Because There Just Aren’t Enough Words to Describe the Overseas Experience, Here Are a Few More for Your Lexicon [—at A Life Overseas]

The following is a compilation of several posts that I wrote for ClearingCustoms.com. I gathered them together to publish them at A Life Overseas:

Over the years I’ve created a collection of new terms for old things—things that are common to traveling and living overseas but that haven’t had common labels. Most of them have come to me while I’m in the air, looking out the window or thumbing through an inflight magazine.

I’ve posted these before on my blog, but I’ve yet to hear anyone use a single one in casual conversation, so I’m thinking they need a broader audience. I hope that some of these can make their way into your vocabulary. I’ll keep my ears open.

bait and glitch
You find a cheap plane ticket online and go through all the steps to buy it, double and triple checking all the details, and then when you select “confirm,” you get that encouraging message that says, “The fare you’ve selected is no longer available.” Maybe it’s because the search site wasn’t up to date or because someone else recklessly grabbed the last seat while you were prudently making up your mind. If it’s the latter, it just proves the old standard, “Time flies when you’re choosing flight times” (or something like that).

direct flight to the dog house
This is what you receive after you proudly show the money-saving itinerary—that you just booked—to your spouse, and said spouse points out that it includes a 14-hour layover (also known as a “wayover”) and that you and your four children will need to collect all checked baggage between each of the five connecting flights. Travel to the doghouse does accumulate frequent-flyer miles, but they can only be redeemed for undesirable trips, such as to overnight stays on the living-room couch.

metapacking
Carrying a suitcase in a suitcase so that you can bring back more stuff than you take. This can be as simple as a duffle bag inside another piece of luggage, but in its purest form, it is a checked bag precisely fitting inside another checked bag. The term metapacking can be extended also to encompass using a cheap or broken suitcase to transport items one way and then disposing of that suitcase after you arrive. Seasoned travelers always keep a broken suitcase lying around.

eurekathing
Something you find inside your luggage when you start packing—something you haven’t seen since your last trip. Discovering it brings out such responses as “Oh, that’s where that is,” or “I do have one of those.” A wad of ten-dollar bills is eurekaching, a piece of jewelry, eurekabling.

tetrisness
The feeling of accomplishment one feels after packing every necessary item just right in a suitcase. A landmark study out of the University of Gatwick-Hempstead shows that tetrisness activates the same portion of the brain as when one successfully folds a fitted sheet.

TSAT
The TSAT (pronounced Tee Ess Ay Tee or Tee-Sat) is an oral exam in which family members yell questions and answers from room to room concerning Transportation Security Administration regulations:

Is it the 3-1-1 rule or 1-1-3 . . . or 3-2-1 or 9-1-1? Does deodorant count as a liquid? What about wet wipes? Or snow globes? Or chocolate-covered cherries? Can I take nail clippers in my carry-on? What about tweezers? Duct tape? Scotch tape? Chopsticks? Toothpicks? Javelins?

fortnightlies
Countless requests—for coffee, a get-together, or a meal—made by friends who have just realized that your departure for a long or permanent stay is only. two. weeks. away.

vontrappish
How you feel when you’re ready for bed the night before a morning flight, with all your luggage placed neatly (more or less) next to the door—lined up like the von Trapp family ready to sing “So Long, Farewell.” You may have mixed feelings, and you may or may not sleep. In extreme cases, you hear yourself humming the tune.

flotsam and jetsam and thensam
The abundance of things that people give you and your children right before you leave for the airport or get on the plane. This includes gifts, souvenirs, snacks, word-find and sudoku books, coloring books with a four-pack of crayons, and those faces with metal shavings that you form into a beard with a magnet.

disafearance
Leaving your tightly locked up (?) house thinking you might have left the iron on (even though you don’t remember having done any ironing) is one thing, but watching your hand zip your passport into the front pocket of your backpack and then just two minutes later checking to see if it’s actually there because you’re afraid that you didn’t in fact zip your passport into the front pocket of your backpack but instead, due to a muscle spasm, may have opened the car window and tossed your passport onto the shoulder of the highway—or what if it just spontaneously combusted, leaving no smoke or ashes? That’s disafearance.

duffling
Upon hearing the counter agent at the airport say that your checked bag is three pounds overweight, you feign frantic action by grabbing zippers, patting your pockets, turning in circles, and saying things such as “I could . . . ,” “Well, I . . . ,” and “What can . . . ,” hoping that the ticket agent will take pity on you and say it’s OK. Be careful that your duffling isn’t too aggressive or the agent will actually let you follow through on solving the problem.

terminal fowliage
Birds that have somehow gotten into an airport and fly around amongst the rafters and indoor trees. Birds stuck inside a place where people come to fly. Sense the irony?

flaggle
A flaggle of tourists is a group of middling to senior travelers, led by a tour guide with a flag and bullhorn. The flag is akin to the kind I and my friends used to bolt onto our banana-seat bikes when we were kids. Oh, if only we’d had megaphones, too. You can tell that the flaggle is on the return leg of their trip when you see them bringing home food and souvenirs packed in large, branded gift bags or boxes with tied-on handles.

making a this-line’s-not-for-you-turn
After standing patiently in an airport line for fifteen minutes and realizing that it doesn’t lead where you need to go, you nonchalantly walk away—as if standing in lines is simply your hobby and you’re now looking for another place to queue up for more pleasant amusement. (Aren’t you glad you came early?)

shuftle
The standing-room-only shuttle bus at some airports that shuffles passengers on the tarmac from plane to airport terminal (or vice versa). This word can also be used as a verb.

Sadow-Plath effect
Happens in the moment when you accidentally kick a pulled carry-on with your heel and it flips onto one wheel and mo.men.tar.i.ly balances before flipping completely over or wobbling back to both wheels. This brief pause at the top of the carry-on’s arc is actually a tiny breach in the space-time continuum, caused by the rapid upturn of the luggage in combination with the forward motion. The effect is named after Bernard D. Sadow, inventor of the wheeled suitcase, and Bob Plath, creator of the rollaboard.

glizing
Glizing is the act of experiencing the wonderfully smooth exponential forward motion as you stride confidently on an airport’s moving walkway. This only happens when you’re not in a hurry, in part because, as studies show, the walkways do little to speed you up, and often slow you down.

BlackNSquare
When you try to describe your piece of luggage at the lost-luggage counter, all you can remember is that it’s part of the BlackNSquare line made by the Yuno company. Question: “What Kind of luggage do you have?” Answer: “Yuno, BlackNSquare.” Yuno also makes the upscale models BlackNSquare with Handle and BlackNSquare with Wheels.

preseating
To sit down, with plenty of time before boarding, able to relax because your bags are checked, you’re definitely at the right gate, and a quick look shows that your passport is right where it’s supposed to be. You take a deep breath and contemplate the hopeful possibilities of your trip. You can charge your phone, read, or people watch. You’re free to walk about and might grab a cup of coffee, browse the bestsellers in the bookstore, or window shop expensive luggage and watches . . . and on the way, you can go glizing.

passenger of imminent domain
This is the person directly in front of you on a plane who, upon sitting down, immediately pushes their seat back as far as it will possibly go. Intuiting that something must be hindering it, they try to force it back farther, again and again. There. Must. Be. Something. Keeping. The. Seat. From. Reclining completely flat (possibly your knees). Finally, leaving the seat fully back, they lean forward to watch a movie.

chipillow
The bag of snacks that you bring from home that bloats up once you reach higher altitudes. With care, it can be used to rest your head on, due to the fact that it’s in the same food group as the neck croissant.

FASL
Flight Attendant Sign Language. Includes such specialized hand maneuvers as indicating the exits by extending the arms to the side, palms forward, pointing with two fingers, Boy Scout style, and mimicking the pulling of life-vest inflation cords using the crook of the thumb and first finger with the other fingers fanned out, subliminally showing that everything will be “OK.”

single-entré seating
The rows in the far back of the plane where you no longer get a choice between the brazed beef medallions over a wild-rice pilaf and the broiled fish and mashed potatoes. You get the fish.

cartnering
This is the act of hovering next to the food cart as it’s making its way down the aisle. Timing a trip to the bathroom with the distribution of meals is truly an art form, and it is best done passive-aggressively (such as by wearing a smile while dancing from one foot to the other).

Silent Gotcha Port
The “SGP” is the small screw hole on the seat armrest that looks as if it must be the place where you plug in your earphones.

Queen Ramona’s Veil
The dark mesh curtain that separates business class from coach. Its main purpose is to protect those in the front of the plane from projectiles thrown by the riotous mob behind, who are known to catapult dinner rolls at each other using slingshots fashioned from their airline-provided sleep masks and who sometimes divide into teams for prolonged games of ultimate Frisbee. In small planes, the curtain, only a few inches across and resting next to the cabin wall, is known as Queen Romana’s Veilette. Its purpose is purely psycho-social.

The term “Queen Ramona’s Veil” comes from the name commonly used for the wood-and-iron gate employed by the overly paranoid and little-known British Queen Ramona II to separate her highness from the filthy hordes sometimes present in the steerage portion of her royal sailing ship. Mention of the barrier is made in the English dirge “The Death of Queen Ramona at the Hands of the Filthy Hordes.” (Can you tell that I rarely get to fly business class?)

seatemic (pronounced see-uh-tehm-ic)
Your connecting flight is delayed and you have no time to spare so when it lands you run as fast as you can (and by “as fast as you can” I mean a combination of running, jogging, speed walking, walking, stopping, and wheezing) across the airport and arrive at your gate just as they’re closing the door and you speed down the gangway and board the plane and force your carryon into something close to an available slot and find your seat and quickly strap in so the plane can take off. . . . Now all you can do is sit still, sweating, with your heart racing and your veins coursing with adrenaline. Your body is in a fight-or-flight response but something tells you this is a different kind of flight. If you are suffering from these symptoms, you are seatemic.

no-watch list
Movies on this list are not allowed to be shown in-flight. The list includes Red EyeAirborneNon-StopFlightplanSnakes on a PlaneQuarantine 2: Terminal, and Plane of the Living Dead. And, yeah, some of these shouldn’t be shown on the ground, either.

altivism
Gazing out of an airplane window, seeing the new landscape below, and feeling joyfully overcome with the real and imagined possibilities.

post-ping che-klatches
The sound of seatbelt buckles popping open the instant the plane stops at the gate and passengers hear the OK-now-you-can-get-up tone. This allows those in window seats to immediately grab their carryons, put them where they were just sitting, and wait, hunching under the overhead bins.

welwelwel-ke-come
This is the glorious sound of the immigration agent thumbing through your passport looking for an empty page—and then adding the stamp that says you’re free to enter.

dyslistening
The condition by which your over preparation for answering an expected question in another language overwhelms your auditory senses and you answer the query you’ve anticipated, no matter what is actually said, as in responding to “How many would you like?” with “Yes, but no ice, please.”

visatrig
The act of trying to predict which agent in the office will be the most likely to give you your visa or other important document and then conducting complex calculations concerning the number of people in line in front of you to see if you will get the agent you hope for. A domestic version of this is sometimes encountered in the DMV.

unchewing
The physical and mental reaction that occurs when you realize that the chocolate-covered, cream-filled donut that you just took a bite of in your host country is in fact not a donut and that’s not chocolate and the filling might very well have gristle in it.

[photo: “Fight over Slovenia,” by (Mick Baker)rooster, used under a Creative Commons license]

Night, 2, 3, 4

“The Polar Night Is the Blue Time in Northern Norway”

Imagine nights that last 20 hours, and weeks without seeing the sun. That is real life in large areas of Northern Norway. And just imagine, many people who live in the north think that this is the finest time of the year, with fantastic skyscapes and magical lights. A visit during the dark months is a warming experience!

. . . . .

The Polar Night can last days to months depending on your location.

On the North Cape, the sun remains under the horizon for more than two months, while in Tromsø the phenomenon lasts for six weeks or so. In Lofoten, the dark period is short, just under four weeks. From Bodø and farther south, the sun does actually appear even in the deepest mid-winter, lighting up the winter landscape briefly around midday. At the other end of the scale is Svalbard, where the sun disappears completely for almost four months!

(Northern Norway)

[photo: “|1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|,” by Gerry Dincher, used under a Creative Commons license]

In Pursuit of “Travelling Mercies” (with Two Ls)

A friend of mine once joked that if you listen to prayer requests in church long enough, you’ll come to the conclusion that traveling is the most dangerous endeavor known to Christians. Whether it’s for a drive across the state or a plane ride to another country (with an occasional cruise thrown in), we long for God’s blessing of safety, or, as it’s often phrased, “travel mercies.”

Where does that come from? Not the desire for safety. I get that, though I don’t understand why a four-hour trip to St. Louis seems so risky. Maybe it’s a testament to just how safe we are otherwise in our daily lives.

No, I’m referring to the phrase travel mercies itself. A quick Google search shows that some link it back to Southern Baptists, but a more thorough search shows that it (or a similar phrase) predates the establishment of that group. Others tie it to early Protestant missionaries, but it predates them as well.

The first usage I can find for travel mercies is from 1914, in John Faris’s Book of Answered Prayer (published by Hodder & Stoughton). Actually, what I found was an ad in The Herald & Presbyter, stating that in the book (sold by the Presbyterian Board of Publication for $1) the author “gives simply and without argument seventy striking instances of answers. These have been gathered from both home and foreign sources.” “Travel Mercies” is listed as one of the book’s ten chapter headings.

Some twenty years earlier, the similar phrase traveling mercies appeared in the Minutes of the Second Biennial Convention of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. In their meeting on the morning of October 17, 1893, the group held a memorial service for Mary Allen West, their former “round-the-world missionary to Japan,” who had died in Japan there promoting temperance. Chika Sakurai spoke during the service, saying,

My Dear Sisters: You cannot tell with what joy I meet you this morning, and as I look upon you I feel that we are friends and not foreigners. (This is my first journey from my native land, and it is no easy matter for one to leave the scene of her childhood days, and the many friends and loved ones. But one always feels that leaving home, friends and beloved ones to work for God is no loss). I feel thankful to God for his goodness and mercy to me. He has blessed me with traveling mercies and allowed me to come here to try to do something for him. I trust my efforts will be blessed by God.

And before that? Well, we’ll need to expand the search to include travelling, with two Ls, the way the British spell it. That led me to a result from 1770, when British philanthropist and prison reformer John Howard wrote it in his journal, while en route from Holland to Paris:

I would acknowledge it is thro’ the goodness of God alone that I enjoy so many travelling Mercies, such comfortable degrees of health and strength with such an easy calm flow of spirits.—

Howard knew something of the need for God’s help during travels. In 1756, while sailing to Portugal, he was captured as a prisoner of war by a French privateer.

Today, I’m not sure which is more popular in the lexicon of prayer groups, travel mercies or traveling mercies (with either spelling), though travel mercies is what I hear more often in my part of the world. But traveling mercies might have a PR advantage, as it’s the title of a memoir by the best-selling author Anne Lamott. As the book’s full title suggests —Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith—the journey that Lamott recounts is not a road trip but a spiritual pilgrimage as she works out her belief in God (with a capital G). She writes that she started out as an unbelieving daughter of an unbelieving missionary kid:

My father’s folks had been Presbyterian missionaries who raised their kids in Tokyo, and my father despised Christianity. He called Presbyterians “God’s frozen people.” My mother went to midnight mass on Christmas eve at the Episcopal church in town, but no one in our family believed in God—it was like we’d all signed some sort of loyalty oath early on, agreeing not to believe in God in deference to the pain of my father’s cold Christian childhood. I went to church with my grandparents sometimes and I loved it. It slaked my thirst. But I pretended to think it was foolish, because that pleased my father. I lived for him. He was my first god.

Fast forwarding to Lamott as an adult attending St. Andrew Presbyterian, we come to the place where she shares what became the inspiration for her book’s title, writing about a time when the church’s preacher went on a vacation:

“Traveling Mercies,” the old people at our church said to her when she left. This is what they always say when one of us goes off for a while. Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound.

So for whatever trek you are on, I leave you with the following benediction, a combining of the old and the new:

May you have “such comfortable degrees of health and strength with such an easy calm flow of spirits.”

“Love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound.”

Travel mercies.

(Herald & Presbyter, September 30, 1914; “Convention, October 17, A. M.Minutes of the Second Biennial Convention of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Woman’s Temperance Publishing Association, 1893; James Baldwin Brown, Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of John Howard, the Philanthropist, Rest Fenner, 1818; Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Anchor, 1999)

[photo: “Young woman driving a scooter,” by Thomas Hawk, used under a Creative Commons license]

Spiders and Fridges and Beds . . . Oh My!

The winners of the 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards have been named, in all sorts of categories. You can see the entire gallery here, and Wow! there are some great photos.

My favorite pic didn’t win the top prize (that went to Laurent Ballesta’s image of spawning camouflage groupers), but it was tagged “Highly Commended” by the judges. It’s Jaime Culebras’s “Animal Magnetism,” described on the competition’s website this way:

Jaime was shocked to see this tarantula hawk wasp dragging its prey across his kitchen floor. He rushed to get his camera. By the time he returned, the giant wasp was hoisting the spider up the side of the refrigerator.

You may disagree, but I think it would be pretty cool to see a wasp and tarantula locked in a life-and-death struggle, even inside my house. And if I had time to get my camera, and then the wasp posed inext to all the travel magnets on my fridge door for a photo op, that would be awesome. I guess I would have one concern, though—where was the wasp headed?

Spiders are a common theme in this year’s contest, and the photo that beat out “Animal Magnetism” for first place in the Urban Wildlife category caught my eye. “The Spider Room” was taken by Gil Wizen. Again, from the website:

After noticing tiny spiders all over his bedroom, Gil looked under his bed. There, guarding its brood, was one of the world’s most venomous spiders. Before safely relocating it outdoors, he photographed the human-hand-sized Brazilian wandering spider using forced perspective to make it appear even larger.

I liked the photographer “using forced perspective to make it appear even larger,” because, well, being the size of a human hand just wouldn’t look big enough, would it?

The photo at the top of this post isn’t from the competition, but I thought it only fair to show a spider winning a battle, since one lost in “Animal Magnetism.” I haven’t included any images from the competition because of copyright, so I hope you take the time to click on the links above.

[photo: “Spider Snack,” by John Munt, used under a Creative Commons license]

The Origins of “Culture Shock,” Part 2

In Part 1 of my discussion of culture shock, I examined the genesis of the phrase. In this follow-up post, I’d like to take a look at what seems to be Kalervo Oberg’s extreme dependence on Cora Du Bois for his views on adapting to a new culture.

A copy of Oberg’s “Culture Shock,” spoken to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro in 1954, was uploaded to The Pennsylvania State University’s CiteSeerx in 2004. It closes with the following simple notation:

Reference:
DuBois, Cora, Culture Shock. This talk was present [sic] as part of a panel discussion at the first Midwest regional meeting of the Institute of International Education in Chicago, November 28, 1951.

This cites Du Bois’ address, also titled “Culture Shock,” without pointing to any specific sections of Oberg’s presentation. But I haven’t found any other mention of Du Bois in reprints of what Oberg said. This includes edited versions in Cultural Anthropology, as “Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments,” (vol. 7, issue 4, 1960, 177-182), and in Guidelines for Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Training, Part III, Supplementary Readings (Center for Research and Education, Peace Corps, Estes Park, March 1970).

And yet, if you read Oberg’s and Du Bois’ presentations back to back, you will no doubt notice the similarities, and, in fact, the nearly word-for-word passages. My purpose in pointing this out is not to cast aspersions on Oberg (maybe I don’t have all the facts or maybe notions of summarizing or crediting sources have changed since the 50s). Rather, I want to give Du Bois the credit she is due for her original thoughts and insights. My hope is that those who would quote Oberg’s “Culture Shock” in the future would find this post and continue tracing the origins of the observations, when necessary, back to Du Bois.

With that said, here are the related passages, arranged for comparison.

Du Bois: Please do not consider me too irrelevant if I begin talking about an occupational disease among anthropologists. Some twenty years ago I remember first chatting with colleagues about the peculiar emotional status we anthropologists developed when we were working in the field with strange people cut off from our familiar daily surroundings. We all wanted to do field work. We loved it—but we realized that things happened to us when we did. We began calling this peculiar syndrome “culture shock.”

We anthropologists flattered ourselves when we thought culture shock was an occupational disease. It is a malady that seems to affect most transplanted people.

Oberg: We might almost call culture shock an occupational disease of people who have been suddenly transplanted abroad.

Du Bois: The genesis of the malady is really very simple. It is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all your familiar cues.

Oberg: Culture shock is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse. These signs or cues include the thousand and one ways in which we orient ourselves to the situations of daily life.

Du Bois: All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of cues, most of which we do not even carry on a level of conscious awareness. These cues are acquired in the course of growing up and are as much part of our cultural heritage as the language we speak. They have become so habitual that they have been forgotten as part of our conscious cultural equipment.

Oberg: All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of these cues, most of which we do not carry on the level of conscious awareness.

Du Bois: Now suddenly remove all, or most, of these cues—and you have a case of culture shock. No matter how tolerant or broad-minded or full of empathy you may be—a series of props have been knocked out from under you, and more or less acute frustrations are likely to result.

Oberg: Now when an individual enters a strange culture, all or most of these familiar cues are removed. He or she is like a fish out of water. No matter how broad-minded or full of good will you may be, a series of props have been knocked from under you, followed by a feeling of frustration and anxiety.

Du Bois: People the world over react to frustrations in fairly comparable ways. First they reject, with repressed or expressed aggression, the environment that causes them discomfort.

Oberg: People react to the frustration in much the same way. First they reject the environment which causes the discomfort: “the ways of the host country are bad because they make us feel bad.”

Du Bois: Second they regress with irrational fervor to the familiar and comforting.

Oberg: Another phase of culture shock is regression. The home environment suddenly assumes a tremendous importance. To an American everything American becomes irrationally glorified. All the difficulties and problems are forgotten and only the good things back home are remembered.

Du Bois: If you observe a group of Americans—or any other group of nationals—in the throes of culture shock the symptoms are startlingly similar. The slightest inefficiency or delay—particularly variations from our own obsessional time sense—provoke disproportionate anger. All things American acquire new and a sometimes irrational importance. You have all experienced how easy it is to shift from being a “live-and-let-live” patriot to being a chauvinist when you are abroad. You have all observed the tendency of American tourists to cluster together even though they may be spending only a few weeks of their hard-earned vacation to see the English in England or the French in France.

Oberg: You become aggressive, you band together with your fellow countrymen and criticize the host country, its ways, and its people. But this criticism is not an objective appraisal but a derogatory one. Instead of trying to account for conditions as they are through an honest analysis of the actual conditions and the historical circumstances which have created them, you talk as if the difficulties you experience are more or less created by the people of the host country for your special discomfort.

Du Bois: There are other manifestations—the sitting around together in favorite clubs or hotels and grousing about the host country. When you begin hearing broad, and usually derogatory, comments like—the Burmese are lazy; the Indians are ignorant; the French are grasping; the Americans are materialistic, or naive or shallow—then you can be fairly sure the speaker is suffering culture shock.

Oberg: When Americans or other foreigners in a strange land get together to grouse about the host country and its people—you can be sure they are suffering from culture shock.

Oberg: You take refuge in the colony of your countrymen and its cocktail circuit which often becomes the fountainhead of emotionally charged labels known as stereotypes. This is a peculiar kind of invidious shorthand which caricatures the host country and its people in a negative manner. The “dollar grasping American” and the “indolent Latin American” are samples of mild forms of stereotypes.

(Cora Du Bois, “Culture Shock,” To Strengthen World Freedom, Institute of International Education Special Publications Series, No. 1, New York, 1951; and Kalervo Oberg, “Culture Shock,” presented to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 3, 1954)

The Origins of “Culture Shock,” Part 1

While planning my previous post, “Reverse Culture Shock: Repatriating Back to Post-COVID ‘Normal’ in the Church,” I figured somewhere near the beginning I’d include a definition of culture shock, preferably from as far back as I could find one. Pretty quickly I came to the words of the Finnish-Canadian anthropologist Kalervo Oberg, spoken in 1954 to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro:

Culture shock is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse. These signs or cues include the thousand and one ways in which we orient ourselves to the situations of daily life: when to shake hands and what to say when we meet people, when and how to give tips, how to give orders to servants, how to make purchases, when to accept and when to refuse invitations, when to take statements seriously and when not. Now these cues which may be words, gestures, facial expressions, customs, or norms are acquired by all of us in the course of growing up and are as much a part of our culture as the language we speak or the beliefs we accept. All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of these cues, most of which we do not carry on the level of conscious awareness.

Now when an individual enters a strange culture, all or most of these familiar cues are removed.

(Kalervo Oberg, “Culture Shock,” presented to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 3, 1954, at CiteSeerx, republished in a slightly edited version as “Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments,” Practical Anthropology, vol. 7, issue 4, 1960, 177-182)

His is a well-known, often lauded description, and many cite Oberg as the originator of the term culture shock. But not blindly trusting the combined wisdom of the many, I wanted to see for myself it that were true. It didn’t take me long to find evidence to the contrary, and my search led me to Cora Du Bois’ earlier (1951) explanation of the term, which I used for my post. It comes from a talk that she gave, referenced by Oberg, as being “part of a panel discussion at the first Midwest regional meeting of the Institute of International Education in Chicago, November 28, 1951.” Here is some of what Du Bois had to say:

Please do not consider me too irrelevant if I begin talking about an occupational disease among anthropologists. Some twenty years ago I remember first chatting with colleagues about the peculiar emotional status we anthropologists developed when we were working in the field with strange people cut off from our familiar daily surroundings. We all wanted to do field work. We loved it—but we realized that things happened to us when we did. We began calling this peculiar syndrome “culture shock.”

. . . .

We anthropologists flattered ourselves when we thought culture shock was an occupational disease. It is a malady that seems to affect most transplanted people.

The genesis of the malady is really very simple. It is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all your familiar cues. . . . All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of cues, most of which we do not even carry on a level of conscious awareness. These cues are acquired in the course of growing up and are as much part of our cultural heritage as the language we speak. They have become so habitual that they have been forgotten as part of our conscious cultural equipment.

Now suddenly remove all, or most, of these cues—and you have a case of culture shock. No matter how tolerant or broad-minded or full of empathy you may be—a series of props have been knocked out from under you, and more or less acute frustrations are likely to result. (22)

(Cora Du Bois, “Culture Shock,” To Strengthen World Freedom, Institute of International Education Special Publications Series, No. 1, New York, 1951, 22-24 [a reprint can be found in Guidelines for Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Training, Part III, Supplementary Readings, Center for Research and Education, Peace Corps, Estes Park, March 1970])

While Du Bois’ presentation preceded Oberg’s, she doesn’t claim to have coined the term herself. Rather, she points to someone else as its creator, but we’ll circle back to that later. First, let’s go back to the 1920s.

In 1929, Mexican anthropologist Manuel Gamio wrote about immigrants from Mexico adjusting to life in the US, using the term cultural shock:

The civilization of the larger part of the immigrants is originally of native or mixed type and consequently different in form and background from that of the American people, all of which, together with the climatic differences between both countries, make the cultural shock sharp and the biological adaptation for the newly arrived Mexican painful. From this situation a selection results; some individuals go back to Mexico not to return to the United States while others gradually become adjusted to the new environment. (468-469)

(Manuel Gamio, “Observations on Mexican Immigration into the United States,” Pacific Affairs, vol. 2, No. 8, August 1929, 463-469)

H. Ian Hogbin, the next year, uses the same words in his discussion of decreasing populations among South Pacific tribes brought on by the arrival of Europeans.

I think we may now conclude that the causes of an increase in the death-rate are, firstly, the introduction of new disease purely and simply, and secondly the break-up of the old culture. This latter has undermined the mental balance of the native and makes him die more quickly from both his own and the new diseases. That is why epidemic diseases have a lasting effect. European society had received no shock at the time bubonic plague was ravaging it, and so it soon recovered. Ongtong Java had been dealt a heavy blow already when influenza reached it, and therefore society there did not recover. (57)

And as he considers that the deaths of the older men leave no one to pass on traditional ceremonies, he writes,

If these ceremonies, or the useful ones, had remained, they might have roused the members of society and in their hours of leisure given them something to occupy their minds, instead of letting them face and acquiesce in despair. That, I think, explains why epidemics in societies which have sustained no cultural shock have no appreciable effect in the long run. All the customs have still a function and so are kept up. The prospect of extinction never occurs to people, because they are too occupied, or possibly too stupid even to think about it unless it is obvious. Therefore they do not become extinct. (64)

(H. Ian Hogbin, “The Problem of Depopulation in Melanesia as Applied to Ongtong Java (Solomon Islands),” The Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 39, March, 1930, 43-66)

And in her 1938 overview of Charles S. Johnson’s “The Present Status and Trends of the Negro Family” (Social Forces, vol. 16, no. 2, 1937), Myrtle R. Phillips talks about “cultural shocks”:

Crime, delinquency, illegitimacy, and the changing fertility rate of Negro families characterize the cultural shocks involved in the cultural expansion of these Negro families. (197)

(Myrtle R. Phillips, “Abstracts and Digests,” The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 7, April 1938)

Eventually, cultural shock was largely replaced by culture shock, though sporadic usage of the former has continued, as demonstrated in several references in this post.

It was two years later, in 1931, that sociologist and Episcopal minister Niles Carpenter used culture-shock in his book The Sociology of City Life. It appears in the context of the “shock effect” of people moving to American cities, either as migrants from rural areas in the US or as immigrants from other countries. He postulates that “the heavy incidence of mental disease” among this second group comes from the “general culture-shock” of relocating to a new country and “the special sort of culture-shock involved in the initial acquaintance with the city and it’s ways of life.” (335)

While I can’t say definitively that Carpenter coined the term culture shock (with our without the hyphen), there seems to be evidence to support that conclusion: First of all, from what I have found, this is the earliest occurrence of the exact phrase in print. Also, when Carpenter first uses the term in his book, it’s in the context of “a process that might be termed culture-shock.” Carpenter often uses this passive-voice construction (“might be termed,” “may be remarked,” “may be said,” and “might be said”) to introduce ideas in The Sociology of City Life, and in this case it is followed by “That is to say . . .” with an explanation of the phrase. Also, as shown below, Carpenter lays out the groundwork for culture shock by pointing out its similarities to the “shell-shock” experienced during wartime.

Here are several passages from Carpenter:

One authority, moreover, asserts, “Many of the neuroses of the inhabitants of big cities may be regarded as analogous to the shell-shock that followed deafening bombardments during the war. . . .” (208)

The shock-effect of the city may be carried into the second or even the third generation of migrants. Many conditioning influences are imbedded in traditional folkways. Others are passed on from one generation to another, by conscious precept or by imitation, particularly when the migrating group is also an immigrant group, as is often the case in the cities of the United States. That is to say, there may be reverberations for two or more generations of the shock-effect attendant upon country-to-city migration. (218)

[T]he rural migrant to the city together with his children is undergoing a process that might be termed culture-shock. That is to say, he is transferred suddenly from one sort of culture to another one, and the experience imposes a serious strain upon him, especially as regards the habituations in thought and attitude which he has derived from his rural heritage. This process of culture-shock is well recognized in the case of the immigrant. In its most marked manifestation, it involves personality disorganization, and even mental breakdown. A less spectacular and more common reaction is a sort of interlude of confusion, in which Old-World folkways are dropped while New-World ones are assimilated incompletely, if at all. This process is to be observed in connection with the immigrants family life, his intellectual life, his economic life, and his religious life. The immigrant and more particularly his son or daughter cease to be Germans or Poles, or Italians, without yet becoming in any vital sense Americans. (272)

The urban resident must be, in other words, somewhat more readily inclined to respond to inducements towards crime than the rural-dweller. One of those influences is suggested by the material that has been presented. It is that of culture-shock. (316)

In this connection, it may be remarked that the war neuroses (commonly called shell-shock), seem to be somewhat analogous to the type of shock-effect involved in the transition from a rural to an urban environment. The change was more complete, and the new environment was infinitely more trying. Nevertheless, the general process of sudden change from relative certainty and security to a life of intense mobility, insecurity, and the stress would seem to be essentially similar. Certain of those who gave way would probably have done so in any circumstances, but in a large number of cases it seems that no breakdown would have occurred if the individuals affected had been able to continue in their accustomed round of activities. Moreover, it is noteworthy that, according to Conklin, an essential feature of the war neurosis is the contrast between the mental patterns of the sufferer’s previous way of living and his present situation: “The man is left with only his old reactions, totally unsuited to the demands made up him.

May this shock-effect be continued for more than the migrant generation? Schlapp and Smith believe that it can be continued at least into the second generation, through embryonic and fœtal injuries following upon maternal glandular disturbances. And where ideational conflicts are involved, as in contrasting notions of parental authority, familial solidarity, sexual behavior, religious belief, and the like, such personality-disintegrating influences might be continued for two or three generations, before there would take place what might be termed compete psychic urbanization. (337)

(NIles Carpenter, The Sociology of City Life, Longmans, 1931)

The next year, H. Reynard included culture-shock (without quotation marks or italics) in her review of The Sociology of City Life, and social scientist Walter Greenwood Beach quoted Carpenter in his book Social Aims in a Changing World, writing,

In the conflict of ways it is no wonder that there is a “culture-shock”1 followed by a possible increase of crime or other indications of social maladjustment. (153)

The reference number in this excerpt points to The Sociology of City Life.

(H. Reynard, “The Sociology of City Life, by Niles Carpenter,” The Economic Journal, vol. 42, June 1932, 301-302; Walter Greenwood Beach, Social Aims in a Changing World, Stanford University Press, 1932)

In 1935, a team of sociologists and educators, made up of Mabel Agnes Elliott, Charles Omega Wright, Dorothy Grauerholz Wright, and Francis Ellsworth Merrill, published the high-school textbook Our Dynamic Society, which included explanations for the terms migration and disorganization, culture conflict, the marginal man, and culture shock:

Culture Shock. Such a drastic change in folkways, mores, and traditions may result in what is termed “culture shock.” The immigrant’s former security is exchanged for bewilderment and change. Crises appear which bring difficult new decisions. The shock may follow a severing of old family ties, the loss of old associates, or the facing of a new complex life in a strange city. As a result of culture shock, the immigrant may become highly disorganized and display his disorganization in conduct that runs counter to social values. He may desert his family, drown his disappointment in liquor, or commit suicide. Such disorganization results from his failure to redefine the situation in satisfactory terms. (100)

The authors describe “the marginal man” as one “who appears at the border-line where two cultures meet,” using a term coined/popularized by sociologist Robert E. Park in “Human Migration and the Marginal Man (American Journal of Sociology, vol. 33, May, 1928). They write that this person

may be said to pass through three states of disorganization. (1) The preliminary stage is that of early contact with a new group, during which he is unaware of his marginal problems. (2) The crisis stage appears when he is painfully conscious of his strangeness and his difficult situation. (3) The third stage is that of either adjustment or disorganization. If he meets the crisis in a satisfactory fashion, he becomes adjusted. If he fails, he becomes a disorganized man. (101)

Later in the book, the authors use the term cultural shock when discussing high rates of suicide among immigrants.

(Mabel Agnes Elliott, Charles Omega Wright, Dorothy Grauerholz Wright, and Francis Ellsworth Merrill, Our Dynamic Society, Harper, 1935)

Now, we’ll jump forward to Cora Du Bois, and back to the passage above, where she says, “Some twenty years ago, I remember first chatting with colleagues about the peculiar emotional state we anthropologists developed when we were working in the field.” As the quotation comes from 1951, “some twenty years ago” would put the conversations circa 1931, the same year as Carpenter’s usage of culture-shock.

In Women in the Field: Anthropological Experiences, anthropologist Peggy Golde writes that in “private communication,” Du Bois “credits” culture shock to Ruth Benedict, who was Du Bois’ anthropology teacher at Barnard College. Golde states that “by 1940, [the term] was so well accepted by social scientists that it needed no citation.” (11)

(Women in the Field: Anthropological Experiences, 1970)

Golde’s 1940 reference is to John B. Holt, of the United States Department of Agriculture:

Regarding the possible connection between the rapid rate of urbanization and social maladjustment in the Southeast, Odum observes, “The South, more than the other regions, fitted by habit and tradition to a life closely attuned to natural processes, finds rapid shift to artificial industrialism beyond its power for quick absorption and effective adaptation.” The administrator of a farm program in Kentucky is reported to have said, “The physical ‘bends’ of deep-sea divers exposed too rapidly to lighter atmospheric pressure is nothing compared to the psychological or spiritual bends produced in our mountain communities when subjected too rapidly to urban standards and ways of doing thing.”

All these citations suggest the “culture shock” arising from the precipitation of a rural person or group into an urban situation characterized by a loosening of mores from a strict social control, a liberation of the individual from his group, an increasing impersonalism as against the personal character of the rural environment, an increasing mobility as contrasted with the old stability and isolation, and on top of these changes, a blasting disruption of personal and occupational habits and status. (744)

(John B. Holt, “Holiness Religion: Cultural Shock and Social Reorganization,” American Sociological Review, vol. 5, No. 5, October 1940, 740-747)

Other instances of culture shock in the 1940s include

It is probable that the middle class attitude of sacrifice of family (though not of marriage itself) in order to climb the economic ladder may characterize the college students’ culture more than that of the university students. Some such “culture shock” explanation would seem at least tenable in the light of the religious compulsions, almost certainly more impelling in the college than in the university group, that would presumably operate in the direction of more offspring. (514)

(Wayne C. Neely, “Family Attitudes of Denominational College and University Students, 1929 and 1936,” American Sociological Review, vol. 5, No. 4, August 1940, 512-522)

The concept is most strikingly illustrated by the position of the foreigner who is bridging the Old World culture and the New in the necessary process of assimilation that every foreigner meets. Each individual in this position experiences a certain amount of culture shock. . . . (121)

(Paul Henry Landis, Adolescence and Youth: The Process of Maturing, McGraw-Hill, 1945)

The white man’s alcohol and the seizure of native lands also contributed to the population decline; and along with all these specific causes there was the general disorganization of native life and customs under the impact of foreign civilization. Bewildered, diseased, abused, exploited, the Pacific peoples in many instances seemed almost to lose the will to live. They were the victims of what might be called extreme culture shock. (29)

(Raymond Kennedy, The Islands and Peoples of the South Seas and Their Cultures, American Philosophical Society, 1945)

Individual personality disorganization also usually results, until a new institutional unity has been established by all, usually requiring a period of several generations. The individual’s life organization is bound up most intimately with the social organization which conditioned him and of which he has been a part. The rural-urban, interregional, or international migrant is transferred from one sort of culture and social organization to which he has had life-long adjustment to another one which is radically different. This new environment by virtue of the presence of himself and other in-wanderers usually is even more complex and confused. Immigrants and their children, country-to-city migrants, even those who have moved from one social level to another, encounter such new and unfamiliar experiences that the change is almost certain to produce great disturbance. This has been well called “culture shock” by Carpenter and others. (286)

(Joyce Oramel Hertzler, Social Institutions, University of Nebraska Press, 1946)

It is recognized that the approaching similarity of rural and urban experience, especially in areas where consolidated schools have developed and where farm youths have considerable contact with town and city, has undoubtedly had an important influence in reducing culture shock of those who go to the city.  (220)

(Paul Henry Landis, Rural Life in Process, McGraw-Hill, 1948)

It is interesting to note that leading up to 1951, the writings about culture shock applied largely to immigrants and others facing a transition to the often perilous culture of urban America, or to those in their own countries overwhelmed by the negative influences brought by Western outsiders, and discussions of culture shock in these circumstances included its long-term effects on society, looking at such issues as suicide rates, crime, alcoholism, declining populations, and even fetal development. It was into this context that Du Bois made her presentation in Chicago, not only shifting the focus to international students and to anthropologists working overseas but, in so doing, kickstarting a widespread application of the concept to the larger expat community. It also marked a change in tone, with what she characterizes as her “semi-facetious remarks” about the topic.

So, to sum up, did culture shock originate with Oberg—in 1954 or 1960? No. What I have found leads me to join others who credit Carpenter with creating the phrase, but I also realize that Oberg will probably continue to get a large share of the attention, as many trace our current usage of culture shock back to him. And he does deserve credit for helping bring the term into the common vocabulary of expats and international travelers and for exploring and promoting the idea that culture shock has a series of stages leading to adjustment.

I do think, though, that there’s more to be discovered about Oberg’s influence on the culture-shock discussion—or maybe I should say there’s more to be discovered about Du Bois’ influence on Oberg. Let’s take a look at that in Part 2.

Fire, 2, 3, 4

^Kilauea, Hawaii

“This Hellish Desert Pit Has Been on Fire for More Than 40 Years”

There are places on Earth that are a little creepy, places that feel a little haunted and places that are downright hellish. The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals “The Door to Hell,” or “The Gates of Hell,” definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (a little over 150 miles from the country’s capital) the pit attracts hundreds of tourists each year. It also attracts nearby desert wildlife—reportedly, from time to time local spiders are seen plunging into the pit by the thousands, lured to their deaths by the glowing flames.

So how did this fiery inferno end up in the middle of a desert in Turkmenistan? In 1971, when the republic was still part of the Soviet Union, a group of Soviet geologists went to the Karakum in search of oil fields. They found what they thought to be a substantial oil field and began drilling. Unfortunately for the scientists, they were drilling on top of a cavernous pocket of natural gas which couldn’t support the weight of their equipment.The site collapsed, taking their equipment along with it—and the event triggered the crumbly sedimentary rock of the desert to collapse in other places too, creating a domino-effect that resulted in several open craters by the time all was said and done. 

The largest of these craters measures about 230-feet across and 65-feet deep. Reportedly, no one was injured in the collapse, but the scientists soon had another problem on their hands: the natural gas escaping from the crater. . . . So the scientists decided to light the crater on fire, hoping that all the dangerous natural gas would burn away in a few weeks’ time.

. . . .

But . . . the scientists in Turkmenistan weren’t dealing with a measured amount of natural gas—scientists still don’t know just how much natural gas is feeding the burning crater—so what was supposed to be a few-week burn has turned into almost a half-century-long desert bonfire. 

Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian Magazine, May 20, 2014

^Githurai, Kenya

[photo: “|1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|,” by Gerry Dincher, used under a Creative Commons license]

More about Miriam Beard, from Someone Who Knew Her Very Well

Miriam Beard (far right), with her father, Charles (second from left), mother, Mary (third from right), and brother, William (second from right), while visiting Japan

I never knew Miriam Beard. I never had any conversations with her, nor do I have any personal anecdotes about her to tell. So last onth when I discussed her writing and her well-known travel quotation, I was limited to using what I could find in Google searches.

How happy I was then, when after I published my post, I received an email saying, “I really appreciate you bringing the work of my grandmother, Miriam Beard, to the attention of a broader audience.”

No, I never knew Miriam Beard, but now, thanks to Karen Vagts, I’m getting to know her better. And Karen has graciously allowed me to invite you into our conversation, so that you can get to know her grandmother better, too. Thank you, Karen, for sharing this with us:

“My grandmother was a person of immense talents but often under the shadow of her parents, the historians/activists Mary Ritter and Charles Beard, and her husband, the military historian Alfred Vagts; managing their literary output consumed more than her fair share of her time. But she was an immensely talented writer (one of the first women to attend the Columbia School of Journalism and wrote a wonderful series of stories for The New York Times, including an insightful article about the status of women in 1920s Japan) and published a two-volume History of Business. She was however very modest about her achievements, which is why her obit was sketchy.

Miriam Beard

“As an American born in England, Miriam perhaps was already predisposed to be a global traveler but her interest in travel was probably sparked by her travels to Asia in the 1920s, when her father was asked by the government of Tokyo to consult about the rebuilding of the city following a major earthquake. The Beards traveled throughout Asia during a very critical time—when the political tremors that would lead to WW2 were starting to vibrate—and that greatly impressed Miriam—I recall that she was particularly fascinated by Shanghai. After she married, she and her husband lived in Hamburg until the Nazis came along and then thereafter she travelled with friends and family wherever she could. She passed along her love to travel to her son and her granddaughters.

“My grandmother sent my father—in between high school and college—to the Experiment in International Living program in Germany. This was in the late 1940s and Dad had the task of sorting bricks from bombed out buildings in Munich for re-use; he then got to wander around Europe for a couple of weeks, a real eye-opener. Ironically, wherever he went in Europe, he was warned about thieves and pickpockets because the post-war situation in Europe was still so dire. But it was not until he landed back in New York Port Authority that his knapsack got stolen!”

“She also funded my sister and my first independent trip to Europe, took us on excursions, and gave us a subscription to National Geographic. She also assumed that being multi-lingual was an innate characteristic. The world might be rather different if everyone had such a cosmopolitan, well-travelled grandparent!

“Much appreciation and I look forward to the time—hopefully in the not-to-distant future when we can all feel comfortable traveling to view the world.”

[photos: “Family of Charles A. Beard,” The DePauw University Archives Documents and Photographs; Miriam Beard, courtesy of Karen Vagts]