the travels & travails of an escaped lab rat

Culture Shock

(or: “What I found lurking around in the European petri dish”)

When I agreed to come to Europe to work for The Company on The Project (in very much a “I could tell you…but then I’d have to kill you” capacity), I wasn’t prepared for just how different things work and are done here on the Continent.

First of all, everything is bloody expensive: 2 € for a can of Coke, 4 € for a Big Mac, 3 € for a Venti Tea from Starbucks! At the same time, everything seems to be smaller: hotel rooms, cars, lanes on streets, the average person’s waistline…

To further add to my acclimatization issues, I ended up having to split the majority of my time here in Europe between London, Paris and Monaco – three wonderful places in their own right, none of which (unfortunately for me) has much in common with either of the other cities (looking left and dashing out to cross the road will get you killed in London, whereas the opposite holds true in Monaco, and looking in either direction won’t help your survival rate any in Paris, for example).

After the first month, I realized it was an exercise in futility trying to retain my Canadian/Torontonian mind-set while living and working abroad; now, I find strange humor in just how different and yet similar the day-to-day experience of life is on the two continents.

Among the odd facts that I had trouble coming to terms with: most of Europe would fit quite comfortably in the Province of Ontario, all of Monaco fits nicely into the area taken up by High Park (with room to spare), some parts of Europe seem to be a technology “black-hole” (varying from difficult/more-costly to nigh-impossible/ludicrously-expensive to get the latest technological goods and services), and 2 hours for lunch.

Among the foreign concepts that I had no trouble coming to terms with: better food (especially in France and Italy), a real sense of history and tradition, women going to a decent effort to look nice without feeling guilty or being self-conscious about it (I suppose men do as well – but to be perfectly honest, I don’t find myself looking at them quite as much as I do the women), and 2 hours for lunch.

In a very strange way, I’m experiencing greater culture shock now in Europe than I ever did during my times in Asia. In Asia, things were so foreign in comparison to my North American roots, anything that was similar came as a welcome surprise, whereas in Europe, things are so deceptively similar that anything that’s different comes as a surreal shock.

But in the end, “vive la différence”. It’s that difference that makes life interesting – and I mean that in the Chinese sense of the word…


Posted in Journal by madsci on February 2nd, 2008 at 4:39 pm.

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