Cross-Cultural Adjustment, The U-Curve, and The Fit of The Place

My friend and fellow expat blogger, Maria, wrote recently about the widely accepted cross-cultural transition process, a theory put forth by Norwegian sociologist Sverre Lysgaard. In her piece, Maria questioned Lysgaard's reverse bell-curve (honeymoon-->crisis-->recovery-->acceptance).

 

Maria, quite rightly, postured that the adjustment process is much more complex, and and more personal than Lysgaard's U-curve allows for, arguing that all manner of factors should be taken into account, including the the breadth of the cultural divide between the two cultures, the availability of social support, and one's own personality.

 

I'd like to add an additional factor: the "fit" of a particular culture.

 

Granted, less than two weeks into our move to Jakarta, I'm totally in the throws of the honeymoon stage. Thus, what I spew forth here will be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Still. I've been around the block a few times; I've undergone six of my own cross-cultural adjustment periods, and I say here {obviously provoking all of the irony and jinxiness that the Universe can muster} that this has been the most smooth, least terrifying of all my moves.

 

Typically it takes me a good month to venture beyond a 1000 meter radius of the hotel in which we first bed down. I usually can't wrap my head around the money for a good few weeks (notably trying to pay a taxi driver in Japan 200 USD for a 12 USD cab fare. After oh, A MONTH of living there.) For the first weeks and months, my stomach is in knots, the crowds overwhelm, the horns and traffic and chaos excite but also terrify.

 

I'm prone to frustration as I transition. I revert to an us vs. them mentality. I place value on the ways and norms of my home country, and discount those of my new home.

 

Not this time, though.

 

On Jakarta day four I was out on my own, with my wee girl on my hip, braving the traffic and warnings about sketchy characters, hailing a taxi and finding my way to a grey-market technology mall, attempting to get an iPhone unlocked (unsuccessful, BTW). I'm eating savory indonesian dishes for breakfast. I'm exploring the environs, weaving in and out of traffic, and imagining how, if I weren't  a parent and didn't have to be responsible, I'd be on the back of the motorcycle taxis tooing and frowing all over the place.

 

While some of this is surely experience and confidence (and perhaps a little is thanks to my good friend Xanax), a good deal of my newfound comfort can be attributed to the "fit" of my new home.

 

Japan was always too formal for me. I couldn't be bothered to apply a full face of makeup and don heals when I took my kid to the park. I didn't care about social position, or rank, or what a particular woman's husband did for work and how that reflected upon her own position in society. I was terrible at bowing. I thought things like apology letters  to the immigration office on account of my tardy, disorganized self were ridiculous. I don't like fish. I hate cold and damp. 

 

China, while I did love so much, was a bit too aggressive for me. The constant stream of, "Lady, you buy this? Cheap price for you. Friend price" grated. So too did multiple pick pocketings. And taxi drivers who appeared to be after some sort of price that was apparently on my head. The rules, rigid and inflexible in some places (bureaucracy, internet censorship, HULLO!!) and totally nonexistent in others (see driving on sidewalks, the Shanghai right turn {turn right and right again in the same intersection to beat red lights}and a random dude who got out of his car on the expressway to chase, ON FOOT, a fellow motorist who offended him in some way.) left me feeling unbalanced. Plus, North East Asian food: not really my bag.

I did, however, finally reach adjustment, learning that I'd never get a taxi in the rain if I didn't straighten my back and sharpen my elbows. I became quite Chinese in my view of queues and the concept of first-come-first served.

 

But I never felt completely at ease in China.

 

So far Indonesia, at least Jakarta, seams more my kind of place. There's chaos and excitement. Real life with crushing poverty and unimaginable wealth pushing up against each other:  ducks and geese, tuk-tuk, peddlers and buskers co-existing on the city streets along with armored Range Rovers carrying Very Rich and Very Important people. 

 

There's  also industriousness, entrepreneurial and creative thought (three-in-one jockeys who help circumvent the carpooling initiatives while creating a unique revenue stream, I'm talkin 'bout chu). There's warmth, both environmental and personal. My kid gets more HELLO BABYs!! And Kiss BYEs! than anywhere, and I'm the recipient of many warm smiles and kind gestures. 

 

There's also serenity and routine in the call to prayer. Of course, there's spice: peanut sauce, sambal, chills. And the most heavenly coconut rice in the entire universe. 

 

So basically, Jakarta, I like you. Your traffic, is annoying, your pollution oppressive, and your water undrinkable, but otherwise, I think that we'll totally get along. 

 

You get me, J. You totally do.