Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse Culture Shock

The first half of May I spent in Bishkek where among other things I was to be a guest speaker at various places including universities and a private language school. Now I know many of you would take this sort of thing in your stride but for me, despite jumping at the opportunity, it was something of a challenge. I am not a teacher or lecturer, I have never been much of a public speaker and, despite having done some acting, I suffer from stage fright. For these reasons I requested an informal setting and asked that the stress be on question and answer sessions. Armed with some photos, a guitar, my book and a vague plan I embarked upon my ‘college tour’. Each venue was different, some had taken my request more seriously than others but the atmosphere was mostly relaxed. I began most sessions with a short series of photos, then went on to talked about my book and ended with one of my own songs. In between a fair amount of improvisations was called for depending on the group. On the whole though there was plenty of room for dialogue. For three of the most frequently asked questions I had no answer:

1) Who is your favourite footballer? – Yes I watch football sometimes but I’m not really a fan as such, to make things worse the first time I was asked this question my mind went blank, I couldn’t think of the names of any footballers at all, so I couldn’t even fake it!

2) This question was formed in various ways but basically what the students in this emerging and struggling democracy wanted to know was why two countries: Great Britain and The Netherlands, both great promoters of democracy and proud of their democratic heritage, had non-elected heads of state; Kings and Queens to be precise!- There is no good answer to that and certainly no short one! 

3) What was my biggest culture shock in Kyrgyzstan? – I had no answer to this one either. I don’t have a favourite footballer, I really don’t understand why we still have kings and queens and I  rarely experience culture shock. Mostly the place where I am seems the right and natural place to be, I adjust easily, maybe too easily sometimes.


The truth is I am more often struck by how similar we all are despite cultural, religious and social differences.

I certainly can’t remember any great culture shock the first time I visited Kyrgyzstan, yes, of course, it was different, otherwise there would have been no point in going, but there was no shock.

Because I have regular, sometimes daily, contact with people in or from Kyrgyzstan it was surprising to realise this trip was only my third visit to the country. There was something of a homecoming feel about it. Even the potholes in the unpaved roads on the way to the city centre were familiar, although some of them had grown up a bit since my last visit, got larger, bigger and deeper, some had even invited friends to join them and form small pothole communities, while just a few had disappeared, however, as I discovered while cycling around the city, they had simply moved to another district!

No, with a few exceptions, the nearest I come to culture shock is when I return from a trip. I am unreasonably disappointed that, back home, nothing has changed while I have been away. While I have been away doing all sorts of exciting things, experiencing new sights, sounds and smells, meeting new people and/or old friends the folks back home have been getting on with their daily lives, jobs, chores, children’s parties and parent problems. While I may be bubbling and bursting to share the stories of my travels many of them will not even have noticed that I have been gone!

But that is not the worst thing, after all in a few weeks they may well be off having their own adventures.

No, the worst thing is that after the shortest time for me too it’s business as usual: appointments, bills, taxes, deadlines, routines and daily rituals.

After just a few days it’s even hard for me to believe that I have been away…….

….“Obla-di-obla-da, life goes on


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