I had a guy who is living outside his own culture say he never had culture shock. I think he doesn't know the definition and has an ego that makes him think he's better if he doesn't have it. Maybe he is.
Having lived quite a number of years outside the USA, I would say culture shock can sneak up on you from very unexpected directions and maybe doesn't look like you'd think, even after years. After seven years in Spain, I define my culture shock moments by an unexpected and disproportional rage or reaction of some kind. It's not that the provoking event doesn't merit some reaction, it's just that proportionally culture shock jumps you several levels ahead of what it would be in your home culture.
Take Burger King for instance. The new one nearby has -- in English -- on the seats "Have it your way" and yet a friend of mine who is particular about how she likes her food was told "no se puede." It cannot be. Yes, it's annoying and yes it's absurd but sometimes something simple can blow you out of the water. This same Burger King which has a permanent sign on it's pillar proclaiming "24 horas" told me two weeks ago at 11 am -- 24 hours yes, but not today, only on weekends.
The last two weeks I have been at conferences. The first week was here in Spain and people came from all over Europe. Now, I made the mistake of thinking these people are Europeans so they will not have a strong reaction to Spain.
What I discovered is that I am accustomed to the eccentricities of Spain and I have accepted many of them. I don't always like it but I'm used to it. Now my northern European colleagues were suddenly asking why things were and I had no answer. I realized eventually that they were uncomfortable with the hotel changing the hours or the exact order of things or the details we had all agreed upon.
Now perhaps I have given up fighting these things since it takes so much energy or perhaps I have just accepted them as inevitable. I realized my colleagues were having a mild discomfort and confusion which is culture shock.
I know my significant other and I have each separately or occasionally together had moments of raging against something simple or terribly complicated, but invariably something we could not control.
Last Monday in fact after conference no. 1 we arrived home to discover our internet and cable tv service had quit. We reset the system a couple times. Nothing.
In the USA the next step is make a phone call. We put that off until morning because we didn't have the energy. The next morning the automated system couldn't understand my man's Spanish. So I asked the admin assistant at work to call. She perhaps didn't realize I expected her to find the entire answer for me. She got me into a queue for English support and handed the phone back to me.
After being on hold for more than 30 minutes and passed between offices because they had me on hold for the wrong office, I found myself talking to someone in heavily accented English on perhaps the worst speaker phone I have ever heard. It was near impossible to understand anything. I fought thru the preliminaries of my phone number etc. I kept say I can't understand you. This degredated into him shouting at me and hanging up on me. I thought I was suppose to hang up on the cable company - at least I could picture that happening in the USA, but here they hung up on ME in frustration.
My Spanish speaking colleague said I should call and renounce the guy which is the word they use here for filing a complaint. It's a very expressive word that I like a lot and would like to try sometime, but I'd been passed around so much I had no idea who or what department I was talking to.
So I called back and then the automated system hung up on me. Then I called back and they tried to sell me something before they asked me my problem. Then I finally talked to someone in Spanish. I discovered embarrassingly that the payment didn't go thru as my account got too low. Okay, I can fix that. I only needed you to tell me.
I inquired two or three times in case my Spanish isn't working well on how to go about solving this. Do I need a number when I got to the bank and pay it? No. So then I repeat their expectations and what I should do a couple times.
My man goes to the bank and there proceeds to get yelled at for not having the right information to pay this bill despite my close questioning of the phone company/cable company person.
Something that is simple or perhaps frustrating in the USA, turns into epic proportions in another culture. In the end, we figured out how to pay in another way online and service was restored but not before we'd had a war with our own emotions and the system. Often we just don't fight things because we just don't have the energy for it, but sometimes even in the same day, we have magical moments and love where we're living!