After Shock

Shortly before our move to Russia, I attended a class for Foreign Service families. In it, our teacher showed us a chart of the various stages of culture shock most people experience when they move to a foreign country.

It looked something like this:

Now when I saw this chart, all I could think was, honeymoon? Really? I already had a pretty good idea of what to expect from Yekaterinburg, and I didn't have high hopes. Then we got here, and maybe because my expectations were so low to begin with, I was pleasantly surprised by the place. Sure, it was smoggy and I couldn't communicate with anyone, but our apartment was nice, I liked my job, and the yogurt selection was phenomenal. Would I call it a honeymoon phase? No way. But I had a pretty positive attitude about the whole thing, and hey, it was an adventure if nothing else.

I find it ironic that this chart coincides so perfectly with the seasons here, because three months after we moved to Russia (somewhere in that giant dip of "hostility") it got cold. Really cold. Snot freezing to your nose hairs cold. A high of zero cold. No sane person would ever willingly leave their house in this cold. You get the idea. Also by some cruel twist of fate, we went to Paris last week. We walked around my sister's awesome neighborhood, and even though it was kind of rainy, forty had never seemed like such a perfectly reasonable temperature. Everywhere we looked: charm. Quaint old buildings, the marche, our cozy little rented flat...even the dog crap on the sidewalks couldn't dampen my spirits.

Suddenly, Yekat wasn't looking so great anymore. Suddenly, all my highfalutin notions that going to a large European city would be too safe, too touristy, too EASY, flew out the window on that crisp Parisian breeze. What the hell had we been thinking? Sure, we'd bid Rome and Prague high, but we'd also bid Yekat high (I think we all know whose idea that was). Screw the fancy yogurt selection! Paris had yogurt AND cheese, and delicious baguette, and pastries on every corner! I wouldn't be forced to eat meat or wear fur and lose my integrity within a two month period; I would survive on whipped cream and champagne and brie, for god's sake! I'd be gaining weight, not losing it. And I'd be able to get my hair done whenever I damn well pleased!

Some jackhole once said, "All good things must end." He was right, the little bastard. (I did mention the hostility phase, didn't I?) It's so cold here, guys. So very, very cold. And the sun? Where has it gone? How is it possible that it never crawls more than a couple of inches above the horizon, and even then it can't be bothered to show itself until 9:30 a.m. and cuts out early around 4? And it takes SO LONG to get out of this place. Five hours used to seem like an interminable flight. Now, it takes five hours just to get to the hub. That's our "short" flight. I can't even read the menus here - at least I could sort of fake it in France (Fromage? Oui!). If five days in Paris could do this to me, imagine what two full weeks in the States is going to do to me. Niet, I say! NIET!

According to that chart, I should hit the "humor" phase of this whole thing in mid-February. Har freaking har.

Still, at the end of the day, I know I don't have it so bad here. The apartment is blessedly warm (all hail the mighty radiator!) and I've got my boys, and really, there's nowhere you can send me that I can't survive as long as I have my family (and Skype - hear that, bidding gods? I need me my internet!). We are safe, as long as we look eight ways before crossing the street, and we have IKEA.

And in three more months, maybe this place really will start feeling like home.


  1. Yikes Mara! I am starting to LOVE Japan after reading this. Hang in there. Definitley no honeymoon phase here either but I think heading toward hostility for sure! I have not left Japan yet so I can't imagine how you feel after coming back from Paris! I thought the weather was bad here too. It's like a tropical paradise(not really) comparded to Russia! I feel your pain sister :) Love reading your blogs!

  2. You are cracking me up!! Those flow charts I think have it wrong. It is not one smooth line curve swooping gracefully down or up -- it is a series of seismic waves in sharp jagged throws of up and down that then rise and fall in a group arch. Moving is hard. Doing everything in a language you don't understand is hard. Dealing with extreme weather can be a b!t#h to adapt to. And Paris will throw just about any post into a category of hell. Hoping you find enough to love or laugh about to make memorable highs while there! You already got the humor part down great!

  3. I sympathize. I truly love it here in Estonia, but as I head into my second winter here (NBN is is not a smooth curve), I find myself tired of being cold and really missing truly warm weather. Last winter, we took a vacation in February to Greece, and the warmth was awesome (and the amusement value of Greeks in heavy down coats in sixty degrees helped!). But I am looking forward to a trip back to the states. Estonia is home now, but I am still excited to thaw a bit. And to see that giant orb in the sky...can't remember what it is called.

  4. My first winter in Chicago I literally cried from the cold. There were weeks when zero, not 30 but zero was the high. Its all about the gear, my dear. And learning HOW to wear it ( like a house, there must be no cracks for the cold to seep in). Hang in there, warmth and sunlight do exist and will return.

  5. Ugh... Now I'm really worried about SoKo! Hostility?? Yeah I think I'll be dealing with that. And, as you know, I don't even get an Ikea! And at least you're close enough to Europe. I'm not going to be close to anywhere I really care to go. Mehhhhhhhhh. Why can't we just have normal lives? It's especially hard dealing with extreme cold when we both come from perfect Southern California weather! Your next post is sure to be somewhere totally awesome.

  6. You get sun at 9:30? Here it's still dark til almost 11am! Anyway, the good news is in January it gets too cold for any moisture and the bright sun shines on all the snow and ice and makes them look like a million diamonds. So, you'll force yourself to get out of the house to take some pretty photos (and maybe you'll make it through Hostility a bit early). And, like Anonymous said about Chicago, make sure your clothes are warm, not just cute. Kids and I routinely spent an hour at a time at the playground each of our 3 winters here.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts