Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Culture Shock!

Frankly, I had always wondered why so many women living abroad joined the American Women's Club, stayed put in their tidy expat compounds, and when they ventured out, traveled in packs. Now, I do.

While we've been able to laugh (usually hours AFTER the fact) at our stupid newbie moments, during them, it's all sweat and tears. Language isn't just a barrier; it's the Great Wall.
Take today.

I went foraging for furniture. (Although...take a look at this cute sofa I found. Are the orange accessories a yes or a no?)
Anyhow, all the guidebooks said to go to this one antique shop. I should have known better. Can you say tourist trap? But, heck, we traveled a full HOUR to get to the place. Rather than call it a waste of a day, I learned that just 2 kilometers away was an old village.
So off we went, all happy and proud of ourselves for being adventurers.

And then came lunch.
I decided that one week of acclimatizing to Shanghai wasn't quite enough time for our stomachs to handle street food.

So we ducked into a little restaurant, crammed with people, where I thought I was ordering won ton soup. Instead, I got...

...the bowl of mystery. Under full disclosure, it was an expensive bowl of mystery.

My "bu yao" (I don't want it!) didn't do much to remove the bowl from our table. Neither did pantomiming that no-I-did-not-order-this. Clearly, I need to study my Mandarin more. No translation required for the tittering among the waitstaff. *sigh*

And just to wallow in my ineptness, let me just mention my first grocery shopping expedition to Carrefour. You would think: hey, it's a French company. I'll be able to get around this grocery store just fine! Uh-huh. And you would think: hey, I'm a regular shopper of the Asian food stores in Seattle. I'll be able to get around just fine. Repeat after me: uh-huh.

There was no preparing for the sheer number of people in the store. Nor the bewildering array of products, most of which I have never seen before. To be blunt, I went catatonic. As in I was able to steer my cart, but not much else. I literally put 3 things in my grocery cart. Meanwhile, my husband dumped the entire contents of the beverage aisle into his cart.

So I was very much relieved when I took the kids for an evening stroll back at our home...and there, waiting for me on my computer, was a message from one of my best friends from college. We now live 10 minutes away from each other in Shanghai. She announced that she was back in town!
I am so eating humble pie tonight...and let me tell you, it tastes good. YAY! A friend who speaks my language and knows her way around Shanghai. A friend who I can hang out with. YAY!


  1. Wow...crazy adventures.

    And I'm SO glad you've found a friend there! :)

  2. Life with a couch like that cannot possibly stay tough for long! Keep up the courage (and comfort).


  3. Don't worry, it will get better!

    For things from the rest of the world, go to CityShop. Apparently you can also order online but I've never tried it. http://www.cityshop.com.cn/ You can get almost anything, but be prepared to pay for it. (A box of cereal is $10, as is a jar of fat-free mayo.) Can you really put a price on chocolate chips though? :-)

  4. Big fan of your books and love the blog! I have one, possibly strange, question - does your rug shed a lot? I have the exact same rug and I had to put it away due to all the fuzzies that kept popping up all over the place!