Monday, August 2, 2010

Culture Shock

Ok, this is another piece from my saved writings. I figure it will take a long time to rack up the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell says I will need to be good what I want to become, "a writer." One of these days I'll tally up the hours from these recycled pieces to see how much further I need to go. This piece was written for a class in writing for publication. I was supposed to submit it for publication, but I never did.

Eavesdropping on the American couple at the next table at the Intercontinental Hotel restaurant in Manila, I smiled - no, smirked- to myself when I heard them order Thousand Island dressing with Ceasar's salad. I should have thought then of karma.

So you've grown up on Hollywood movies; read, written, and spoken English (aside from Tagalog, Ilongo, Pampango, Cebuano, or whatever) all your life; regularly met with friends for lunch or coffee at five-star hotel restaurants; shopped at the very best malls in Makati where you could buy products from all over the world. Do you think that means you're exempt from culture shock? Guess again!

Here are some things I wish I had known when I first set foot in California:
On language:
  • Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel are not representative of the way Americans speak. Newscasters enunciate things more clearly and speak more slowly.
  • The pronunciation you learned from Webster's will often not be the way Americans pronounce words, and they will correct you!
On social interaction:
  • People no more want to hear how you really are when they say "How are you?" than you want to know where the other guy is going in Manila when you ask him where he's going. You say "Pretty good. And you?" and the other person says "Good," and all through that interchange, both of you keep going.
  • You have to learn how to introduce yourself to people. There is so much mobility that you can't rely on finding a mutual acquaintance to do that for you.
It's the little things, however, that'll kill you! You encounter a different type of faucet, figure out how to use it, and feel great about yourself. The you encounter another, and another, and soon come upon one that you couldn't figure out. Help! And then there's the toilet flush tank in all shapes and sizes, with levers and buttons in different places.
America is the land of many choices; that's one of the things most people like about it. But to a newcomer, it makes even a simple matter of ordering a sandwich an ordeal. do you want white, wheat, rye, sourdough, croissant, or bagel, etc., etc.; with ketchup, mustard, relish, onions, lettuce, etc., etc.? Do you want hash browns, or fries, or baked potato with that? Do you want your eggs sunny side up, over easy, scrambled, or poached? Someone I know was frozen to inaction at the supermarket -- she simply wanted some hotdogs and found a whole aisle to choose from.

But take heart, pump up that good old Filipino sense of humor, and you'll soon have people exclaiming in surprise when you tell them you haven't been here very long!

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