The Broad is Back!

June 6, 2008

Culture shock, again? Yeah!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — by maggiec @ 1:22 pm

One thing that has definitely shocked me during this year’s sojourn is the level of culture shock I’m experiencing.  How could NY be so close and yet culturally so far?  I don’t know why I’m surprised.  I used to tell my Swedish students that the US is made up of 46 sovereign states and 4 commonwealths, and each state has its own subtle differences.  I thought I was overstating to make a point.  Seems like I wasn’t!  Well, maybe I was a bit.  It’s more like there are regional differences.  As much as it pains me to say this, New Yorkers have a lot in common with folks from Jersey (um, that’s tongue-in-cheek–I have relatives in Jersey, and in fact, that’s where some of my earliest ancestors to the States started out).   NY-NJ-PA, we’re the Middle States.  We’re nothing like these New Englanders!

Of course, I have some students here from Connecticut, and they say they don’t understand the folks from MA.  So it’s a series of variations amongst variations.

I had thought that our being American transcended other differences, and when we’re in Europe or Asia, it definitely does.  But when we’re just interacting with one another, it’s back to regional differences.  I’ve had to come to the sad realization that my students here in MA just don’t understand me.  One of those students, born in NYC, with relatives in NYC still, but reared here, confirmed my suspicions when he told me flat out, “they don’t get you”.  Before I moved to Asia, I’d never lived out of NY, and I worked for city and state schools, so I only taught immigrants or native New Yorkers.  Who knew kids from NE were so different?  I really thought mass internet and television exposure had homogenized Americans.  It has, to some extent, but obviously not fully.

My mom’s dad was from Virginia, so as a child, she would make visits down there to see his side of the family.  She remembers it was like going to a different country.  Not only were the flora and fauna very different, there were also different stores, different food, different styles of dress, and in those days, segregation, a system of apartheid she just couldn’t understand.  She lives down south now as a retiree, and while she still feels like she’s “somewhere else,” it’s a totally different place from the south of her childhood.

And on some levels, I expect the south to be different.  Psychologically speaking, the Mason-Dixon line is still there.  Applying for jobs down there, I knew to expect a different type of student.  I knew the demographics were totally different.  But I think geography threw me.  MA is right next to NY.  How could people here be so different?  Stupid, I know, especially for someone who has lived in Europe.  Switzerland is right next to Italy. Totally different worlds!  Sweden is right next to Denmark.  People from those two countries, while very similar, really get on one another’s nerves!  Why should New York and Massachusetts be different?

So I hear you asking, what are those differences?  Well, for what is traditionally the most liberal state in the Union, Massachusetts has an awfully conservative population, and I mean that both politically and socially.  To me, they don’t seem as open as New Yorkers.  When sober (remember, I teach college students–the age of the binge drinker), they are definitely quieter than New Yorkers.  There’s a more circumspect way of approaching things that I didn’t expect.  In New York, when you’re acting stupid, people will tell you.  Perfect strangers have no problem telling you to straighten up and act right.  Loudly.  Often in colorful language.  So even when I tone myself way down, in their perception, I’m still rude to them.  I’m sorry.  If you do something unacceptable in my class, I’m going to tell you.  I kind of think that’s part of my job.  But nope.  I’m thinking I’m expected to ignore it.  As you can probably tell, this is a subject I’ll be getting back to!

I think they save all of their aggression and self expression for driving.  People from Massachusetts warned me about MA drivers–affectionately called “Massholes” even by one another.  Compared to Taiwan drivers, they are downright civilized, but then Taiwan drivers are the worst I’ve ever seen.  They make driving in NYC feel like a Sunday drive in the country.  Frankly, I feel safer driving in NYC rush hour/holiday traffic than I do driving around town here in MA.  I believe in being a defensive driver, but people here seem to think it’s my responsibility to avoid being hit.  Once I figured that out, all was fine!

So yes, this is a theme I will be exploring in the future, but I wanted to sound them out a bit here.  Stay tuned for more regional prejudices, I mean, observations, to come in the days ahead!


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