Culture Shock.

Culture shock can be a big issue when you travel abroad, especially if the country where you have just landed has very different ways of doing things to what you’re used to. Here, GlobalGrasshopper writer Pris Killingly tells of her experience when she touched down in Nicaragua…

“Don’t drink the water!” It seemed like such a cliché, one of those jokes people always make about developing countries; but at that moment, it was perfectly true. Desperately seeking a cure for my in-flight dehydration, I chanced upon a water fountain inside the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport. Unfortunately for me, and recalling my parents’ sage advice, I knew that it was prohibido to take a sip of that lovely, foreign H20. I’d never so much as left the country before this, let alone traveled to Central America. It was strange to know that from now on I should do my best to only drink bottled water, but that was only the beginning of my first brush with culture shock.

Nicaragua on

Now, one can already experience a bit of culture shock upon leaving the comforts of their hometown. It can be little things, like calling your soft drink a soda versus a pop, depending on what part of the U.S. you’re in. It can take the form of political climate or religious fervor, what form of transportation you rely on most, or even the kind of shelter you inhabit. And it’s not hard to guess that culture shock becomes even more pronounced the further you are from home. If you’ve ever traveled to Nicaragua (and most other Latin American countries), you definitely know this. But for those of you who’ve never had the pleasure of sleeping in mosquito nets, here’s a crash course on what you might expect.

You know you’re experiencing culture shock when…

You buy a soda but aren’t allowed to leave with the bottle. I was hanging out with my cousins at a carnival in Managua when I bought a gaseosa (their regional name for soda) to drink while I walked around. When the vendors saw me trying to leave with the bottle in hand, they quickly stopped me and said this wasn’t allowed. They then proceeded to pour the contents of my beverage into a plastic bag with a straw and took back the bottle for re-use. At least the flavor stayed the same!

You’re in the middle of a shower and the water goes out… possibly for days. It’s already a bit of a shock to be in a country where hot showers are exclusively for the rich or hotel dwellers. Every single time I’ve stayed at my grandmother’s in Corinto, it’s almost 99% certain there will be a water shortage. In order to adjust to this, people keep huge rain barrels filled for all kinds of use. As a result, I’ve taken many showers out in the backyard with little more than a bucket full of cold rainwater and a bar of soap. Brrr!

La Gigantona on

You encounter a giant paper mache woman dancing down the street and no one seems to think it’s bizarre. La Gigantona (The Gigantic Woman) is a pretty common “person” to see dancing down the street. Created originally as a form of creative protest by the indigenous people against the Spanish colonizers, Nicaraguans often bring out a Gigantona and dance her down the street to show how they maintained control over the Spanish crown, no matter how gigantic she was. It’s certainly a fun sight, but the first time I saw one, I ran out tourist-style with my camera while others merely smiled and went about their business. Suffice to say, giant paper mache people are not a common occurrence near my own home in the suburbs of Miami.

Fireworks explode at just about any time of day. Alright, so maybe that’s an exaggeration but Nicaraguans sure do love their fireworks! I once visited Nicaragua in December and was witness to firecrackers of all kinds for a week straight. On December 7th, the main day of the Purisima/Griteria festivities (Catholic celebrations revolving around the Virgin Mary), fireworks went off every 6 hours (from midnight to midnight), and sometimes in between as well. Smokey, but awesome.

You’re driving and are suddenly stopped at a red light by a child looking to wash your window. It pains me every time I visit to see children in Nicaragua either begging or working for money. However, this is the reality of such countries. This was probably what hit me the hardest on my first trip. I recall one such night, bar hopping around la Zona Rosa. On one side, I could see club goers dressed in their finest clothes, splurging on Flor de Cana cocktails, while on the other side, barefoot kids ran around from drunk person to drunk person, asking for a Cordoba or two.

Being late means being right on time. This actually wasn’t a culture shock moment for me, but I hear about it often from visitors. Living in Miami, we tend to joke about running on “Cuban time,” but it’s also applicable for most other Latina American countries. Many of my non-Hispanic friends don’t understand this and in a way I guess I can’t blame them. However, I’ve grown up in a city where many of us show up an hour late for an event and are actually on time or even earlier than other guests. This holds true in the relaxed atmosphere of Nicaragua as well.

Nicaragua Food on

Saying “No” to a meal is almost equal to spitting in the cook’s face. This is especially tricky for a vegetarian like myself. There’s a thing about Nicaraguan culture (and again, this goes for other Latina American nationalities) where it’s considered plain bad manners to refuse food. It may have to do with the limited access to large quantities of food the people have had in the past. This is a country whose people have experienced food rationing, and a country where most of the population is impoverished. Therefore, it seems to be expected that you should always be very grateful for any food that comes your way, and that the best way to express said gratitude is to eat everything on your plate. Note that the possibility of gaining a few extra pounds in Nicaragua is not a rarity.

And finally… Your commute is interrupted by a herd of wandering cattle, sheep, horses, etc. We were driving out to Granada when we came face to face with a bull. And then a cow. And another cow. Our driver stopped the car and I pulled out my video camera and we watched as the cows moved around our little rental Toyota. Not a human in sight, just a bunch of cows hoofing about on the road. Took about 15 minutes away from our day, but it was kind of nice. Cattle might not be such a strange sight, but I’m sure you’ll encounter even more wildlife culture shock the more you travel!

Nicaragua Cows on

These are just some examples of the ways in which you might get thrust out of your comfort zone while you travel. The great thing though is that humans are the most adaptable creatures, so get out there, do some exploring of your own, and embrace the shock!

So are you ready for your Culture Shock now!.

A thorny adventure – Cleadale, Isle of Eigg in Scotland

When I first discovered that the thistle was a national emblem of Scotland, I thought ‘what a shame’.

It’s covered in sharp, pointy thorns as if to say ‘don’t come near me’. Given that it is still possible to go hiking in the Scottish Highlands in the peak of August and not see a soul, perhaps the thistle is not such an odd representative.

It stands staunch and robust in the wind, ready to poke the odd bypasser if they venture too far off the road.

The thistle has a place in the sagas. There is a legend that a group of Danish Vikings were once trying to sneak in on a sleeping party of Scotsmen, when one of the Vikings trod on a thistle and let go of an agonising scream that awoke the Scots. The Vikings lost that battle, so the pointy national emblem did serve national interest.

Not just a prickly face

The other day I saw the Cotton Thistle, or ‘Scottish Thistle’ as it is sometimes called, with fresh eyes on a walk to the Singing Sands, across the cliffs of Cleadale on the Isle of Eigg. The evening sun had broken through a threatening block of clouds, and its rays fell on a plethora of little, bright flowers on a tall stem with upward-pointing branches that were reaching out as if to take a peek over the edge of the cliffs. I turned around and noticed the purple dots all across the field behind me, playing off against white flowers on the bramble bushes and bright, green bracken in the background. A landscape of weeds and invasive species, but a really beautiful one in which the colours bounce perfectly off one another and more colours reveal themselves the more you look. Suddenly you see all shades of purple in the field, coming from Heather, Fox Gloves and straws that I wouldn’t know how to classify. I had a moment of appreciation and promised never to slag off the thistle again.

Never say never

An hour later, on the way back form the Singing Sands, I decided to climb a fence and cut across the pretty, colourful fields to get back to my base. The houses in Cleadale are dotted along the slopes overlooking the bay, and it looked like an easy inroad to make, aiming straight for my house on the slope. But when I got to the fence of the field, I found myself with a pack of long-haired, long-horned Highland cattle to my left, an impenetrable row of brambles in front of me and a field full of thistles to my right.

Needless to say, thistles are best enjoyed at a distance. But the cows were all looking at me, and the brambles would destroy my clothes. The best alternative was to wade through the thorny thistles that I had appreciated so much at a distance an hour earlier. Aiming for the spots of grass that didn’t have thistles on them, I quickly realised that the prickly plant wasn’t my only problem. The ground was boggy, and my hiking boots were giving in to the mud, making my socks wet and my mood soggy. I could hear a stream of water near me, indicating that there was far worse to come. I back-tracked, found a different route through the thistles and ran in to the same stream of water. Now both hungry and grumpy, I cursed the thorns on my fuchsia-flowered friends the thistles, and looked back towards the way I had come. It was far. It might get dark before I got back to the house. I back-tracked another couple of times, zig-zagging between prickly vegetation and boggy ground, the latter getting more and more spongy. I started wondering if this was what quicksand felt like. A shiver of panic went through me as I pondered the possibility of having to stay in the field over night, or possibly spending my last hour sinking in to a field in the Hebrides. I started looking around to see if there was anything to eat. Everything seemed to have thorns.

Suddenly, three humans appeared at the top of the cliff overlooking the bay. They were just distant silhouettes on the coastal path that I should have taken, but seeing them shook me out of my state of disaster anticipation and I started thinking practically. I had to go back, almost all the way, and then follow the track that walkers were supposed to follow. I didn’t care if it would get dark. It would eventually lead me home.

Like the Vikings before me, I gave up conquering the field and resign myself to being a respectful visitor on the designated path. Now I see why the thistle is a perfect national emblem.


Written and contributed by Kathrine Anker

First time in Turkey and straight away I cheat on my husband!

Well since last September, I have decided to do the things that I want to do.

I am not going to be bothered by fear, shame and all sorts of other feelings, which stopped me from doing what i want for many years.

Actually it’s already started on the day that my friend and me went to the Zwaluwhoeve for a nice relaxing weekend. Despite me being ashamed by my body, especially my naked body and the fact that i do not like all those naked men around me, I still managed to enjoy the spa weekend.

Then I went with my husband and daughter on a plane to Gran Canaria. Something i had not done for almost 30 years, because I was afraid to fly. Getting on that plane that day was a next step to total freedom.
And now i,m off to Turkey with my friend. Of course there was a bit of anxiety and fear, but i enjoyed it very much. . Only the cheating on my husband, or that’s how it felt to me.
Barely one day in Turkey we went for some indulgement in the ‘Hammam’. At least that was the idea, but I was scared to death lol.

There i was in my bathing suit and was brought into a room of which i thought ‘ what the hell is this’ The walls were marble and there was a marble table on which I had to take place. Oh and Ria (I did introduced myself properly) the man said, you can put your bathing suit down, because that bathingsuit is unnecessary. You can leave The lower part covered if you necessarily want to, and of course I wanted that.

Go get comfortable now, said the man, yes you read that right, it was a man. And then he started. He grabbed a washcloth with something on it, and started to wash from top to bottom. He scrubbed all the dead skin cells of me, and every scrub made me feel more naked.

I did not know what happened to me, this body which has not been touched by any other than my beloved husband for 30 years, was now being washed from top to bottom by the big hairy Turky. Oh oh dear, I thought, can i do this? what would my husband think? Flashed through my head, adultery was what it felt like after 30 years.

Oh dear, while the big hairy Turk went on, his body hung over me, and i could feel his chest hair prickling on my belly. He took me into a firm grip around my neck to loosen evrything up, oh boy he came close.
He told me to relax but i felt every fiber in my body and every muscle tighten.
This couldn’t be the meaning of this ‘Hammam’ thing’.Then the big man asked me of i was doing allright and I nodded enthousiastic and said that is was very enjoyable and relaxing.

Of course it was very relaxing and enjoyable, you are scrubbed from head to toe, your body all foamed up ,you get a very nice massage, what more could a girl want. I started to let go of the tension and slowly relaxed, and i caught myself suddenly laying there with a big fat smile on my face. Here I lay, washed, massaged and pampered by a big hairy Turk, who all of a sudden didn’t appeared to be so big.

Can i go back tomorrow?
pictures and article send in by: Ria Scholten-Alsemgeest, Spijkenisse, Holland