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Culture Shock

culture shock

#Blogging 101 Assignement: Be Inspired By the Community – write a post that builds on one of the comments you left.

I’m actually catching up on assignments, so today, I left a comment on Habit Your Day’s blog regarding developing a habit of understanding different cultures and I applaud her efforts.

This post resonated with me particularly because I am a girl whose ethnic make up is diverse (therefore, I find it incredibly difficult to favor any one race or culture).  I’m also an individual who has lived in and traveled to over thirteen countries before the age of ten.

I became the “professional new kid”–always having to learn about culture in context, and needing to make friends fast.  There was almost nothing that you could say to insult me, because in my ever growing need for cultural understanding, I just assumed there was something I misunderstood.  I’m sure that made for puzzling encounters once people who actually intended to insult me realized that I hadn’t digested their affront as such.  On the bright side, my response almost always diffused a tense situation. 😀

I’ve found that in Europe and Africa (a good number of countries, anyway), people were more or less willing to understand another person’s point of view.   Once I set foot in the U.S., I encountered an entirely different outlook.  In the States, the culture is far more egocentric than a lot of countries overseas, which have a communal focus (obviously, it’s not just America that has this type of culture, it’s just the largest country that employs it).  It’s not necessarily good or bad, but I have come to the conclusion that much of the conflict we see across racial/political lines in the States would dissipate if we took the time to understand where the other person is coming from.

I’m also not really surprised by the ideology of “self” either.  I know far too many people who’ve never ventured further than a 50 mile radius of their home, the safety of their neighborhood, and the comfort of all things “like them.”  In Europe, especially, a culture of travel is encouraged–probably because countries there are so close together and an efficient mode of rail travel is available to utilize–as is learning other languages (most Americans I know don’t speak a second language).  While that is not to say that each country doesn’t still hold their biases and preferences, I have noticed less animosity thrown around simply for the sheer fact that a person is “not like you.”

As a dark-skinned woman in America, culture shock was most evident on racial lines, for me.  For all practical purposes, I’m Black (at least, by American standards).  I’m actually mixed with a number of ethnicities (five, to be exact – including White British–look it up, it’s actually a census classification), but I have dark brown skin, dark brown eyes and full lips. When I arrived in the U.S., almost everyone–of all races–felt the need to remind me that I was Black on a daily basis.  Some Caucasian individuals would inform me that I was pretty “for a Black girl.”  African Americans inquired as to why I wanted “to act White” because I was the only minority student in honors classes.  Everyone was slightly confused because I had a British accent.  And Hispanics were usually just impressed that I knew how to salsa, bachata, and merengue with the best of them.   I also knew a little flamenco, but the opportunity to display those moves were few and far between.  But I digress.

Identity is an interesting concept.  Society and culture will either suffocate you and stuff you into a box, or encourage you to seek out the meaning of what it is to be you.  But either route is steeped in the history of that culture and as an outsider looking in, I had to learn that the primary emphasis on race in this country is steeped in the heart-wrenching history of slavery and the civil rights battles won and lost.  And every time a step is taken backwards on the road to post-racist enlightenment (re: all the fatal cop shootings of African American males committing no crimes recently), one has to sit back and wonder if either party ever took the time to walk in the other’s shoes…or is the fear of “other” so paralyzing that it is impossible even entertain the idea? It’s sad when that fear manifests in a manner that indicates the person “not like you” is somehow less human, not worthy of plain dignities.

Hate met with hate has proven time and again as a recipe for disaster.  At some point, understanding has to come into play.  I’m not saying that I have the secret answer to establishing world peace or anything, but I do have a healthy set of diverse friends (diverse via race, gender, ethnicity, culture, experience, age, etc.).  And what I’ve learned from each of their viewpoints is that ultimately, a person is worth more than a list of their physical traits and you may be surprised to find that you have more in common with someone “not like you” than you do with someone who, otherwise, “should” be “like you.”

Food for thought.

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