What struck me as wholly unexpected, however, was my inability to adapt. I couldn’t understand the menus (what is rocket and streaky bacon salad, anyway?), and I genuinely struggled with simple things like walking in a crowd (I couldn’t overcome years of training to move right when going slow).
I kept laughing at myself (and profusely apologizing to everyone I was unintentionally cutting off) because it didn’t seem like this barrier should exist—after all, I technically spoke the same language as those around me and should have been able to assimilate just fine.
Only I couldn’t.
We even decided not to rent bikes at one point, solely because my husband was convinced I would get myself killed trying to navigate the streets.
I LOVE London, but I suppose you could say I wasn’t entirely prepared for the culture shock.
One thing I kept thinking about was how similar that feeling must be to anyone changing careers, or even just switching to a new department or division within their current company. It’s a bit like moving from government to commercial work, or leaving an established company to join a startup.
Technically, you know the language. You know how things are supposed to be done and your hands know how to do the work; but you aren’t necessarily accustomed to the intricacies of your new position, or the cultural differences within your new corporation.
So much can get lost in translation when you’re making these small shifts, and sometimes that can be even more frustrating than if you were coming in completely fresh; because people don’t always have the same patience for those who, technically, should be able to jump in feet first.
It’s a lesson to remember for hiring managers and job seekers alike. No matter how similar a position may be to what a person has done in the past, there is always a transitional period when starting a new job. A good HR team will establish quality onboarding practices to help a new hire become familiar with the differences in how this company operates (and to explain things like streaky bacon—oddities that they may not have come across elsewhere). And a successful job seeker will come in prepared to embrace change.
Even if that means learning how to walk on the wrong side of the street.
There is always a feeling of imbalance when starting a new position. But as with anything in life, most people can find their place and learn the rules of their new normal if they keep an open mind and give themselves a bit of time.
It just takes patience and understanding, both with yourself (if you’re the one transitioning) and with your new hire (if you’re in charge of acclimating a new person to your way of doing things). So expect the culture shock. It’s normal.
But know that with time, everyone learns which side of the street to walk on!