Ex-Pat Life Series Part 5: Acculturation: What’s a trashcan go to do with it?

“You know you’ve acculturated
when…” is the question I recently asked on a Facebook group for ex-pats. I got
a lot of fun answers:

-“You see a crumb on the floor
and automatically assume its gecko poop.”
-“You smile (and mean it) when
someone says, ‘You are very fat’.”
-“You never feed the monkeys.”
-“You’re conversation doesn’t
stop just because the lights go out.”
-“You can bargain in another
language at the market and get a good deal.”
-“Brown water from the faucet
doesn’t faze you.”
-“Personal space has no
-“Your facebook friends post
in 12 languages.”

Acculturation is, the process of adopting the cultural traits or social
patterns of another group”
something that gradually sneaks up on you and surprises you with its dimming of
peculiarities, its normalizing of differences.  One day you’re walking down the street and
find yourself questioning the oddness of a hole and torn up sidewalk in the
middle of a week day on a busy street in the rain, while vaguely recalling that
the same sight a year ago would have sent you into a scathing Facebook status

Acculturation is a process of
internal change
, one of those things that takes time. The longer you live
somewhere, the more you adapt and adjust to the customs and culture. Not only
that, but the more open you are to new ideas and new experiences, the more
flexible your attitude and more positive your outlook, the easier it will be
for you to acculturate.

Of course there are always
those who don’t seem to acculturate no matter how long they’ve lived overseas.
And there are people who, no matter how seasoned a traveler and how optimistic,
don’t seem to be able to adjust due to extenuating circumstances.

Last year after our move to
China I found myself initially really frustrated by life here. (I still have my
“Shang-low” days (as opposed to Shang-“high” days, get it?), but they’re
getting further and farther between). There were 2 things in particular that
just really irked me about living here: the size of our kitchen trash bin and
trash bags, and lack of a garbage disposal. First world problems, I know I
know! I knew these were little ticks on the back of world peace type problems,
but they were my scapegoat for why I was frustrated. 

“I HATE not having a garbage
disposal! How am I supposed to wash dishes? How can we even function like

“I MISS having a large
kitchen trash bin! I wish we had brought a stockpile of trash bags, these just
don’t hold everything I want to throw out during the day and they always break!
It’s so annoying!”

I’m ashamed to admit it now;
I know how petty it sounds. Like I said, my kitchen was my scapegoat for the
stress of relocation.

One day, upon taking out our
kitchen trash yet again, I had an epiphany. I asked myself two questions that
empowered me in a stressful situation and shifted my attitude from that day on.

What can I change?

In this situation, I had
! I could find a new, larger trashcan and trash bags, adventure though
it may be. I could ask people from the U.S. to bring me trash bags when they
visited (er…awkward!). I could find a better garbage situation. Its my kitchen
and my trash after all! I could change things if I didn’t like how they were
done! I may not be able to change things outside of the walls of my home, but
there are things I could change behind them.

What do I need to accept?

There was no way I was going
to convince my landlord to install a garbage disposal, really I don’t even know
if that’s a thing here. So rather than get frustrated every single time I went
to wash a dish (and lets be honest, its not that often), I could choose to
accept it and move on. I could learn to do dishes differently. I know that in
many countries its not the norm to have garbage disposals and many homes in the
States don’t have them, so really this was a luxury that I could easily learn
to live without.

These are two SMALL, miniscule
even, examples of things to which I needed to adapt. Like I said, I know how
petty these things are, and there are things happening in the world that are so
SO much worse. In no way do I feel
entitled to having a large trash bin or garbage disposal, they were just silly
things about my previous lifestyle that required an adjustment.

When moving, especially
internationally, sometimes it’s the little things that help make the adjustment
just that much easier. Its empowering to take a reality check of your life to
determine what is actually in your control, and what is out of your control but
you have to live with anyway.

Whether you’re living
overseas or in your passport country, the next time you find yourself
frustrated by your circumstances, ask yourself what you can change and what you
can accept, and watch how your attitude shifts. Hopefully for the better. 

hopefully you have a garbage disposal in your kitchen sink.

Lived overseas? What bugged you initially and how did you cope?

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