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Friday, May 04, 2007

Culture Shock 1

These days Dad and I are driving back and forth to the house in Lawrence almost every day. If traffic permits, we can go one way in just over 45 minutes. If we get behind the guy who is talking on his cell phone and drinking coffee while driving this winding, unpassable road, we can easily get up to an hour. And so I find myself with very little time for posting to Roblog. This is a shame, because the last three weeks have been a whirlwind of emotion, events, and culture shock, and I want to capture some of these feelings while they are still stirring my neurons.

First, allow me to review the concept of culture shock: Culture shock is when you suddenly realize on a gut level that you are no longer in the culture that you were used to. Often this comes from moving from one country to another, but anyone who has seen "My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding" realizes that it is very possible to experience without leaving your home town. And if you think there are no possibilities for culture shock in your home town, you are either living in a very small town, or you need to meet a wider variety of people in your town.

It's not always negative. Like the "shock" of tasting a new food that is destined to be your favorite even though it looks so-so and no one has previously told you anything about it. Something so good that your mouth can't quite believe that it hasn't died and gone to heaven. It incapacitates your ability to think or take in information through your other senses. You most likely gasp, moan or utter some sort of demi-religious comment.

You may have heard the term "reverse culture shock" to describe the experience of people in my situation: they have spent a long time in a different country, then return to their country of origin, only to find that you can never go back home. To me, there is little point in using the word "reverse". Culture shock is culture shock.

Anyway, on to the examples:

When we got off the plane in Minneapolis, I went to the bathroom. I was pleasantly shocked to find that I could stand at a urinal without physically touching the guys standing on either side of me! Not only that, there were little dividing walls separating us! But wait, there's more! Neither of them leaned over for a surreptitious look at my business! And the restroom itself, which was very public, did not smell of urine!

That little shock was when I first really, truly realized that I was no longer in Korea. Granted, if I were to go to a restroom in a sports stadium, I would likely notice very few differences from the average Korean restroom. And I had the pleasure of using a number of restrooms in Korea that could have been found in an American restaurant. But this Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport restroom was not what I had gotten used to over the past ten years.

Likewise, buying a cola was quite an experience. In the last couple of weeks I have relearned that you don't order a "large" coke unless you are either very, very thirsty or at Sonic, where they have two sizes larger than the cup they label "large". At Sonic, their "large" is old-school large, and it's usually good enough for me. And I love their cherry-limeades, with real chunks of lime thrown in for good measure. Goodness, that is a lovely beverage.

And while I'm on the subject of soft-drinks, I am still shocked at what a wide variety of beverages are available at fast-food restaurants, never mind the quarter-mile aisle of the grocery store. The cola-wars may be over, but we are still tasting the sweet fall-out. The other day I bought a case of "Pepsi Summer", a limited time version of Pepsi, specially created to celebrate the delights of summer by adding a fruity after-taste to Pepsi.

I like it. It's kind of similar to Lemon Pepsi, which I also enjoyed. I drank it semi-faithfully, and it disappeared off of shelves within a few months. My therapist says it's ridiculous, even arrogant to blame myself for this. What does a multi-national corporation like Pepsico care about the drinking habits of a between-jobs-English-teacher? Yeah, that's right: nothing.

Here's another shock: everything you buy here costs more than the price tag says, and if it's food at a restaurant, it costs like 20 or 30 percent more! What the heck! You get up to the counter and they say, "Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that you have to pay sales tax on that, so it's more than the price tag says. Yeah, I could have included the tax on the price tag, but I guess I was busy pointing this laser scanner at that dude to see how much he would cost." Lame. You may not think so, because you are used to it, but trust me: it is possible to label an object with the actual amount of money that you will have to fork over if you want to own it. If they can do it in Korea, I'm sure that we can do it here.

So that's seven percent (in Kansas, like I care what they do in those other freaky states). Throw in tips, and things get expensive pretty quickly. I'm not complaining about tips, but they were a shock to come back to. I believe that tipping is a fantastic way to reward servers in proportion to the job that they do. Just think about it: how many opportunities do you have to wait until a job is done and then decide how much you are going to pay?

Speaking of money, where the heck are all the A.T.M.s? In Pusan they were all over the place, but here you're going to need a car to find one. And a treasure map. And maybe a parrot to ride on your shoulder.

Yikes. It's after midnight. I've been waking up before seven for the last couple of weeks, so I'd better get to bed. I'll be back with more culture shock and stuff whenever I get around to it.

1 comment:

Jeff said...


I think the clock on your computer is still set to quasi-Pusan time. Your post says it was posted on Saturday May 5 but I am reading it in Bangkok and it is only 4:30pm on Friday May 4.


A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.