The Language of Culture Shock {Book Club}

Friends I can hardly contain myself, guess what I wrote in my notes before I knew this week’s theme? “Sounds like Britt-Marie is going through culture shock.” I know, right?!If I had a Snickers bar, I’d open it and give you half. Today we are discussing the third section (Chapters 19-26) in Britt-Marie Was Here and I’d say that our beloved (cranky?) heroine is right on schedule for some culture shock.

In chapter 17 she’s asked to give a pep talk to the soccer team, to “say something encouraging.” Britt-Marie thinks about it for a while, “then turns to the children and says with all of the encouragement she can muster: ‘Try not to get too dirty.’” If I was more critical by nature, I’d say Ha! But isn’t this part of the cross-cultural life? Being asked to do something and when you give it your best (and you really did try to do it) your attempt is a few degrees off.

Later, in the same chapter, Britt-Marie is trying to understand a soccer reference that’s cultural when she asks why Toad is screaming at himself when he lets goals go by him. When she doesn’t understand the explanation that “he has a dad who supports Liverpool,” Sami gives a deep breath, “which is not at all a sigh” and says a line that made me tear up. After being down 3-0 at the half, no team had ever come back from that deficit. “But in the changing rooms, one of the players from the Liverpool team stood yelling like a madman at the others, because he would not go along with a world where there were certain things that could not be turned around.”

That, that right there is the gospel. That is why we endure culture shock and culture stress and culture confusion . . . because, we here at Velvet Ashes, we also do not want to go along with a world where there are certain things that cannot be turned around.

Okay, chapter 19 was a big one because I’ve got one more cultural reference. What comes on the other side of culture shock? Cultural know-how. And friends, isn’t it so empowering when you learn how to do something in your new host culture . . . and now you can do it?! I love that feeling. “Then she takes a few steps forward and kicks the soccer ball as hard as she can. Because she no longer knowns how not to.” Fist bump to you, Britt-Marie!

(And I can hear you Britt-Marie as you mutter, “Obviously this is a lovely post, but still if you don’t get to the other chapters we will be here all day. Not that there is anything wrong with that.” Point taken!)

In Chapter 20 she gives Bank beer instead of flowers, even though she didn’t find it civilized because she accepted that “beer might be a little like flowers to someone who likes beer.” I find giving gifts in cross-cultural settings to be one big stress bomb! Does giving gifts cross-culturally stress you out or come more naturally?

My heart went out to Britt-Marie at the tanning salon when she was trying to privately tan her white ring finger and then had the accident with the tanning bed and her hand. She’s humiliated when others have to be involved at the hospital. (Oh Britt-Marie, you are in good company. Hospitals are where many of us have low cross-cultural moments. I’m so sorry!) Sven offers to take her home even though they were to have gone out to dinner and she agrees it’s better to go home. She wants to go to her “real life and be dropped off there. She’s not ready for enthusiasm.”

And just as Britt-Marie is adjusting to her new life, Kent shows up. I had such mixed feelings reading this. It’s not that I am a fan of divorce, obviously, but still. I am a fan of healthy, mutually supportive marriages and I did not get the feeling that Kent showed up with remorse for having an affair. Instead he said the bare minimum, “It’s over. I was wrong. Come home, the house is a disaster.”

Britt-Marie speaks the language of culture shock when she says, “It’s hard not to want to go back to your normal life once you know how difficult it is to start again.”

And yet, Britt-Marie was not quite ready to go back with Kent and wanted one more night. He was to meet her the next day at the diner. As she waited for him, a man with a gun came in and Britt-Marie keeps talking to him instead of doing what he told her to do. “Why she reacts the way she does is a something she is incapable of understanding, but there are a lot of things you are not equipped to know about yourself until you have a pistol pointing at your face.” Or until you move to a new country and live in a new culture.

Something in her decides this is a good place to stand her ground.

It’s also a bit of a cliff-hanger. Ha! One more section friends. Shall we see if Britt-Marie goes four for four on the Velvet Ashes themes this month? What are some of your favorite lines or phrases from Britt-Marie? Hard to believe we only have one week left.

Happy reading,


In September, we will be reading a memoir called Born A Crime by Trevor Noah. You can check out the Amazon summary below! We also wanted to give a little warning that this book contains some profanity. If that’s an issue for you, there’s also a young adult version that you can read as an alternative and still join in on our discussion!

From Amazon:

“Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.”


  1. Michele August 19, 2019

    I also had thoughts of culture shock and adjustment going through this book and was so happy that we’re reading it together because so much of what you pointed out would have been lost on another audience! I don’t really have anything to add- just that if I hadn’t borrowed the book from the library, the quotes you have here are the ones that I would have highlighted! So much of what she goes through is classic culture shock! And yes to the Liverpool fans! That line makes me want a Liverpool sticker on my mirror or something as a reminder that any situation can be turned around!

    1. Amy Young August 21, 2019

      I just returned my copy to the library :). They are lovely, but it can be maddening when you want to check a page (or chapter) and don’t have the book :)!!!

  2. Bayta Schwarz August 20, 2019

    I was so intrigued by the football references! This is a Swedish author and he references not just one, but three English football teams?! So interesting!
    Anyway, fascinating to think about the influence different groups we are a part of have on us. The fact that their dads supported certain football teams influenced the kids’ outlook on life. So true, though. Might not be football for many of us but we are still shaped by attitudes around us. Can be so hard to break free! The Liverpool one might be great but what about the sense of entitlement of ManU supporters? Or what was the other one – Crystal Palace? Always expecting everything to end in disappointment.
    Like you, I was so shocked when Kent showed up!
    Can’t wait to see how this ends!

    1. Amy Young August 21, 2019

      oooh Bayta, thanks for teasing out the point about the groups we are a part of (or out parents were a part of) and how aligning with them might say something about you — that ManU team sounds obnoxious (and I have no idea if it is “true”, but as a non-futbol follower, I now don’t really like them :))

      1. Bayta Schwarz August 22, 2019

        hahaha! Well, all those years I lived in England, ManU were constantly winning everything so yeah… not very popular with everyone else 😉 I think they’ve been taken down a notch since.
        Also, I still get confused by “Somebody”. Keep forgetting that (mostly) refers to a particular person… I wonder where that will lead?!

  3. Sarah Hilkemann August 20, 2019

    This book has had a lot of different twists and I’m loving it! I think it’s been my favorite book of the summer (except maybe The Blue Castle, but I think that’s my favorite ever ;)).
    I had definitely written off Kent and wasn’t expecting him at all. I couldn’t decide how I wanted all of that to go.
    I did like this line: “It’s hard not to want to go back to your normal life once you know how difficult it is to start again.” It made me think of how hard it was to return to the field after a break or home assignment. I knew how hard it was, that I would have to adjust yet again, and that was usually more difficult than the initial culture shock I experienced.

    1. Amy Young August 21, 2019

      It was one of my favorite summer reads too! (And The Blue Castle!) — at the end of the previous book “Grandmother” I didn’t think we would see Kent. I figured he was off with the other chicky-poo. Yes, to wonderful, twists 🙂

  4. Phyllis August 21, 2019

    (For the next book, I would say it’s not “some profanity.” My whole overall impression of the book was profanity! There’s some profanity in Britt-Marie, and it hasn’t bothered me.)

    I also think Britt-Marie is going to be my favorite of this summer.

    1. Amy Young August 21, 2019

      Phyllis, I’m glad you’re enjoying Britt-Marie :)! She’s quite the character.

      For “Born a Crime” — while it used more profanity than I do (um, I don’t use any), for me, it helped create the world he was a part of. But I get your point, it is “colorful.”

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