Do You Suffer From Cultural Fatigue?

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Cultural fatigue can be defined as a state of being where the small, adverse intricate of the culture begin to bother you out of reasonable proportion after living in another country for an extended amount of time.Vagabond Journey

The recent article published on Vagabondjourney.com on “What is Cultural Fatigue” inspired me to write this post because it’s something I can say I definitely experience(d) and I’m glad to be able to pinpoint the issue now. I’m sure many travelers and especially expats experience “cultural fatigue” and it’s an issue that a lot of expats don’t want to admit because it shows that they haven’t completely “adapted” to the culture.

Bad China Day = Cultural Fatigue?

I’ve been asking myself: “Is a ‘Bad China Day’ also cultural fatigue? Is it the first phase? Or should we differentiate between the two?” The only answer I can give you is my personal opinion. I think Cultural fatigue is a Bad China Day but more precisely Bad China Days.

I think we foreigners in China, who are so passionate about the country, need to accept that we sometimes just feel annoyed by the people, the culture, the country… and that’s totally OK!

The issue most expats have is feeling somewhat “embarrassed” to admit they are annoyed by something in the country they choose to live in and they are so passionate about. But why? Sure, we don’t want to “fail” our adventure abroad. We don’t want to seem like lost in our dream. But hey, it’s normal and it happens, and most importantly: It’s OK!

My Cultural Fatigue

According to Vagabond Journey, cultural fatigue appears when:

[…] the constant attention that you must pay to even the most minor inter-cultural interactions seems to take more effort than what it’s worth, when you get sick of trying to figure out another society and/ or your place in it, when the struggle for respect becomes too annoying to continue, or when constantly cross-examining yourself as to whether you took the right action in the right situation becomes unbearable.

My Battle with Cultural Fatigue in ChinaAt the moment, I’m experiencing an up and down of cultural fatigue. Over the last month or two I had to completely change my life here in China due to some unforeseen circumstances. It annoyed me and still annoys me. The country that I am so passionate about began to show a dark side. I hated it and I hated to admit it even more.

Of course, not everything is dark. There are the many friends I have and the things I love doing here but a lot of my daily life began to annoy me.

I hate how rude some people are here. I hated it when the girl next to me spat on the floor in the bus. I hated it when those people didn’t move from the metro door and let me get off first. I hated when the woman kicked me in the back when she rushed through the bus. I hated it when the one gentlement smoked his cigarette in the elevator.

I hate it that people stare at me each and everyday because I look different.

Cultural Fatigue is OK

I know some people will say “That’s how it is. It’s the culture” or “You knew that before you came here.”

And that is true. Of course, that’s how it is and I knew those things beforehand. I’m not complaining or asking them to change. I just dislike it. And that’s OK for me to feel that way. I was born and raised in a different country, on a different continent and in a different culture and came to China when I was 20. Therefore, it’s impossible for me to fit in 100% and be 100% adapted to each and everything.

But it is not the big differences in culture that really wear down the traveler, but the little things: the the small cultural twitches. (Vagabond Journey)

Let It Go

The moment I let go of the thought I had to be 100% completely adapted and accept each and everything, I was able to breathe again. I will never fit in here. And that is OK. I’m very happy of what I have achieved so far: I have spent almost 1.5 years in China wihtout any major issues. I speak the language. I can talk to people, understand them and I tried lots of “new”, Chinese things. I have tried my best to live life to the fullest here and when I feel angry or irritated and have a “bad China day”, there’s nothing to be ashamed about.


Do You Suffer From Cultural Fatigue? Pin it xo

Do You Suffer From Cultural Fatigue?


Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.


  1. Anna Zech on February 2, 2015 at 8:22 am

    “I hate how rude some people are
    here. I hated it when the girl next to me spat on the floor in the bus. I
    hated it when those people didn’t move from the metro door and let me
    get off first. I hated when the woman kicked me in the back when she
    rushed through the bus. I hated it when the one gentlement smoked his
    cigarette in the elevator.

    I hate it that people stare at me each and everyday because I look different.”

    Those are all things that annoy me as well. No matter what name you give if, Cultural Fatigue, or Bad China Day, or Culture Shock, those are things I will never get used to, and, honestly, I am not accepting and will never want to! In my opinion it is actually really scary (and kinda disgusting) that we attribute those things to cultural differences, because I think those things are behavioral difference which could happen in any country. Also I have had lots of talks with Chinese people who are annoyed by the same things (except the being stared at obviously), and they all want to change them. Most Chinese people I have talked to blame education, and maybe they are right.

    I found rude people all over the world, spitting, not waiting in line, those are all things that are extremely annoying but I don’t think we should simply accept them! During my first years in China I thought I really have to accept everything because it’s their “culture” and I didn’t want to make people think I am a weird foreigner. However, since I speak Chinese and have been living in one of China’s rural areas, I have met so many Chinese people who contempt such behavior. And whenever I see such rude behavior I will point it out! If everyone just ignores it, and takes it as normal, things will never change. And a majority of Chinese people want to change. Many of my neighbor feel embarrassed by the behavior of some of their country men.

    We shouldn’t just use the culture excuse. If I would be back home in Germany and seeing some one cut the line or being very rude, I would tell them up front into their face. And I do the same in China. Even if some people will feel offended. At the end of the day, every little change starts with the first step.

    • Linda on February 2, 2015 at 8:47 am

      Whoa YES! I also spoke to many Chinese who are annoyed and embarrassed by the behavior of other fellow Chinese!

      I also agree that there’s rude people all over BUT in China they seem to be more concentrated and the majority doesn’t say anything.

      If someone cuts in line in Germany, people get angry and tell the person to go back but in China it’s mostly accepted. That’s what I mean.

    • Nat Burge on February 4, 2015 at 9:23 am

      I totally understand this. I grew up in the UK and then moved to Thailand for the next 7 years. I thought I’d completely understand the culture as I’m half thai but no there were days where I felt completely exhausted from understanding the cultural difference and even language. Then there would be days where I’m completely fine and felt pretty fluent in the language.

      Now moved to HK and its completely different again.

      Thanks for sharing this post!


  2. Calvin on February 2, 2015 at 8:30 am

    I share the exact same feeling! The thing is that I’m an aboriginal Chinese that has spent my early 23 years growing up in China then later 7 years in Australia, that uncomfortable feeling grows every time I go back to China: Why’s it so noisy? Why ppl speak so loud in public? Why is everyone pushing each other in such a small space like bus, metro etc.

    At first I kept telling myself it was culture and as someone grew up in that place I should not feel uncomfortable at all, but NO. This is not just cultural difference. The more time I spent abroad, the more I realized how ignorant and rude people are when I look back at China. It’s not cultural, it’s pure uneducated and disrespectful 🙁 The most awkward thing is to meet ppl like that abroad, doing stupid stuff and got judged by everyone around, while I felt I could be looked at the same way some time in the future.

    Still, I’m happy that you find a way to cheer yourself up 🙂 The way you looked at and thought about the problem is amazing. What makes it even better is that you’ll be leaving in a very short time and I’m sure Korea is a better place in terms of public manner 😀 Hope you enjoy the rest of days in China and find the fun you look for at the first place.

    • Linda on February 2, 2015 at 8:49 am

      Thank you Calvin! Yes, the fact that China is pushing an effort to “educate” its own people for traveling abroad shows that it’s all about education.

      I see many students in my school who have the badest manners but some of them grow up with their grandparents as many other kids in China… how can they learn better from them?

  3. Sarah @ Diaries of a Yangxifu on February 2, 2015 at 9:17 am

    It’s such an interesting topic, because, like you say, some of these behaviours we don’t want to and shouldn’t accept, and like Anna says, many Chinese people want to change their society too and improve education.

    Bad China Days are pretty common but I think the people who are likely to move abroad for a time are people who will experience similar feelings within their own culture. I know when I was in the UK I had days where people around me were grating on me and I just wanted to move. There’s probably another name for that, but I think it’s a similar feeling.

    Also, I like your new pics, very pretty!

    • Linda on February 3, 2015 at 4:56 am

      Thanks Sarah! Definitely the education part is true!
      Yes, I experience similar things back home as well! thanks!

  4. Patricia Schneider Pereira on February 2, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    Calm down, breath and think positive 😉
    I experienced exactly the same thing 2 years ago in UK. But I actually only undrstood what cultural fatigue means when I moved back to Germany! It’s not the Chinese culture and neither the German. Everyone got his place in this world, and not necessarily the one we were borne into. There are ups and sometimes really deep downs. Learn from the times you are down and see how great it’s being up high :-*

    • Linda on February 3, 2015 at 4:55 am

      Thank you Pati <3 so true! the highs are pretty great, indeed!

  5. ichigoichielove on February 3, 2015 at 7:34 am

    I like that term “Bad China Day(s)” over cultural fatigue. I understand it and have felt it on a number of occasions, but your version sounds less permanent and easier to get out of that funk you sometimes feelーand that is important!
    Of course I don’t have Bad China Days per se, but Bad Japan Days do happenーand most of the time, they’re easy to get over. I think it’s important also to keep that balanceーis back “home” or somewhere else really that much better? I have a few pro-con lists of different places I’ve lived and they serve as a good reminder when I feel my frustration is probably getting out of hand. ^^
    I also like looking into why certain things are the way they areーunderstanding why/how something came about makes it much easier for me to deal with (if applicable!).

    • Linda on February 3, 2015 at 10:20 am

      those lists might be a good idea! I should try that some time! 🙂 Thanks for your input ichigoichielove 🙂

  6. Sarawackadoo on February 3, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    I definitely know this feeling. I went through a pretty bad patch last December. I’d been in China for 2 months and the other foreign teacher left abruptly over the course of a weekend. It was right before Christmas and one day she was just gone. She was the only foreigner I knew, so not only did I have double the workload but I was suddenly feeling very alone. My Chinese coworkers are amazing but they couldn’t understand how I was feeling. It was my first Christmas away from home and although China has definitely jumped on the Christmas bandwagon, there were so many things that were similar but not quite right…

    Anyways, I’ve gotten a lot of support from my coworkers and they helped me through the rough patch (even took me for mala tong on Xmas day which is way better than turkey). A new teacher will be arriving halfway through March and another FT has come to help out for 3 weeks before the New Year.

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