Naturally since I (Bjørn) moved to the US friends back in Norway/Europe have started looking for signs that I’m becoming too americanised too quickly. For example, am I losing their favoured British English accent, have I started spelling –ize in lieu of –ise, do I eat fries and not chips and am I losing interest in soccer (my new team being the Minnesota Twins)?
Posts Tagged ‘culture shock’
America is currently the only global superpower and undoubtedly the main driving force of globalisation – the process through which people all over the world supposedly become members of a “shared community”. An incredible number of global icons (Micheal Jordan, Bill Gates, 50cents, Brad Pitt, Will Smith) brands (Coca Cola, Microsoft, Nike), celebrities (Britney Spears, Paris Hilton [the one who thinks West Africa is a great country]), film makers (Martin Scorcese, Steven Spielberg) are American. Then, of course, there’s MTV and American Idol…
So finally, I (Bjørn) have arrived at the most interesting part: the stuff that will make a gullible Eurovision-loving, Euro-boy like myself feel the tight grip of culture shock. Here are some friendly outsider observations about the US of A and its locals, the Americans and how they differ from the rest of the world. 😉
- Men and women greet each other differently. While women are limited to a handshake (or possibly a little hug), men get to choose from an extensive menu including the high-five, the fist-bump, the chest-bump, the thumb wrap handshake, the fist pound and the man-hug.
- The most important flavours/spices in the US are peanut butter, ketchup, yellow cheese substitute/cheddar and butter. Any hot dish can have some sort of cheddar flavour. Most of the times this does not actually originate from any kind of cheese, but rather some soft creamy substance with an artificial cheese-like flavour. Any cold or hot dish can have peanut butter flavour. Amazingly, any combinations of the above flavours (and add chocolate) are perfectly fine.
- Anything can be considered a flavour in the US, such as Snickers, certain kinds of biscuits/cookies, whopper, cheese cake, pizza, cookie dough, Chunky Monkey (frozen banana pieces mixed in with chocolate flakes and walnuts) and thousands of others.
- Americans have by far the biggest intimate space of any country I have lived in or visited. In most European countries you would say sorry if you happened to bump into somebody. In the US you are expected to say “I’m sorry” if you move within three meter radius of their body. If you’re at all planning to walk in somebody’s direction, you’d better say “Excuse me!” in advance. What if you accidentally happened to brush against somebody? … Perish the thought…
- The most popular sport in the US is (American) Football. This game is dominated by big men shoving each other, incomplete passes, commercials (I once timed it – for every quarter of football – 15 minutes – you get approximately 12 minutes of commercials) and time-outs. The most dramatic incident of almost every game is a pass that was almost completed. If it is a really good game, the most spectacular thing you’ll see is a grown-up man catching a ball (wow!) or a man running really fast while holding a ball in his hands!
- Two Americans can start any conversation with two to six “What’s up”s without: (a) at all expecting to find out what’s up (or how the other person is doing), (b) even really listening in the odd case the other person happened to convey some information.
Disclaimers:No text written in America would be complete without a set of disclaimers. Here goes:
- Any of the cultural characteristics outlined above may be typical of the Midwest rather than the US as a whole.
- No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.
- Wanna sue me for any politically incorrect statements made above? I plead freedom of speech! I’ll sue you back!
So what is the big deal? A Norwegian moving to the American Mid-West is hardly going to suffer from culture shock when so many things are similar:
- It is freezing! As I write this the thermometer shows -16C/3F. Ha – don’t make me laugh. I’ve slept in tent and been posted as a guard outside at a temperature of -26C /-15F…
- The food is exactly the same… People can’t stop talking about how much the enjoy lutefisk (jelly-like foul-smelling fish), and somebody I hardly know gave me a batch of homemade lefse (pictured right) before Christmas. People my age seem to know as much about krumkake, kransekake and smultringer as my granny does!
- People drink at home before going out on the town to save money.
- When people hear something really funny they smile as loud as they can.
- Nobody would ever, ever – even if absolutely starving – take the last piece of cake on the table.
- People expect all social gatherings and meetings to start precisely on time, if not before.
- People think butter is a spice.
- People feel guilty about not feeling guilty.
- They day hasn’t begun until you’ve had at least two cups of coffee. And coffee is coffee. It’s all about volume, not about quality.
- People don’t fall when walking on ice.
- People live in (huge) houses, not in (35m2) apartments…
You can also read the first post about culture shock.
Have I (Bjørn) experienced culture shock since moving to America?
When moving from one place to another, one is bound to experience some sort of culture shock. My first one was probably moving to England and realising that the English have thick, fluffy carpets covering their bathroom floors and that they think it’s ok to wear very short, pink tops no matter your body shape or weather conditions.
However, such culture shocks pale in comparison to those one has to deal with when leaving the poorer world (also known as the “developing world”) and trying to reintegrate into the Western world. Here are some main “shocks” I/we experienced after returning from Malawi and Turkmenistan.
- The physical shock. Did you think that the germs and unhygienic kitchens of the poorer countries are going to hurt you? Wrong! Some extra bacteria in your diet might give you a tourist stomach for a couple of days after you arrive in Africa, but overall they are hardly going to harm you at all. Returning from the developing is seriously going to mess up your (digestive) systems though. It took Kim and I weeks to recover from this shock… Why did this happen? Because food in the West/the US is pumped so full of preservatives, artificial flavours and colourants, hormones and steroids that it takes a very well-trained stomach to handle it. The organic and natural produce Kim and I had consumed for years had cleansed our bodies and made us inept at fighting processed foods.
- It is not seen as a sign of prosperity and good health to be overweight. In poor countries poor people are skinny (because of a poor diet); in our countries of plenty, poor people are fat (because of a poor diet)…
- Time is precious! The bus is going to leave when it is scheduled to leave and not only once every seat is occupied. People are on time, they expect you to be on time and they have a limited amount of time to spend on whatever (perhaps except TV). In the developing world, a wood carver is not going to be too bothered if somebody is offering him two dollars for a carving he spent six hours making. When time is the only thing you have plenty of, it logically becomes less important.
- Waking up every day realising that “it is actually very unlikely that I am going to die today…” When living in Africa death is ever-present, almost to the extent that it is part and parcel of everyday life, which in turn means that one cares less about protecting oneself against it. When being back in the Western world it is NOT ok to deal with a strangers’ blood without rubber gloves or to deal with symptoms of illness simply by hoping that they will go away… Here in the West sudden death or any death before the age of 80 is ugly and completely unnatural. Only things that kill you slowly (but surely), such as smoking, eating junk-food, being obese, eating junk (see point 1), pollution etc are ok.
About culture shock, part II