Re: culture shock

Antoinette Errante (aerrante@MAGNUS.ACS.OHIO-STATE.EDU)
Sat, 11 May 1996 01:24:35 -0400

At 8:22 PM 5/10/96, Robert Thornton wrote:

What is the condition under which people could and do feel
>'shock' in these circumstances??

Then, referring to smell, space , sound and the way we think of them in
different places, he writes,

>All of these are not cognised, and largely unconscious, and the 'feel'
>of the 'pattern' is experience non-linquistically, or at least not
>easily coded as words. With the exception of music, they are not
>easily coded as culture. When I remember my India teenage years I
>think, wordlessly, of the smells, the spaces and the sounds, not the
>languages, the acts, the events, the mistakes and efforts to 'learn'
>as a child or an adult. Of course, I was neither child nor adult, so
>that might queer the comparison somewhat

I've always thought that the best way to explain this thing we've been
calling culture shock is to have people watch Martin Scorsese's *After
Hours* - it's like being in a parallel universe where all your "modals" are
off -people don't act the way they you would, you can't bathe the way you
could at home, food's don't taste the way they should. Sometimes you end up
thinking "what's wrong with these crazy people, why don't they do things as
they should?" But they just think YOU'RE the one whose crazy.

Culture shock is a kind of out-of-body experience - the condition under
which this out of body experience occurs, in my view, is when a place or
situation dishevels the daily life experiences through which we "act out"
our public and private selves. To the extent that our sense of daily life
is culturally specific, being thrown into the univsere of *someone else's
daily life* is culture shock. To the extent our daily life has texture
-smell, space, sound, and - I would add - color - our sense of daily living
and the alientation we call culture shock, is also a sensual experience.

My childhood could've been one long shock. I grew up in a bilingual home, a
dark-haired Italian girl who was dying to be like everyone else around her
- freckled and blond and Irish. Surrounded by McGreavey's and and
McCarthy's and Sisters Gerald and Patrick, I thought there could be no God
at Saints Philip and James elementary school, or surely He would have made
me Irish too. And yet though the foods, sights and sounds were different
in the houses of my friends, I don't recall ever being lonely or depressed
or feeling out of place. My family travelled to Europe for extensive stays
throughout my childhood and yet I don't ever recall feeling out of place
there either. Is it that children are too open to be affected by culture
shock or do they just experience it differently (as separation anxiety for
ex.)? Or perhaps it was because this unfamiliarity was so familiar to me.

As an adult, I participated in intercultural training sessions. Now I could
plot my culture shock on a graph. But knowing how and when shock happens
did not lessen my out-of-body experiences any.

It was the light in Mozambique that made me feel like it was not my place.
It's a beautiful light, everything seemed tinged slightly orange or red.
But it was not my light . My light was the gray dreary winter sky of
Minneapolis. But after a few months, it became my light and Mozambique my
place. When I returned , for a while Minneaplos no longer felt like home
(I'm not sure if this was due to culture shock or the fact that in the
beautiful climate of Mozambique, I dicsovered that I needed photosynthesis
and could not take another Minnesota winter).

Once a place enters our memory of the familiar, once we can attach our
identities to some alternative daily life, the shock does not come back.
Now when I return to Mozambique, it feels just like it felt going home when
I was in college and opening my bedroom door.

Antoinette Errante

Antoinette Errante Tel: (614) 292-3609
Assistant. Professor
Educational Policy Fax: (614) 292-7900
& Leadership
Ohio State University
29 W. Woodruff
Columbus, Ohio 43210

=C9 melhor ser alegre que ser triste; alegria =E9 melhor coisa que existe
=C9 assim como a luz no cora=E7=E3o
Mas pr'a fazer o samba com beleza =E9 preciso um bocado de tristeza
Precisa um bocado de tristeza se n=E3o n=E3o se faz o samba n=E3o
- Vin=EDcius de Mor=E3es -