Since the summer of 2004 I have lived in Central Asia. With the exception of a brief and busy 3 week trip to the States for a wedding, we have lived here, surrounded by this culture. We have learned the language, learned those culture maps we need to figure out how to get our hair cut and where to pay our water bill. We haven’t been isolated from all American media, but I think we’ve seen a 95% drop in our exposure to it. Right now, where I sit in my computer chair, I don’t see many changes in myself. But, I know that I have changed.
Sometimes a culture is better observed from the outside. The best person to observe that culture is always an insider who understands it. So, an insider who is outside can see some things that others can’t. For example, I recently watched an episode of an American TV show. While in the States, I thoroughly enjoyed this show (and, as you know from my post on movies a few days ago, I am really picky). But, this time I had to turn the show off. It’s been 2 years and the show has slowly become more violent, sexual, and full of language. I talked to some friends in the States about this and they hadn’t noticed a difference. It had slowly changed — and escaped their notice.
Here’s where it gets tricky for those of us who live internationally: When we are affected by things in our own home culture and react against them, some people take these reactions as personal criticisms. Others think that we’ve become haters of our own home culture. Some become uber-patriotic because they think that we are undermining the fabric of America. I personally have faced many reactions from many people and I know that I will face more when we are back for this visit. I have also heard from many friends who’ve faced these reactions.
So, everyone who I will see or who will read my blog while I’m in the States, please know this: The point of this post isn’t to make you see things my way if I express an opinion different from yours. The point is to help you understand where I’m coming from. I’ve been away from our culture awhile. I have missed out on some subtle changes. I have gone through massive personal changes while I’m here. I will see some aspects of culture when I return that will make me cry at the beauty of them. I will see others that will only make me angry. (And add pregnancy hormones into all of this: You’ve got a regular soap opera on the way!)
So, to help you out, here’s a guidebook to what I may say and what I do and don’t mean. Maybe it’ll help you understand where I’ll be coming from and how you can best react.
When I say: “Man, I missed enchiladas!”
I don’t mean: “Man, the food over there STINKS!”
I mean: “Man, I missed enchiladas! Pass the chips & hot sauce. And can I have more refried beans?”
When I say: “This restaurant/cafe/mall/library is really noisy.”
I don’t mean: “Rude Americans never know when to shut their traps! I, however, am on a different plane of existance and speak with a quieter, more elegant tone of voice. I’m not so uncouth as all of you hillbillies!”
I do mean: “I usually can’t understand all of the conversations going on around me. They’re in a different language and I can block them out. Plus, people in Central Asia talk more softly in public. All of these conversations going on everywhere are really overloading my ears. I’m not used to this.”
When I say: “I like living in Central Asia.”
I don’t mean: “I hate you materalistic, shallow, stupid Americans! This culture is going to Hades in a handbasket and I’m really glad to get out of it! I think we should all leave the States and move somewhere else!”
I do mean: “My neighbors and friends are very kind. They help us feel like we fit in. My husband’s job is going well. Overall, we like our lives in CA. But, we still miss all of you.”
When I say: (anything relating to my religious beliefs)
I don’t mean: “I am so holy. You aren’t. You should ask me to pray for you. Because I’m better. And God listens to me. Not poor suckers like you.”
I do mean: “I’m a struggling seeker like so many people on this planet. By God’s grace, I’ve seen some of who He is. But, I’ll spend the rest of my life learning the rest of Him and it still won’t scratch the surface. Tell me what you know and let’s learn from one another and seek together awhile.”
When I say: “Sometimes it’s stressful to live in another culture.”
I don’t mean: “I hate it! I should move back! Life is perfect in America and terrible over there! It was a mistake to move! I’m unhappy!”
I do mean: “Sometimes I really miss my home culture and how easy it is to maneouver through it. However, I know I’m supposed to be where I am.”
When I call Central Asia “home”
I don’t mean: “I don’t want to associate myself with America anymore. It’s not home to me anymore. It’s just a place I visit.”
I do mean: “All of my stuff and my job is in Central Asia. That’s where my house is. That’s where I currently live. Therefore, that’s my current home. It never diminishes the importance of my hometown or my home country.”
When I say: “Can we go to Sonic and get a Route 44 Cherry Limeade Slush?”
I don’t mean: “Can we go to Sonic and get a small Route 44 Cherry Limeade Slush at some point in the near future?”
I mean: “Can we go get a Route 44 Cherry Limeade Slush and a Vanilla Dr Pepper Slush and a Chocolate Pie Shake and all those other yummy things I miss? Right now? Ooh! And some cheesy tater tots?”
I am looking forward to our visit to the States. And, I’m grateful to have so many encouraging and supportive friends and family. I hope that I get to see all of you and that we can go to Sonic or Taco Bell or Cheddar’s or Chili’s or Long John Silver’s or any BBQ stand together and have a long chat about our lives over some good junk food.
*That’s “Culture Shock” in reverse. Get it? Reverse Culture Shock? Yeah, I’m so clever. I’ve been giggling about this all day.