moroccan immigrants, the city is still very Spanish culturally speaking. I can’t complain about the ubiquity of tapas bars and the laidback atmosphere, but I have yet to find a healthy way of venting my annoyance at the complete lack of anything being open during the siesta hours (typically 2-5pm). In addition, Melillans seem to attach a great deal of importance to owning a car, which wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that, as a result, the city has barely any public transport infrastructure to speak of (save for a semi-frequent bus service, which is on the verge of being closed down). This can be quite frustrating for me, given that I have no intention of buying a car out here and usually rely on the bus to get to work on time.

While not a source of frustration of ill-feeling, perhaps the biggest cultural challenge arises from interacting with Spanish people. Spaniards are very socially tenacious and tend to speak their minds quite often, a stark contrast to the way us Brits deal with each other, often concealing our true intentions and feelings under layers of shyness and secrecy in the hope that whoever we’re talking to will be able to read between the lines. Spanish friends and colleagues have often accused me of only feigning interest in conversation after construing my reservation as a sign of insincerity – which couldn’t be further from the truth! The day I learn to be as upfront and outspoken as the Spaniards is the day I can consider my ‘negotiation phase’ well and truly over.

Posted in Cultural challenges