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shilolo's avatar

Have you ever experienced true culture shock, and what were the circumstances?

Asked by shilolo (18038points) February 18th, 2009

I’ve experienced culture “shock” twice in my life. Once, when I moved to Manhattan from a rural college town, and again when I moved from NYC to San Francisco. Both times were quite disconcerting. Has this happened to anyone else? How did you deal with it?

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23 Answers

EmpressPixie's avatar

When I moved from Southland to Seattle and again when I moved from Southland to Chicago.

In the move to Seattle, there was just something wrong the entire time I was there the first time I went for an extended stay. It was like something flickering at the edge of my sight, but I just couldn’t figure it out.

Then I got back to Richmond, hopped off the plane and knew what it was. Black people. There are not nearly enough of them in Seattle.

In the move to Chicago, it might have been a bit of country (or at least southern) girl – city girl shock. I went from relatively small towns and cities with family nearby to being all alone in Chicago. And no one smiles here! Seriously, like you can walk down the street and no one smiles. At all. And there is no color. And the rainstorms are wrong. Not enough lightning. And it snows. Lord, how it snows. And people are so rude! It’s ridiculous. And… and… and… yes. There was a good deal of shock in moving here.

Edited to add: I say “Southland” because I moved around the south a bit, but found the cultures similar enough not to produce any shock.

Also edited to add: In Chicago, there is this place that people go for hot dogs really late at night and they are so rude to the staff! And the staff is rude back! That’s just how it is. It’s their thing. What a bizarre concept.

loser's avatar

I used to date this woman who’s family is totally rich. I first time I went to an event to meet them I felt like I was on another planet. Some people really can have too much money.

Grisson's avatar

I’ve always enjoyed seeing the differences in culture whereever I go. I lived for 4 months in England one time and it was very interesting to see how different things were. I think that England, particularly the bureaucratic side tends to expect Americans to be shocked and tries to adapt for it. For instance we wanted to put our highschool-aged daugter in school and we were told we should put her in ‘The American School’ because otherwise she would be way behind.

We refused, she went into an English public school and blew their socks off in math & science, and even English Lit, but had a little trouble in French.

There were lots of differences, particularly in the medical system. (Our daughter was born there and had some difficulties so we got to experience the system fully).

One of the oddest things, at the time (And you see this in America now all the time) was that they had ‘Superstores’ where you could wander from Baby Clothes into the dairy department with no transition.

And the ‘trolleys’ or grocery carts have 4 independently turning wheels, which makes them very manueverable, but practically uncontrollabe for the uninitiated.

I tend to think that ‘Culture Shock’ has a lot to do with the attitude of the Shockee rather than the culture of the Shockor.

Aethelwine's avatar

I was 16 when I moved from Las Vegas to the middle of nowhere in Illinois. When we drove up to our new house, we drove next to all these cornfields. All I could think of was Children of the Corn. At first, everyone at the high school was very friendly. I was the new girl from Las Vegas! It didn’t take long to realize that small town cliques are almost worse than big town cliques. It’s easier to disappear in a big crowd.

I hated it in Illinois. No nightlife like Las Vegas, no mountains and beautiful scenery to look at. I couldn’t wait to graduate so that I could move back.

Funny how things work out though. I did go back to the west coast, for two years, but ended back in Illinois when it became too expensive for me to live on my own out there. After some time spent here in the Midwest, it has grown on me. I would never move back to Las Vegas now. In fact, it would be a huge culture shock for me if I did.

KatawaGrey's avatar

Moving from Colorado to Connecticut when I was 9 years old was like being dunked in ice water. Everything was so weird from slang and general attitudes to geography. I went from living in town that was 30 minutes away from the next nearest town to living in a small city that shares a border with at least 3 other small cities. People got confused when I referred to the things on their feet as shoes. I often heard, “These aren’t shoes they’re boots/sandals/sneakers/whatever.” The hardest thing to get used to, though, was the difference in how people interact with each other. Back in Colorado, if you said hi to someone, they would say hi back, whether they knew you or not. Here, people are suspicious of friendliness from strangers. If my mom sees a woman with a screaming baby trying to load her car at the grocery store, she goes over and helps the woman. Usually, her efforts are met with suspicion, annoyance and confusion. I’m still getting used to the whole “don’t be friendly to people because you don’t them” attitude.

Grisson's avatar

@KatawaGrey At 9, did you adapt your language/accent rapidly to your new environment?

Moving from Colorado to the Carolinas at 5, I adapted my accent rapidly to keep out of the “You ain’t from round here are ya boy” conversations.

Les's avatar

Moving from Chicago (where people are happy and considerate. I completely disagree with everything you said bad about Chicago, empress), to Laramie,WY. I live in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, where the only “stores” are Walmart and K Mart. If I want to go anywhere else, it is at least a 45 minute drive, but more commonly a 90 minute drive to the nearest “big town”. The interstate gets closed constantly in the winter because of high winds and blowing snow, and you get stuck in this crappy little town. Ugh.

exitnirvana's avatar

I moved (against my will, given I was a minor at the time) from outside of Washington D.C. where I spent all of my life, to Berkeley Springs, WV a small, rural town in the Eastern Panhandle. Basically, I went from being a minority in the school I previously attended, to the majority. Life in rural West Virginia was miserable, I actually came close to suggesting that instead of Wild and Wonderful, that it should read the State of Inconvenience on the license plates, because what took 5 minutes in civilization took at least 5 business days in Berkeley Springs. It was so hard to get accustomed to such a slow pace, as well as the blatant ignorance of half the people I had to go to school with who thought “Gangsta” was walking around with pants around their knees, a hitch in their walk, and some skanky trailer ho following them around. I resisted the urge to drag said “Gangsters” down to SE D.C. and see how long they survived. Ha.

But anyway, I moved out of Berkeley Springs (which I later found out moved more Heroin than Escobar), to Morgantown which is in North Central, WV. It’s a little more up-beat thanks to the University, and a lot more tolerable/diverse. Overall, I don’t mind WV so much anymore, I’ve grown to appreciate rural america thanks to my time spent here.

Now, I’m packing up to move to the Northeast after graduation so there will be more culture shock in store…

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Grisson: I think my accent adapted fairly quickly. the difference is not great between Colorado and Connecticut, but it is enough that people took notice. The language, however, still gives me some problems. People still correct me when I say “nice shoes” about their boots and no one knows what I mean when I talk about slugbugs until I explain that they’re Volkswagen Beetles.

EmpressPixie's avatar

@Les: It’s all a matter of perspective. The people here are more rude than I was used to. However, they are not more rude than you find appropriate. Also, I didn’t say they were unhappy. I just said you couldn’t see them smiling when you walked down the streets.

Grisson's avatar

@KatawaGrey You mentioned saying ‘Hi’ and receiving hostility. I had (have) the same problem. But I’ve realized that the Colorado ‘hi’ (No John Denver puns, please) is very abrupt and sharp compared to the Southeren “hey! [at least a 2 syllable dipthong]”. People often think I’m, being rude or dismissive when I say ‘Hi!’

EmpressPixie's avatar

@Grisson: You’re right. No matter how often I’ve heard “Hay is for horses!” from my mom or aunts, “Hey” just sounds way friendlier so I tend to use it. And the friendliness comes from how you can elongate it

Grisson's avatar

Ooops… my spelling correction ‘diphthong’ not ‘dipthong’ (which sounds like something found on a California beach).

Learn something new every day

susanc's avatar

I was so happy when I moved from Boston/New York to a smallish city in the Pacific Northwest, because I thought I had discovered a classless society. Everyone wore parkas and rubber boots, even the state senators. Everyone had to deal with mud
and woodsmoke. I couldn’t hear any differences in speech patterns, everyone sounded the same to me – no immigrants, no Boston flat a’s, no Southerners, no old-school WASPs and (correct, EmpressPixie) not enough black folk. After a couple of years, my ear attuned itself to the drawly backwoods cadences of the brush picking crowd so I could distinguish them from the clippety white-collar enviro-mavens, the song-like quiet rhythms of Native Americans, the profoundly amazing Indian languages (not to mention Spanish) spoken by refugees from Guatemala, not to mention Khmer spoken by new citizens from Cambodia…. and my fave sushi chef has taught me a little bit of Korean. Classless, no. Interesting, yes.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Grisson: It’s interesting to compare the two experiences because I was showed hostility because of a perceived overabundance of friendliness and you were showed hostility because of a perceived lack of friendliness. Maybe we should just move back to Colorado where we all have the same level. :)

artificialard's avatar

@shilolo I’d be interested in the differences you saw between NY and SF… How did they ‘shock’ you?

I remember living pretty much all of my life in Toronto, Canada and then going to Hong Kong by for the first time as an adult for a few months in the summer alone. The extreme fast pace, the foreign language, the ultra-materialism, it’s an incredible place.

I think the ‘shock’ moment was on the second night when I was staying with my aunt who live in the suburbs brought me to a ‘market’ where she picked out a live chicken in a cage. I had no idea what she was picking the chicken for until we were sitting at the dinner table.

mcbealer's avatar

moving from NYC to Miami FL = sad and painful (I was a minor)
moving from FL to New England = awesome
moving from FL to western MD = major culture shock, still trying to get used to it… 14 years later

shilolo's avatar

@artificialard Well, the NYC -> SF culture shock was really about the laid back nature of the city, and the absence of people. For example, my wife and I went out for a run in Golden Gate Park a week or so after moving to SF on a beautiful day. It was 9 AM yet we saw no one over a 5–6 mile run. Having done the same type of run for years in Central Park, we were accustomed to seeing thousands of joggers, bikers, roller bladers, etc. We literally looked at each other the whole way going “WTF is going on? Did we miss the memo? Was there a nuclear attack? Where is everybody?”

I really had to learn how to turn down the intensity 10-fold. Even with that, I’m still the most intense person in my circle of friends. NYC for 8 years will do that to you…

jlm11f's avatar

Hmm…culture shock. Well, I moved from Bombay (India) to Ohio in 2003. Bombay is like the NYC of India. Everything is fast there, people are too busy to talk/smile, everyone is always in a rush, there’s always people around irrespective of the time etc. Going from that….to Ohio was probably the most annoying thing for me. I still remember we went to some Lenscrafter-isque store in one of our first few months here and the amount of time the whole transaction took felt like torture to me. In Bombay, I was brought up in the “don’t talk to strangers” way as @KatawaGrey mentioned. And I remember walking down streets here with my dad and he would greet someone and I would say “Dadddddd, why are you doing that???? You don’t know that person!” I think this way of thinking has to do with big cities in general. Obviously the risk of being kidnapped is higher in big cities so no interaction with strangers is probably stressed more often.

Now, I am getting used to Ohio’s little quirks. I miss the pace of NYC and I really do feel at home whenever I am there. But I think that if I were to move now, I would definitely miss the friendliness of the people here as opposed to in other big cities. And as @EmpressPixie mentioned, I do love the thunderstorms that Ohio gets on a monthly basis. I of course had a lot of other culture shocks that I had to deal with due to sheer geography, but I think a lot of that was lessened for me since I had been to USA as a tourist twice before we actually settled here. So it wasn’t really jumping into a whole new place with no background information. And the first time I ever came here, I was about 10, so the only thing I was interested in doing was mimicking people’s accents and going to Disney World; not too interested in observing cultural differences

artificialard's avatar

@shilolo Interesting! We have the same east-west mentality in Canada (mostly between Vancouver and Toronto).

Being from Toronto I felt the same way when I had to go to SF for work conferences. People ‘kept smiling, moving slowly in lines, and there were vegetarian options everywhere I ate. Weeeeird.

Strauss's avatar

@Grisson—Interesting thing about picking up language:

I was born in Chicago area, left there in my 20’s for points south, where I lived for about 20 years (La, Tx, Fl, Ga). I picked up some “southernisms”, especially the term “y’all” (for “you all”). Since I’ve moved to Colorado, I hear myself reverting back to my Chicago roots, except for the “y’all”. It rolls of the tongue a lot better than “yous guys” and is actually grammatically correct

one time I was performing in a bar in Texas, and one of the patrons remarked that I sang “Texan” but I spoke Yankee!

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I have a theory that people from the Yankee part of the country speak quickly to avoid frostbite, and people south of the Manson-Nixon line (yeah, I know that’s wrong; it’s a play on words) don’t have to worry about it and can afford to take their time with conversation. I have no science to back me up, and I can’t prove it, but it makes perfect sense to me. That of course, automatically makes it suspect, but I like the neatness of the theory. As for Chicago, I am from downstate IL, and those of us who claim to be downstaters despise Chicago like Jews despise Neo-Nazis. It’s a taxation/representation thing.

Strauss's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra Know what you mean. I was involved in politics when I was growing up

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