There are almost two hundred countries on the planet and more than five thousand ethnicities. Until reasonably recently, most of them developed virtually independently from each other. Many different cultures are meaning that within the one not too big planet.
The extent of the difference is that significant that finding himself in the alien cultural environment; a person experiences a real shock manifested in feeling an emotional or sometimes a physical malaise. A well-known anthropologist Kalervo Oberg named this state a cultural clash.
There is quite a simple explanation for this phenomenon. We, humans, are social species, and any society holds its own, particular set of markers allowing its members to tell a friend from a foe. The set includes the way of greeting, usual gestures, speech tempo, mimics, etc. If you are happened to find yourself in the environment with the unknown or unusual set of markers the anxiety will grip you without asking your permission. Although the fear can go unnoticed, should the persons you met there treat you kindly, it certainly exists.
Today’s world is much smaller of a place due to the rapidly developing communication technology. So, you will not have to do much to enrich your mental or emotional vocabulary with the culture of virtually any ethnicity out there. Besides such a virtual experience, many of us can leave their usual habitat. Tourism, migration, global computer network are all markers of our time. So, is the phenomenon of the cultural shock is still up to date?
In fact, it is. With a proviso that the cultural shock of a modern man is not that pronounced as it was in the case with our remote ancestors.
I see several reasons to that.
When going to visit another country you are most certainly interested in its culture, looking for any available information about the place. Most often the information is just some big rumors or a set of stereotypes giving you a false idea about the place you are planning to see personally. That is why once really there you quite naturally have the feeling of frustration due to the discrepancy between your expectations and the reality you see. The more idealistic or stereotyped ideas you have, the more intense cultural shock you are about to encounter.
It is a mild version of what can happen comparing with the shock experienced by the migrants who often have neither chance nor desire to get themselves in any way familiar with what their destination can hold. A migrant is not just a beholder. He has to succeed in his often forced assimilation to the alien society without losing his identity. The existing connections are broken, and the acquired social skills are not valid any longer. Often a migrant has to rebuild his whole attitude. It is a severe psychological problem encountered by the first generations of migrants.
However, the cultural shock may not only be caused by some changing your geographical location. The cultural discrepancies between age are not less intensive. The parent-child conflict, lack of mutual understanding, different moral values — all can be the manifestations of a cultural shock.
Some cultural discrepancies can be seen even regarding one ethnicity of the same generation with a different habitat — urban or rural environment. A woman can experience a cultural shock when finding herself in a distinct male company, as well as a man happened to be in the heart of a hen party.
As you may notice, the phenomenon of cultural shock has many forms and shapes. Its manifestations are also considerably diverse with various extent of intensity. The power depends on many factors. We close one of the essential significances is the cultural gap that we need too. However, the most important are such personal characteristic as the age, sex, education, and experience. And of course, the developed mental abilities can always give you an advance and make the adaptation to the alien society easier and more pleasant.