Part Two: Cat Culture Shock |

Part Two: Cat Culture Shock

Jessica Smith

One of the major issues one deals with when living internationally is culture shock. It happens when you first show up to a new place, and when you come back after a long time away.

Having spent the last four years of my life living and working in Shanghai, China, I was prepared for a few pangs after moving back to the U.S. What I was not exactly prepared for, however, was the effect it would have on the companion I was bringing back- my cat.


For the first few days, Garbage and I stumbled around like extras for a zombie movie. Jet lag made me sluggish during the day, and woke me up at odd hours of the night. Garbage sniffed suspiciously at everything, and spent his days puzzling out the mystery of carpet.

While I adjusted to little things like understanding every conversation around me, eating more steak and burgers, and obeying traffic laws, Garbage found a new fascination – the outdoors. Eager to ease our transition from a city of 20 million to a town a fraction of that size, I bought him a cat harness.

A cat harness allows you to take your cat on outside walks, the idea being to give them more exercise and a sense of freedom.

When I first strapped Garbage into his harness, he went limp, rolling on his side like a non-violent protester ready to be dragged away by the police. However, the outdoors was closer than ever before, and it was calling to him. Soon after, he took his first few tentative steps out into the big wide world.

Shock and awe

Garbage loved the outdoors – sniffing the air, clawing the dirt, and optimistically stalking birds more than half his size. I, too, enjoyed the fresh air and clear view of sky and mountains after four years in the pollution-clogged mega-city of Shanghai.

However, no culture integration goes smoothly. There are always weird sounds to keep you awake, strange new or forgotten foods, and (in Garbage’s case) unexpected contact with the natives.

The other day my neighbor, seeing the strange sight of a cat on a leash, walked over for a closer look. Sensing this impending doom, Garbage decided not to wait for death but to take action, springing straight up into the air. Then, in a move I’ve only seen performed by hummingbirds and military-grade helicopters, he changed direction mid-air and flung himself away, flipping and spinning like a fish on a line.

Worried he’d slip from the harness or hurt himself, I tried to pick him up. Instead of surrendering, Garbage used some kind of cat-magic to transform himself into a whirling ball of nothing but fur and claws. Unsurprisingly, I dropped both cat and leash, and Garbage disappeared around the corner.

Fortunately, I found him in a nearby bush, and got him back safe and sound. After a few recovery days inside, we went back out together again, determined to make the most of our new life in America. Overall, I’ve found the experience rewarding, enjoyable, and only occasionally perilous. For the future, however, I plan on investing in several useful items: Band-Aids, Neosporin, and a kitty LoJack system.

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