Adjusting to Local Cultures
When we discuss culture here in the US, our minds usually travel abroad to exotic places where old traditions reign. We don’t ever consider the US as an intricacy of regional and local cultures that make up the nation. Having traveled abroad and across the US, as well as having lived in three different states, I know not to expect each location or dwelling to be homogenous.
I remember my first move from Brooklyn, NY. I had just moved to Cincinnati, OH and it felt like another world, as if I had just jumped off a plane and landed in a quaint town in Germany. The hills, the exotic food, and the German influence throughout the city threw my entire system off. Of course you can’t get any cultured than Brooklyn, NY, but my new home was different. Whereas I was accustomed to living in a multicultural city, I found myself in a place that was polarized by one section of the world.
Things were so much more different in Cincinnati. Like how they pronounced the word “data”, or the unexpected influence that the local university had on the place. Everywhere I went, the way people interacted, spoke, and just ran around doing their business was different. Fortunately, I was there only a year, so all I got from the experience was slight exposure, as opposed to having the opportunity to absorb a new way of doing things.
After spending five years abroad, I made my way to Oklahoma, which was a culture shock. The first town I moved in, Edmond, OK, felt completely isolated from the rest of the world. People there congregated either at church, with family, or behind the security of their shuttered window blinds. Rarely did anyone come out on the streets except to mow the lawn or to collect the mail. It was the first time I was exposed to play dates, and an extraordinary level of volunteering at schools and community events. It was as if I was still living abroad, in another setting, far, far away from the US. Once again, everything was different. The culture centered around church, God, and family and if you didn’t belong to neither, you were kept at a wide distance and greeted with pleasantries from afar. It took me about 12 years to adjust. Thankfully, my kids were preschoolers, so they had the advantage of absorbing the culture and adjusting just fine. Not me. I found myself packing our bags right before school ended in May and heading to New York, where I would work and live in the security of the culture familiar to me since infancy.
Then there were the trips I took around the US to visit family and friends. Let’s just say that these other states, which spanned the two US coasts, were just as different from one another. Residents there lived in silos, and they had similar tastes unlike those found anywhere else in the US.
I have great memories of my travels, both aboard and throughout the US, but it never occurred to me how this exposure had me adjusting from one location to another. Probably because where ever it was I landed, my work always brought me back to New York, and so everywhere seemed so temporary. That all changed when I started working full-time in Oklahoma. That was another shelter shock. Even the way they conducted business was unlike any other place. And that difference was clear when a few of my peers would approach me and ask me particular questions about their interactions with colleagues in New York. Questions which ranged from curiosity about the way New Yorkers spoke, the speed at which they conducted business, and how they could add a little more manners to their communication skills. it was the first time I noticed the stereotypes and misunderstandings that could happen at a national level. This was even clearer during my time in New York whenever anyone would ask me about the faint new dialect that managed to interlace with my Brooklyn one. Whenever I mentioned my new home in Oklahoma, all the New Yorkers could think to ask about were cowboys, rodeos, and horses.
All this is fine. Such exposure has made me a more rounded person. My children have learned to adjust easily to any surrounding and they’re lucky enough to have friends from all backgrounds. Yet this experience wasn’t without its challenges. It’s been tougher than I expected at times, especially after I entered the local workforce. While clients and customers get a kick out of whatever is left of my east coast dialect, there’s still colleagues and others who feel they have to stand up a little straighter and thrust their chests toward me, speak a little more direct, and forget to say please and thank you when they’re interacting with me.
This is a challenge that many current workers face, especially among the newer generations who are so eager and willing to move around for employment. I’ll tell you from my own experience, it’s a lot tougher than they let on, especially when they’re having to adjust from one culture to another, but they will eventually, somewhere down the line, understand the benefits of allowing themselves to open up to differences, even if it’s at the national level. Believe it or not, this is the wokeness that liberals and progressives embrace and conservatives shy away from. It’s an opportunity to narrow the differences among people, to bring everyone closer together to understanding that those differences are not anything to be afraid of, but to absorb and adapt as time goes on so we’re not so isolated from our neighbors, ourselves, and the rest of the world.