I’ve heard and read a lot about “culture shock“, I am also familiar with “reverse culture shock” (when one must re-adjust to one’s native culture), but I have never found any description of what I call “culture countershock”. What do I mean by “culture countershock”? Allow me to illustrate…
Japan is one of the stereotypical countries where ‘Westerners’ experience culture shock. In Japan, I found these stereotypes sometimes annoying. For example, one time a Japanese woman refused to tell me where the nearest bathroom was because she said they are all “Japanese-style” toilets and that I couldn’t use them. Well excuse me, I had been living in Taiwan for years, and they have “Japanese-style” toilets, thus I was totally used to using them, and I NEEDED TO PEE!!! On the other hand, these stereotypes also amused me – like people everywhere I’ve visited in East Asia (except Hong Kong), Japanese people found it surprising that I could use chopsticks, and I was amused by their surprise (I’ve been using chopsticks since I was four years old – it’s as natural to me as using a spoon and fork).
But there were some things which caught me by surprise in Japan, so much so that it took me a while to get used to them…
– Japanese people drink water straight from the tap. When I was at my first hostel in Osaka, I asked where the drinking water was, and at first I didn’t believe them when I could get drinking water from the sink. There’s even a sign in the hostel which tells people “YOU CAN GET DRINKING WATER FROM THE SINK” for guests such as myself.
– Japanese people put used toilet paper in the toilet bowl, not in the wastebasket. It took me a while to get used to putting toilet paper in the toilet bowl, even with the help of signs in the hostel which said “DON’T PUT TOILET PAPER IN THE WASTEBASKET”.
– I was surprised by how many white people there were in Japan, particularly Kyoto. I hadn’t seen so many white people in one place for years.
– The ideograph writing system (kanji) was natural and relatively easy for me to understand most of time. The writing system based on phonetics (kana<), by contrast, is weird and foreign, and difficult to understand – knowing how a word is pronounced isn’t nearly as useful as knowing what the word means.
– Japanese people kept on asking me about my chopsticks – not the fact that I was using chopsticks, they were asking about the actual chopsticks. They asked me where I got them, and then suggested that I should try using a different set of chopsticks.
For those who haven’t figured out what the deal with the chopsticks is, the explanation is: I brought my Taiwanese chopsticks to Japan, and like many Taiwanese chopsticks, they are metal. Metal is cheap and durable. Japanese people, apparently, are not comfortable with metal chopsticks, so much so that even watching someone else use metal chopsticks is a bit of a problem for them.
You might notice that all of these things I found ‘weird’ about Japan have nothing to do with me being an American. In fact, they have everything to do with the fact that I had been in Taiwan for years before I went to Japan, and Japan clashed more with my Taiwanese habits than my American habits. Had I gone to Japan straight from the United States without ever going to Taiwan, I wouldn’t have experienced any of the above as ‘weird’, and I wouldn’t have experienced the last thing at all.
In other words, “culture countershock” is culture shock which one experiences because it clashes with a nonnative culture one adjusted to, even though it doesn’t clash with one’s native culture.