Cultural Fatigue

Cultural Fatigue
Definition of Cultural Fatigue:
“Cultural Fatigue is the physical and emotional exhaustion that almost invariably results from the infinite series of minute adjustments required for long-term survival in an alien culture. Living and working overseas generally requires that one must suspend his automatic evaluations and judgments, that he must supply new interpretations to seemingly familiar behavior and that he must demand of himself constant alterations in the style and content of his activity. Whether this process is conscious or unconscious, successful, or unsuccessful, it consumes and enormous amount of energy leaving the individual decidedly fatigued…”
- Cultural Confrontation in the Philippines
Book by David L. Szanton

Maybe this a helpful reference:
“Cultural Confrontation in the Philippines. In Textor ed, Cultural Frontiers of the Peace Corps. MIT Press, 1965.“

Southeast Asia
Friday, October 2, 2009

Buy the Same Gear as Andy uses… Sold at three times the price, sorry.


I would personally thank David L. Szanton for writing this comment some 40 years ago, it is as poignant accurate today as it was than.

Cultural Fatigue
I personally know I become culturally fatigued, however fatigue is often too mild of word, I can be exhausted, and consumed by frustration anger. I have developed many coping mechanisms that allows me to travel perpetually travel and continually change cultures. I ride an emotional roller coaster and must be continually in touch with my emotions or lose the plot.

I will be exploring this concept in small doses, the denial, anger, shame, and rage that can be elicited by this discussion of cultural fatigue is incredible.

Are you losing the plot?

Cultural Fatigue

Cultural Fatigue


Interesting Concept and thanks for posting it cause I never heard of it before and I love exploring new paths of thoughts. I've met many peace corps people or people who were formerly peace corps volunteers. I found them similiar to Foreign Service Embassy staff and military personel, those who thought they needed to join an organization to travel the world or rather chose to join an organization to "see the world" rather than choosing to GO FOR IT alone. Many peace corps volunteers stayed away and continued living overseas after their 2 year to 4 year terms expired and these seem to be the most interesting individuals for me. I wonder if cultural fatique condition is possible in one's own country of origin???? That might explain why I KNEW that the middleclass American way of life was NOT for me.


Mr David L. Szanton is saying to make the adjustments needed causes the fatigue. We must make them, there is no choice. I come from an area of the USA where there are many manners, I believe Jamaica would be painful. While there is a joke that people from New York fit in perfect in Jamaica.

What we normally do is not correct, we must make an adjustment.
I say hello to the reception desk, the person ignores me, I must accept or adjust and not say hello.

A person can lose their identity, this is when a person loses the plot, they do not know who they are and it changes daily. When a person starts wearing all the clothes of the locals even when they do not make sense.

Going native is what people are searching for, in essence the people who fit in the best become like the locals. The closer you are in behavior and mentality to the locals, the less you need to adjust, therefore the less adjustment made, the less fatigue.

I see expats in countries who never associate with the locals.

I become very agitated in Africa because I have no expats to talk with, therefore I never have a break from the adjustments, I must retreat into my hotel room and hide. I am hiding right now in the Philippines, I do not fit in with the locals or the expats. I do not drink alcohol or smoke.

An American can normally go to Australia easier and live than going to China.


I have seen dozens of foreigners who went "TROPPO" another term used describing Expats who have lost the plot while traveling or living in tropical countries where the alchohol is often dirt cheap. "Rummies" is another term used for foreigners who have gone "downhill" by getting drunk everyday on the U$1+ liters ( quarts ) of local rum.One sign of a foreigner's "cultural fatique" is when he switches from drinking beer to rum and starts creating a number of "poor me" stories he shares with tourists seeking their sympathy and monetary charity.

One New Zealander was a great example, he started out renting an apt in Makati, driving a late model sedan and within 2 to 3 years ended up practically homeless driving and sleeping in a jeepney. Recently a guy from Detroit who'd grown up in Brooklyn, NYC came over to meet a Filipina he'd been chatting with and only had a U$700 / month unemployment check to support himself then got a job as a telemarketing supervisor in a call center, according to him for nearly double what Filipinos get. About a year or more later his unemployment had run out, he was let go from his local job and he was spotted sleeping during the daytime in public areas nearby.

The manners issue is weird because S.E. Asians, Filipinos included inside their family and employment social circles are extremely polite, respectful and mannerly but when they're in public manners and respect for others seem to disappear. I noticed this in Bali also. I often say that manners and morals are a "luxury" of the middleclass as neither the POOR nor the RICH seem to care as much abut them. Population density may also be responsible for the lack of manners you are coming across during your present stay in Manila. Years ago I read about behavior studies about how mice change when their space is limited and population increases.

An old friend of mine in California coined a phrase that stuck with me that went something like this, " widespread possession of guns among Americans makes a very polite, mannerly society" except it was shorter and more catchy.