Nov 27

Culture Shock

Everywhere I go, people are talking to me about culture shock. My family took me out to eat and then out shopping and made comments like, “We’re giving her low doses of culture shock.” In Newsweek I read a couple of articles every once in awhile about pop culture (movies, video games, technology) and how it’s a shock. Even better, I hear from some people about how the US has no culture, that we are everyone else’s culture and so have none of our own.

All of this is untrue. What we all see on the surface: technology, fast-paced lifestyles, movies and music, etc has little to do with actual American culture and is not why people go into culture shock.

Say you and your friend are playing a card game together, but your friend keeps making the wrong moves, assigning points in the wrong way and putting the wrong cards in the wrong stack. You get more and more frustrated and then angry at your friend because it’s obvious that he’s cheating terribly. At the same time, you notice that he is also getting more and more frustrated and angry at you.

But what gives him the right to be angry at you? After all, these are the rules you have played by your entire life, and it’s obvious that how he is playing is not the right way. Then it dawns on you: he’s thinking the exact same thing. Now you have two choices. You can either adapt to his rules, teach him about your own and accept his so that there can be mutual respect, or reject him as crazy or stupid and get the hell out of dodge.

Americans have millions of invisible rules that govern how they communicate with others, how they judge situations and in general live their lives. These rules are never noticed as rules, but they definitely exist and they are common across the board in the US. Some of them make good sense and some of them are crazy and make no sense. The part that makes foreigners and people like me (who aren’t really part of just one culture) go into shock is trying to learn (or remember) the new rules and still maintain a semblance of ourselves. That part sucks.


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