Sunday, December 9, 2007

Culture Shocked

I have spent my entire life living between different cultures; as a product of French-Canadian/Catholic heritage living in a town where everyone was either Italian or Jewish, the only daughter surrounded by brothers, the youngest amongst my siblings and friends due to a birthday late in the year, growing up in a city and spending summers in an extremely rural area, growing up middle class in a upper middle class milieu, living as a foreigner abroad, working as a foreigner in my own country but for foreign governments... and the list goes on and on. I have always been too other for the one that I was with. What has happened is that this is where I am most comfortable.

What I have learned from all this is to stop (to the best of my ability) being shocked by differences, other cultures - this is the direct result of always having had to explain differences/nuances to others - to ease their shock.

I went to a premier of a French movie recently and at the event afterwards I was with a French friend - at the bar when someone who worked on the film festival came up to us and asked my friend - so were the Americans shocked? To which I said, well I wasnt and cant understand why people found the film shocking but I cant speak for my fellow countrymen. The response to this was a "mais bien sur vous ne pouvez pas" well if it is so obvious that I cant speak for a country of multiple millions of citizens - why did you just ask me to?

Then I found myself trying to explain why I am American and wasnt shocked - as this seemed odd since a lot of audience members left looking shell-shocked and hadnt applauded. Could there be an age difference? It depends on what you have done and seen in your life - I have lived most of my life in major cities - so seemingly "alternative" lifestyles dont really shock me.

I left frustrated at having been put on the spot and then somewhat disregarded since my opinions didnt measure up to someone else's expectations. I was brushed off as being different since I didnt agree.

Since I am often on the receiving end of these conversations - I really try to the best of my ability to relativise things - while it may look "bizarre", "etrange", or shocking to you - it is perfectly normal or maybe there are reasons for it in another place and time. Isnt it more interesting to look into that?

I think I take offense as I find the word shocking to be very violent. It is a violent reaction to something the clearly isnt understood by the "other".

I say this but everyone has things that shock them - prejudice shocks me. I just wish that before judging we could ask questions instead of seeing the "other" as bizarre or shocking. I find that that means you really dont understand something and you dont care to look inside.


A said...

Thanks for sharing about your personal situation and background. We've talked about this many times before. You and I don't represent the "average" American but when we paint a picture of the "average" ethnic group as so and so, then we're doing a disservice to everyone. Next time your French friends ask if you're shocked by something, you may want to ask them if they're shocked by women on the beach who wear tops. Show them how ridiculous their question is.

joy suzanne said...


I keep checking in... hope everything is ok!