According to most travel and behavioral experts, the definition of culture shock goes something like this:
culture shock is the feeling of disorientation, insecurity and even anxiety that results from being continuously in a new and experiencing an unfamiliar culture.
The causes of culture shock are wide and varied and they depend heavily on how different the new culture is from the traveler’s old, familiar one.
Unfamiliar ‘rules’ for social interaction
A sense of culture shock may initially be triggered by differences in social interaction, such as:
- greetings between people
- facial expressions
- body language
- spoken language
- general attitudes
- dining schedules
Strange environment and climate
Feelings of culture shock are often reinforced by the traveler’s physical environment, including:
- the cleanliness of their lodgings
- the design and adequacy of the toilets
- the operability of appliances like clothes washers and heating systems
- the level of noise
- the quality and availability of food and water
- the type of dress
- the climate, altitude, and weather
Different attitudes and expectations
A traveler is also likely to face different attitudes and expectations that can worsen their culture shock, such as:
- whether appointments start on time or on a more flexible schedule
- whether the people they encounter exhibit a cheery, positive attitude or a negative one
- whether stores, banks, museums and other places are open at hours that coincide with the traveler’s needs or not
- whether local people appear to be helpful to foreigners or distrustful of them
Next: Learn how to recognize the symptoms of culture shock.
This page is part of our Culture Shock 101 guide.