Culture Shock

I spent the second half of my sophomore year in college in Germany. I spent about four months total in Bremen and another two months in Freiburg.

I was extremely lucky in the fact that my dear friend SH was also living in Bremen at the time on a Fulbright Scholarship. He picked me up at the airport. He showed me around town. He introduced me to his friends. He taught me the alphabet and numbers. He also had the unasked for joy of taking me grocery shopping for the first time.

Before I went to Germany, I didn’t really understand the whole idea of culture shock. Especially going somewhere as “civilized” as Germany. And it was almost two weeks before I understood it. We walked into the grocery store and as I stood surveying my surroundings, it occurred to me that I had no idea what to do. I had been grocery shopping at least a couple of hundred times in my life. But as I looked at this grocery store, I might as well have been standing on the moon.

To make a long, and rather embarrassing, story short, I completely lost it. I started sobbing in the middle of the store, much to SH’s chagrin. As he was trying to gauge the situation, he sort of softly said to me, “If you’ll just tell me what you’d like to eat, I’ll show you where it is.” And that made it all worse. Because the real problem was that I had no idea where to start. Not only could I not read the words on the packaging, but I hadn’t a clue as to what people eat in Germany. And the enormity of that was simply too much for me.

The breakdown lasted for probably 15 minutes or so before I calmed down enough to get bread, milk, cereal and lunchmeat out of me. We gathered, we bought and we high tailed it out of there. I look back on this now and can’t help but laugh. And send SH mental bear hugs.

But I will never forget, wandering aimlessly through that store, tears streaming down my face, desperately searching for Frosted Flakes.

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Alieva said...
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