Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Culture Shock

This post first appeared as a guest post on www.ktravula.com. Check it out and pay special attention to the nice things the author of the blog, my kind colleague Kola, says about me. :-)

When I was 22, I emigrated from Ukraine to Canada. I was fully prepared to experience a massive culture shock but none came. Sure, it took some time to get used to the idea of a credit card and a check-book, realize that a bus driver doesn’t give out change and there is no need to negotiate the price of a ride with the cab-driver before getting into the cab, and figure out why maple syrup can be poured on bacon and eggs. The process of learning these small things was really fun and caused me no shock whatsoever.

Five years later I decided to go to graduate school in the United States. Having lived in North America for a while, watching American TV and reading American books and newspapers, I expected even less of a culture shock on this change of residence. I was only moving to Connecticut, where the climate and the way of life were supposed to be pretty similar to what I had gotten used to in Canada.

Boy, was I ever wrong. A massive culture shock hit me immediately after crossing the US border and remained with me for years to come. It took time and effort to understand this new reality, learn to like, and eventually even love it.

I the US I discovered a deeply divided society. Glaring class inequalities, the likes of which I never saw back in Canada, racism, religious fanaticism, gender inequalities, economically devastated areas with the kind of poverty I never saw even back in Ukraine, crime, violence, inept governmental structures. All this was very different from the US I had seen in movies and TV shows.

But soon I also discovered that yet another US exists. The country of intellectuals, thinkers, artists. The country of hard-working, kind, generous people, who have not abandoned the struggle for the perfect society they inherited from their founders. The country of intellectually curious people. The country of people who hate injustice and inequality. The country that deserves better than the corrupt structures governing them.

When people read the very critical things I write about the US on my blog, they sometimes ask me, “Why do you live in this country if you dislike it so much?” But I ask, does hating injustice and inequality mean hating America? Or is it just the opposite?

9 comments:

V said...

I guess the differences between different areas within on country are larger than between country's averages. Thus, cities matter, not countries, from the viewpoint of culture shock.

Because I can write the following:
Estonia to US: "I was fully prepared to experience a massive culture shock but none came. " :) :)

US to Canada: "A massive culture shock hit me immediately after crossing the US/Canadian border and remained with me for years to come. It took time and effort to understand this new reality, learn to like, and eventually even love it." :) :)

In Canada I discovered:
a deeply divided society;
glaring class inequalities, the likes of which I never saw back in the US;
less racism but otherwise all imaginable ethnicity/religion based prejudice;
less Christian religious fanaticism, but more of any other kind;
gender inequalities;
economically devastated areas;
less violent crime but orders of magnitude more corruption;
much more inept governmental structures.

And one thing you did not mention but which summarizes the several last points: lack of work ethics.

Clarissa said...

I have lived in different parts of the US: New Haven CT, Ithaca NY, Lafayette IN, Maltimore MD. Edwardsville IL. My impressions have been the same in all these places.

It makes sense that inequalities would be harsher in the US. There is no accessible healthcare system, no guaranteed maternity leave, no accessible higher education, no safety net for the indigent and the unemployed. So my impressions on the inequlities that are greater in US than in Canada are based on facts. I have no idea how you can see the opposite, if the facts do not support it. Is your response more emotionally based?

Also, I have no idea what you mean by lack of work ethics. If you mean people sitting in their facebook accounts wuring working hours, that happens everywhere.

Clarissa said...

Maltimore. :-) :-) :-)

I meant Baltimore, of course.

Today I'm having a mumbly day.

tinceiri said...

It is hard for me to compare "how bad things are" in one country to "how bad things are" are in another country. It has a tendency to turn things into a "compare and contrast" game and to mitigate problems.

In regards to specifically referring to circumstances where racism or sexism is somehow "worse" in one country than in another - I’ve always felt that this has often been used as a distraction technique, and it is something that one is not even aware of.

For example, just because racism happens in the United States with African Americans or Hispanics doesn’t make problems with racism for Indigenous Canadians more acceptable or any less important to criticize. And it shouldn't.

However, politicians (particularly Romanian politicians, ugh) have intentionally used the "it's worse in _______" technique to brush problems of disparity under the rug. And sadly, it is a technique that works.

Sometimes it's hard to figure out why this works, if this sort of widespread ignorance is something that we do to ourselves.

jjjooommm222 said...

Your question is the same many ask when called unpatriotic or america-haters because they oppose a particular nature of our government.

Obviously the accusation is stupid. I love america and find it to be among the best countries in the world in terms of government and freedom (especially freedom of speech, essentially unmatched around the world in its scope).

I also have large problems with the inequalities of government actors and the qualities of some of its citezins, but I care about these things even more so because I value the country. As for criticisms of the people, they certainly aren't the country, and anyone saying your unpatriotic because you oppose popular bigotry or statism is without a clue.

Clarissa said...

tinceiri: This post was about my personal impressions of the two countries. I don't see anythi9ng wrong in trying to analyze your experiences and make personal judgements.

jjjooommm222: Thank you!!

tinceiri said...

I didn't say that there was anything wrong. It just reminded me of how people like to play "compare and contrast," which you didn't do. :)

Clarissa said...

It starts looking like from a thrid-wavers' perspective, one should abstain from expressing any opinion whatsoever. Unless of course it is the venerable opinion that "everybody's choices should be accepted."

tinceiri said...

nice tr0ll :)