First World Culture Shock

  • Post by Kylie Campbell
  • Jan 05, 2021

Is it possible to have culture shock from your own culture? Apparently so. After years spent travelling to what we (and by “we” I mean the ‘Westerners’) refer to as “first world” countries; the only culture shocks or difficulties when living or travelling were language barriers, strange foods, societal customs and so forth. You know, the typical travel symptoms.

I had travelled to second and third world countries; visiting, seeing, experiencing only slightly what it was like in short durations. It was often a culture shock on those brief trips.

Spot the Difference? Canada or Georgia?

The unsanitary norms were what we would consider medieval almost, societal customs were bizarre, foods would often make me sick, the sheer poverty would make me depressed. However, those brief glimpses into the “less-developed” countries didn’t really allow me to understand why there were levels between the first world and second and third. How it became like this and how different it really was.

The Adaptation to the Second World

Then finally, due to monetary and visa constraints, moved to a second world country; Georgia. At first things like money, societal customs, language barriers weren’t so overwhelming – it was just standard after living in 10 other countries, 7 of which don’t speak English as the first language. I had just made money in Russia and even though the Rouble would’ve caused me issues in European countries (thanks Putin and causing sanctions with the EU); in Georgia, I wasn’t terribly unfortunate with my monetary conversions.

However, over the months the changes transitioned from a visit to everyday life. Working 16 hour days for less than $10 was normal. Placing myself in the capital with a room rented and making this kind of money became unsustainable. Why? Because in countries like Georgia that don’t have high salaries or social/government systems like the first world; rely on family and community.

5L white wine – 15 Lari or $6

Everyone lives with their families, people have their homes and the young don’t pay rent, the families feed them. In the countryside water, electricity are free to discourage forced population movement to the capital city.

So me, alone, no Georgian family, has to support myself on a salary that normally would’ve been purely extra cash to a young Georgian. What to do? Leave the capital to get board and food covered in order to survive.

Literally going from being able to survive and eat, and have a roof over my head. Then it started to change, I started to save money and felt rich as the few hundred Laris saved felt like I had hit the jackpot. How much it can go in Georgia is overwhelming. 5 litres of wine for $6, cigarettes $1.50, buying fruits, vegetables, meats, cheese were ridiculously cheap – and all of it natural, often bought from the back of a car or on a pop up stall.

Having accustomed to different standards for things like food preparation, lifestyle, social quirks, infrastructure, ease of setting myself up and working…it was all about to change.

Back to the First World

I obtained my visa for Canada and it was back to the first world. I converted 40 Lari at the airport, 2 days wages, and get $22. Not even enough for a bus ticket. I thought to myself, how does anybody from a second or third world country do this? Not only do they not have passports that allow them to travel visa free, but the sheer cost is overwhelming.

Canadian beer (337ml x 24 cans) – $37 or 66 Lari

The first things that really shocked me about Canada was the politeness. I had grown unaccustomed to this. Having lived in places like Russia and even Turkey, whereby smiling while walking down the street was uncommon; it was strange to have people conduct in this manner.

These polite mannerisms and also the fact I could understand everything going on again, it became apparent just how different it was to be back in the first world – and also in a country I could communicate effectively.

I arrived and am sent off to get my work visa, then my social security number then upon arrival into the city, setting up bank accounts, then having to organise health insurance, drivers license….phew….why is there so much paperwork? Oh, you want to work in a bar? You need a certificate to do that. Oh you want to work on the mountain? You need a certificate to do that. These all cost money and take time.

Where did all these rules come from? I just want to work and live life.

Walking into the supermarket and browsing the shelves. You want $13.00 for a bottle of wine? Are you serious? Take my bottle to the cashier, and taxes aren’t included in the price. What? Wait, you mean the price you had listed isn’t the price you will charge me, there’s more taxes?

What do you mean? How did this happen? How does anyone ever get out of the third or second world?

Discussing the issues of the vast expense of being back in the first world, many in Revelstoke (where I chose to live in Canada) tell me their secrets to surviving in Canada. The food bank or dumpster dive at the local markets. Wait, what? Aren’t we in the first world? Isn’t a food bank supposed to be for destitute people? Not ski bums who have chosen to move to a town?

Working at 7/11 and seeing how much food gets wasted – some packaged – I feel ill. Throwing away entire pizzas because they were sat for 1 hour and not sold, and the food standards policies created mean so much waste. Perfectly good food that can be eaten, just thrown away. Getting told that Revelstoke, a town of 8,000 people will throw away over $30,000 worth of perfectly fine food. What? Why is it so wasteful? If this is the whole of Canada, just think of the number of people who could be fed with this thrown away food.

The food is ugly, the food is “expired”, the food isn’t popular, the regulations are set this way. People in the first world want the best, I guess.

Moving from the cost of sustenance, I queried about healthcare. Canada is supposed to have great healthcare, yeah? Wait, I have to wait 3 months to get it and because I’m foreigner I have to pay a set amount of $75 a month, irrespective of how much money I make? I thought this was a country with free healthcare? You know, you work and pay taxes and that covers you. Apparently not, not even a little bit like Australia, which is a standard 1% and is taken from your wages.

Having lived in European countries where it was free when you worked there, I was shocked.

Meeting people in Canada and slowly realising that this country – that from the outside looks all shiny and perfect has a lot of cracks in its system.

Georgian Market stall

In a small mountain town of 8,000 people the number of homeless and drug addicts is shocking. I wasn’t expecting this. Not out here. Coming from countries that take care of each other and their families, you would only see foreigners destitute (those from war torn countries that come to beg because there are no systems in place to handle these people). But here, these weren’t foreigners who had nothing and trying to get to something. These are Canadians.

I’ve only started to touch the surface here and slowly accustoming myself to the first world. Price adjustment will come once the first paycheck comes (or maybe a couple of paychecks).

The fortunate part of being back though and in an overtly polite country, is people really do want to help you. They will go above and beyond if you ask. But the adjustment to the waste of the first world and the complexities created that cause ill to people…do I want to adjust back to that?

Time will tell.

Example Cost Comparison between Canada and Georgia