Reblogging a great “culture clash” post from “I Was an Expat Wife”

Reblogging this from an expat blog I just discovered via the WordPress.com Reader category feed. We’re self-hosted, not at WordPress.com, but we integrate with them. I was scanning their “Expat Life” blogs topic stream, and came across a blog named I Was an Expat Wife. Now normally I wouldn’t read that kind of expat blog, because A) We don’t really cater here to the “Trailing Spouse” expat type, we’re more the DIY low-budget expat/immersion audience, and B) usually I find that type of title is from a bloggy whiner about how she misses her washing machine from back in the UK or Australia, or everything in Uruguay is crap except for Punta del Este. Or both.

stock photo of woman looking through binoculars directly at viewerBut that’s not the case with Maria Foley’s blog – it’s quite self-aware, helpful, non-home-culture-centric, and a fun, informative read. Her post I’m sharing is aptly titled, The illusion of the “similar culture”. I recommend anybody thinking about expatriation, emigration to a new land as a immigrant, or immersion travel, give it a read.

Great examination of the culture shock of expatriation, even if to a same-language culture. Or from your home “Western” culture to another, hey, how hard could it be? Former “expat wife” Maria gives examples of exactly how hard it can be. As do her commenters, be sure to read them!

I’ll add a handful of Uruguay culture examples in case you are a USA person, Canadian or Brit, who is primary Spanish-speaking or fully bilingual, and thinks “hey how hard could it be?”: Milk comes in bags. You pay your health insurance bill at the supermarket. In the actual checkout line, not the booth where you pay your electric, water, and phone bills. All medicines come in boxes of blister pack pills. What we call a “prescription drug” is very likely truly “over the counter”. What we call an “over the counter” drug in the States or Canada (and I think UK as I recall from colds in Scotland and England) are actually “in front of the counter”, but here are truly “over the counter” – you have to ask for them from the pharmacist or clerk. Yes, even for things like aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen (paracetemol). Eggs are not refrigerated, nor are many cheeses.

Oh, ketchup and mayonnaise often come in bags too. As does pre-made pasta sauce. Tomato sauce comes in boxes. Be sure the box of tomato sauce doesn’t puncture your bag of milk!

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Mark Mercer

Site co-owner Mark Mercer. AKA Marcos Cristoforo Mercer, AKA the Fuzzy Wanderer. Expat from USA living in Uruguay as of mid-2012, after "test-driving" it for a few months in 2011 and early 2012. Married to Lisamaria, AKA well-known travel and fitness writer Lisa Marie Mercer. Follow Mark on Twitter @mcmxs and his many other sites, which you can find at http://about.me/MarkMercer. I write and engage about many of my other interests, on Google+ at https://google.com/+MarkMercer

4 thoughts on “Reblogging a great “culture clash” post from “I Was an Expat Wife””

  1. Thanks Mark – this is great. Loved the story about having more difficulty adjusting to a same-language country/culture. About 15 years ago, I was doing a lot of traveling for business – the most frustrating for me was a week-long stay in London. Couldn't get internet connections, didn't know how to make the phones work and then there was a visit to the local market for simple groceries and drug store items. There I was, wandering up and down the aisles, reading all the signs and labels and not having a CLUE what they were! I'd never felt like such an alien before, anywhere, including Russia, Austria, Czech Republic… maybe one assumes it will be simple, so you don't do the preparation.

    And yes, still looking forward to an October/November trip to Uruguay – fingers crossed, trying to get permission from my boss to be out of the office for 3 weeks.

  2. Further Uruguay: nothing is convenient or easy (Abitab comes close, but again it's an alien concept for gringos). It seems everything involves taking a number and waiting. Quality tools, clothing, and appliances are quite rare; or, put another way, appallingly poor quality crap is abundant. Locals display an alarming lack of situational awareness: will dart into traffic on foot, bicycle or moto without looking, happily and obliviously block supermarket aisles or exit if they happen to run into someone and feel like talking.

    As for the drivers: there are few gringos I'm comfortable riding with here, since most blithely drive like they're back in the north, oblivious to the danger surrounding them. The only way to drive here is to constantly ask yourself, 'what's the stupidest thing that person could do?' and prepare accordingly.

    OTOH, this level of challenge means you can put yourself on a pedestal if you can honestly say something like 'I went to Montevideo today and I got THREE THINGS ACCOMPLISHED!'

    Re. your linked blog – our last trip to Europe involved German, Czech, and French keyboards. The French were hands-down the most impossible.

  3. Funny you should mention milk, because several American expats in Canada have told me they were shocked to find milk sold in bags here. Another blow for expectations around moving to a "similar culture!" Thanks for reblogging my post — I'm loving the comments too. 🙂

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