He makes some very interesting points about experiencing the unknown after you go abroad. Reading about what he calls the Oz moments inspired me to think about the first experiences I had here in the UK.
Firstly, let me tell you how Shaules defines these Oz moments. He describes it as “a feeling of disorientation or surprise when encountering novel surroundings or hard-to-interpret phenomena”. These might be even the elements or situations lacking any particular importance, but they somehow stay with us in the form of memories and lasting images. The name derives from the famous film The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy suddenly found herself in a completely new place and couldn’t believe in what she sees as it was so different from the things she knew before.
At the beginning, I think that especially if we are just visiting the country for a short period of time, they might be fascinating, we might laugh at them, we might find the differences very interesting. With time however, when you have the task of adjusting to the new environment ahead of you, it might make our lives a lot harder. The things that have been interestingly new at the beginning begin to annoy us, make us uncomfortable, are a reason for some inexplicable emotions. Possibly also contributing to the culture shock.
What usually accompanies these moments is a judgmental statement. I will give you some examples below. The judgments are not really expressed to hurt anyone. They are mostly the result of a cognitive mismatch between the things we know and the things we are now experiencing in a new culture, the result of these other things just being weird.
Here are some of my Oz moments I’ve experienced when moving to London, together with the thoughts that accompanied them:
1. Asking the ‘How are you’ question interchangeably with simple ‘Hello’ => Why is he/she not listening to my answer when I tell them how I am? That’s so rude!
2. Left hand drive => That’s so annoying, why couldn’t they just drive on the right side like the rest of Europe?, God I almost got hit by a car!
3. Eating eggs, beans and beacon for breakfast => Yuck! How can anyone eat that! It’s such a heavy breakfast…
These are just a few examples. The ones that struck me first. And you might think something like ‘What a stupid girl, of course there is a left hand drive in the UK…What’s weird about that?…’. Of course I knew that! Consciously I knew all of the above things. I knew that a traditional Full English breakfast includes the beacon and beans, I knew that they ride on the other side of the road, I knew that the ask the ‘How are you’ question as a greeting. The problem was with how I f e l t having to be in these situations, having in mind that this will be the environment I will be in all the time – as of… now.
The good thing about these Oz moments is that they are the basis of the cultural learning. Experiencing the difference, struggling to understand it and finally accepting it as your own is a complicated process. It requires time and the will to understand and adapt.
I don’t have a problem with the left hand traffic now. I adapted to that. I now also accepted the difference in the breakfast meals – that doesn’t however mean that I eat these types of breakfasts here, unfortunately even if I wanted to my stomach is not used to that 🙂 And finally, the hardest thing to understand out of these three was the greeting. I think I’m better with that now, I understood that this question usually doesn’t intend to really find out what’s up with your life currently. What I still find challenging however is why you can’t just say ‘How are you’ and walk away. I guess I still have some more learning to do 🙂
What were your Oz moments when you moved to live in a foreign country? What were you surprised by (even if you knew it before your arrival)? What made you angry? What made you uncomfortable? What was different from what you knew from living in your home country?
I would love to hear your stories as well!