Tuesday, April 10, 2007


By coincidence that I saw a book entitled, Culture Shock! A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette by Esther Wanning. The author explained that the book provides necessary information to help anyone who experiences cultural shock with hints and tips to make their lives as normal as possible. Cultural shock is defined as "a state of disorientation" that overcomes a person who has been thrust into unknown surroundings when they move to a new country.

I thought how nice it would have been if I was given this book when I first arrived in New York. I would settled in with the greatest of ease, knowing all about dos and don'ts and understood the behaviors of the people around me. But wait, how could I make use of the book since I did not know the English language? As if reading my mind, the author wrote on page 188, "You (the reader) presumably speak English well or you wouldn't be reading this book." Too bad if you don't speak English well, or not at all, trying to survive in the new country, especially in New York City, good luck (my post script)!

I learned quickly different ways people say hello or extend greetings, "What's up?", "How you've been?", "What's news?", "What's going on?" etc., all have the same meaning as the question "How are you?". Also, when someone said, "How are you?", they did not really want to know how I was and the appropriate polite, yet short response should be, "I am fine. Thank you."

More than twenty years later, I am still not comfortable addressing someone who is considerably older or in high position, by first name. My professors at Saint Louis University could not understand why I was the only graduate student who addressed them as "Dr. Anderson" or "Professor Scott". Call me old fashion, I am dismayed and could not accept young people, particularly children, calling adults by their first names. (RJS (February 19, 2007 entry) would confirm that to this day I would not address him by his first name.)

From the co-workers of my early days in America, I learned about "the long weekend" or the three-day weekends, when we all got a day off either on Friday or the Monday on major federal holidays such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I noticed how people would stand around telling each other about the trips they took or how they enjoyed the days off and did not start to get any work done until almost noon.

I learned to say "Thank You" when someone complimented how nice I look or about my pretty new shirt/shoes. And when someone said "Thank You", I should say "You're Welcome" and not "It was nothing" or "I did not do anything". It took me a long time to join in the celebration when a co-worker celebrated her birthday. I could not understand why the person had to announce to the entire office or making sure that everyone knew and wished her happy birthday.

One of the funny thing I still remember to this day was my misunderstanding of an expression that was truly American. The first time a person said to me "Would you go to bat for me?" when he requested an order to be shipped the next day, I thought he said, "Would you go to bed with me?" I was so shocked. I handed the phone over to a co-worker. Later, I told MC, a trusted friend, after MC explained to me what the expression was, we had a good laugh for a few days.

More about my culture shock in future entries, for now, I am proud to say I have survived and have come a long way since my early days in America.

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