On Cultural Fatigue

24 December, 2004 at 15:52 Leave a comment

Here is a theory on why one feels out-of-place in a different country even in this era of globalization. This has been sniped out from a chronicle of “The Dhaka Daily” (see link for that) –

Don Snow, author of a book called More Than a Native Speaker, talks about “culture-shock” or, more appropriately, “cultural fatigue.” Or rather, “time-expansion” – a feeling that is unique on first coming to a new country and culture. Days go like weeks with each hour packed with new things. Anyway, Snow breaks this effect into two components. One is the increased energy output that usually accompanies the transition to a new country and culture. I think the time-expansion is indicative of that. The other component came as a surprise to me. Snow writes that when you travel away from home, you’re cut off from your usual sources of attention and inspiration (family, friends, familiar places) so you actually have less energy input, as well –

Increased Energy Output + Decreased Energy Input = Fatigue

Nothing wrong with that I suppose. Now, I had expected to be busy adapting to a strange, new, amusing culture like that of Scotland, but I hadn’t thought about the effects of being simultaneously cut off from of my own culture. Who thinks about having their own culture, anyway? Culture is something you see on National Geographic specials, right? But then you have this “lost” feeling and begin to see the shape of your own culture, and long for it! You never know it until you’ve missed it. But how will you know if you miss it because we are missing it. Let me not mess with this missing paradox!

Coming back, I never thought I’d long for India, but I’ve never been without it, either. There are Indians and Indian restaurants and food products everywhere. It is really hard to hide 1.5+ billion people in a small place like the Earth I conjecture. But never have I been without signs and billboards and advertisements in my language(s), familiar snacks and such trivial stuff. It is the small things I miss and perhaps I now understand why Indian ex-patriates in every country form little enclaves and are erecting fortresses of India (India-Town or Little-India and similar) in places that, initially, offer little cultural comfort.


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