I once read, ‘Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people’.
As humans, we interact, share, understand and support each other. But are these interactions enough to express our emotions? Certainly not. This gap in turn leads to emotional difficulties that can be hard to cope with. Sharing thoughts is the easiest way to ease our burden; however it is difficult to find a person whom we can confide in. The key lies in identifying the right person to share these thoughts and feelings.
Too much Gyan! Let me try and explain it with my own experience. For those of you who do not know me, I started working with local communities at a very early age because I was inspired by my mother. It gives me immense pleasure to be part of something that brings joy to others.
This year I got the opportunity to be a part of an international fellowship program for professionals in the development sector, currently in the United States, between dynamic group of people from different parts of the world and training at various amazing organisations. We all, I think, feel lonely in some way or another and miss home, our people, our food and our culture.
The initial few days of the training fellowship, we had one amazing day trying to understand and interpret this new world in our own ways yet remembering the key features of this unique new world which we are going to be a part of for the next one year or so. ‘A session with Dr Gary Weaver’ on American culture is one session which I had heard was the most popular session of the orientation training, and I wondered why? My question was answered within first 2 hours into the session, but it adds more sense and values after completing nearly 1.5 months into the fellowship. Every small detail you observe takes you back to his session.
That session of Dr Weaver and the supporting environment has made the transition into the new country, among people who think differently from our home countries, smoother. I generally love observing people and try to analyze why they would say something or do something, that I might feel is totally wrong but for others is rather quite the opposite for them. Americans on the East coast and South East cost of the states are more individualistic and do not like being dependent on others, this was something I learnt in Dr Weavers class, which made some sense to what I had experienced. I offered my seat in the public transport to a group of elderly people who came to the train onto the train from 2 stops after mine. One of the elderly gentleman asked me ‘Do you do this often?’ this confused me! I replied confidently yes, ‘From where I come, we always offer seats to older people than us’ (even if it is not reserved). He made sure that as soon as the seat got vacant next to him, he reserved it for me and ordered me to sit on it. We did not exchange another word for the entire trip.
I thought about it for a really long time and asked Dr Weaver, I wanted understand that was the older man offended with what I did or was he appreciative? Dr Weaver explained that in some part of States it is not common, to take help from someone irrespective of your age, hence why Americans are considered individualistic people. Everything is about them and what they do is for themselves, they don’t like being dependent on others. Even youngster unlike back home in India, do not live with their parents from the age of 16 years, most of them work their way through college.
Here is something else that I have noticed, even though the Americans are individualistic people and as some would say somewhat selfish as they think about only themselves, it is not true on the contrary they donate the maximum as compared to other countries for various causes they believe in so how can one call them selfish??
Something I still find fascinating yet at some level still equally disturbing is that Americans do not want to hurt you feeling and hence they will never ask you where you are from? but their opening statement to you when meeting for the 1st time is what do you do?
The first question does make sense, as there are a lot of people who have migrated to America from all around the world hence the communities that live in this country is mixed, so you might be a 1st or 2nd generation American, even though you look like an African or Asian. This brings me to the 2nd question, what do you do? This can be offensive form where we come from, my first thought is ‘who the hell are you? and why should I tell, you??’ (I don’t even know you, and you are so interested in, knowing about me, WHY??) Well this was explained to us, by Dr Weaver, as ‘Americans do not mean harm when they ask this question, they just want to identify the common ground to start a discussion and to know you better and network.
The third thing that really amazes me in this country is the tipping culture, back home tipping or not is your own preference depending on the service provided to us. Here tipping is a part of their culture, most of their service staff in restaurants, hotels etc are actually masters students or students doing their doctorate, who are working and studying at the same time. (remember I told you about pay their way to college, little time ago) Coming back to the tipping culture, I went to this place for dinner the other day, and my bill came with an instruction on how much to tip the waiter (3 options actually). My bill was $35, and the minimum tip amount expected was $8, I did have the option to pay more tip off course. I mean seriously $8 is a lot of money, It is my breakfast and lunch money combined.
This is only the outsiders perspective about American culture, now let’s try and see the American perception of America itself. I told some people from DC, I was placed for my training in Portland, and they told ‘ Ohh you poor darling , how would I manage to live with Cowboys’, now I was seriously confused I thought cowboys were mainly centered around Texas and not Portland, however I did not want to ask them and offend them in any way. Newsflash , I am in Portland, Oregon, and there are no Cowboys here.
I am one of those lucky fellows who are sharing an apartment with another fellow placed in the same organisation, so we discuss everything we see, understand and try to find a logic and reason for the same. Reading other fellows blogs made me realise that everyone is not this lucky, they are having a difficult time in coping as they are unable to communicate with someone on how they feel and somewhere have started having problems with bottling up their feeling. (off course writing it out is also an option, however it is not the same.). Dr Weaver said that if we bottle up our feelings and emotions it would reflect in our physical health.
I never thought culture shock could be so complicated and twisted. I mean; I think I might just write my thesis on it to better understand it from the perspective of an immigrant.