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Culture Shock
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Culture shock, as we called it in the 60's, now has a politically correct name. I think we are now supposed to refer to it as "cultural transition". Same difference.

Culture shock is what happens when you step out of the cultural matrix in which you have been embedded for xx years and jump into another. The more exotic the new culture, the more severe the shock.

At first it's all so new and shiny and fascinating. There's a desire to adopt the new culture lock, stock, and barrel for some people. You wear the local clothing, eat the local food, sleep in a hut (or whatever). The very air smells different (I'm not talking about transitory pungencies, but a flavor). You make friends, you fit in.

Particularly if you have had extensive academic training in the culture and society and history of the country, and had made friends with citizens of the country while here in the United States. You thought yourself acculturated already.

In your new country, you suddenly find yourself in conflict over basic values. Why won't you feed your children some of the cow's milk instead of selling it all for a few rupees? Why do you insist on defecating in the fields when I have dug this perfectly good latrine for the village? It makes no sense and we butt heads. Most people are struggling to express these conflicts each speaking a different language, but it happens even when both speak the local dialect. Maybe even more so.

You become very critical of the other culture. Long discussions late into the night next to a smoky dung fire leave you feeling that something is wrong, and you're sure you're in the right.

Then gradually you come to see, as the days unfold and your village neighbors talk about their children and their hopes for the future and their fears of imminent disease and famine, that theirs is an accommodation to an uncertain world and their reasons for their actions, no matter how illogical they seem to you, must be respected. Any change that is going to occur is going to be because they want it and see it as beneficial and are able to fit it into the existing cultural matrix, not because your wisdom as an outsider prevails.

Your arrogance bows to the strength of culture and tradition. A new humility opens your ears and heart to reality. You become an inhabitant of the village. You have adapted.

Returning home after more than two years abroad, I thought would be easy. After all, the United States is my home. My roots go back to pre-Revolutionary days. It's home, after all.

I was completely unprepared for the reverse culture shock. Excuse me, cultural transition. In a few hours I went from travel by bullock cart and on foot to flying in a 747 and riding a shuttle bus on the freeway at 70 mph. I slouched down in the seat behind the driver, terrified and in shock. Everything was so fast. Everybody was so brusque and self-centered. Fast food was so plastic. Potable water out of the faucet. Hot showers!

The fact that I had adapted so thoroughly to my village culture was the reason I was so shocked by 20th century America, specifically Los Angeles. Everything here was high pressure, one's life judged by career success, making the right friends, wearing the right clothes, looking good. I had to wear clothing that exposed my legs (it was the era of the mini skirt and pantyhose). I was spoken to by strange men trying to date me up.

It was challenging and just as demanding as the first cultural transition had been. And to tell you the truth, all these years later, I am still thrilled to stand under a hot shower!

Running hot water is an underappreciated luxury.

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