One of my students asked me why Americans do not celebrate All Saint’s Day. I’ve known some people who do celebrate, but not on as large of a scale as they do in other countries.
All Saint’s Day, or Wszystkich Świętych, is a national holiday in Poland that is celebrated every November first. At his time last year, The Husband and I were visiting a cemetery in Warsaw to observe the locals tidying grave sites and spending time with their loved ones who had passed on. Everyone (except candle and flower vendors, it seemed) had the day off from work, and the already crowded cemeteries were even more congested with families who had come from near and far.
The candles people buy and light on their loved one’s grave give off a particular scent, and the smell of it was noticeable before you even set foot in the cemetery.
I may not be Catholic, but I do really enjoy this holiday. I also think it’s fascinating to learn about how people in other cultures deal with the subject of death.
We live in tobacco country.
Until we moved here last August, I had never seen a tobacco plant before. And up until last week, when the last of the area’s plants had been harvested, I drove by them at least ten times a week.
I enjoyed driving by the neat rows of beautiful plants day after day, and watching the harvesting process has been interesting.
First, the plants are grown.
Then the plants are harvested.
The tobacco leaves are hung out to dry.
And then the tobacco leaves are moved indoors to dry some more, and then get cured.
The first time I saw a barn filled with curing tobacco sending spirals of smoke up into the sky, I pulled off the road and got ready to call 911 because I thought someone’s barn was on fire. And then I realized that the farmer and his farm hands were standing right outside the barn, not looking particularly concerned.
Yesterday, I was the accidental recipient of an email from the director of the commission in Morocco that oversees Fulbright grantees. He wanted to know about current class schedules for the 2012-2013 Fulbright ETAs.
Moments like that, and a number of others, have had me thinking about just how similar living here is to living in rural Morocco. Here are a few of my favorite ways in which rural, western Kentucky and Tennessee reminds me of my time in al-Maghreb:
1) People drink lots of tea, and they like it so sweet that it’ll make your teeth hurt.
2) The nearest airport is very small, and only has flights to one city.
3) If you’re at all different, folks may stare at you.
4) It is not uncommon for people to be selling used household goods on the side of the road/in parking lots, souk-style.
5) No one will think anything of it if you burn your trash.
6) People sit in chairs facing the street and watch the world go by.
7) Cash is king; your debit or credit card may be useless in a number of places.
8) Outside of town, driving down the middle of the road is commonly practiced.
10) Signs are often written in two languages.
11) There is a limited selection of many products, and certain things can only be found if you know where to look for them.
12) And best of all, people are very friendly and helpful once you get past any initial stares.
One of my Fulbright friends shared PSY’s “Gangnam Style” video with me a few months ago. She’s big into kpop, and knows I love fun dancing, and so she clued me into the awesomeness that is this video.
That video has followed me half-way around the world, all the while growing wildly in popularity. I now hear it regularly on the radio here – kpop on the radio in rural Kentucky.
Last week, one of my colleagues popped her head in my office to tell me that there was a “Gangnam Style” flash mob rumor spreading. The Murray State University Korean Student Association was selling kimbop in the middle of campus at lunch time.
As people streamed by, a dancing student claimed the center sidewalk, music started, and much of the rest of the Korean Student Association joined her for some lunchtime flash mob entertainment.
Good times were had by all, and I hear the kimbop was pretty tasty.
I went grocery shopping after work last Friday. Common enough occurrence, right? Surely no room for culture shock, especially for an American in her own country.
I know it’s always a bad idea to go grocery shopping when stores are crowded, and it’s an even worse idea to go on an empty stomach, but I didn’t want to grab fast food for dinner, and I didn’t want to have to head back “into town” on the weekend. And when I’m tired and hungry, I’m far less tolerant and a bit more cranky.
As I made my way toward the back of the store, I could feel myself sliding down into the second stage of culture shock. Up until this point, I’ve been almost exclusively chilling in stage one: the honeymoon.
During the honeymoon phase, many things in your new culture are bright, shiny and wonderful. Discovering differences between my culture and that of my new environment is one of my favorite things in life. This stage is lovely, but unfortunately, it doesn’t last forever.
Rejection, the second stage of culture shock, is a lot less pleasant. And it’s exactly where I found myself last Friday evening.
I only meant to run in and grab a few items for dinner, but instead, I found myself attempting to navigate around numerous people (and their double-parked shopping carts) who had stopped in the middle of an aisle to chat, searching the store for something that would be easy to locate back home, and having to come to terms with the fact that the store stopped carrying the one vegetarian product that I had gone there specifically for. When the store clerk explained that not enough people were buying it, I was mentally rejecting him and every other person in the store. The rejection continued as I waited in line and then played my part in the cashier greeting script because the store does not have self-check lanes.
My grocery store episode was really nothing, and could easily have been avoided. There was another episode though, a few weeks back, that was a good deal uglier.
The Husband and I stopped for coffee at a small roadside diner that we came across in a town outside of Murray. We sat at the counter, and a waitress was quick to take my order, and just as quick to completely ignore my husband. Perhaps she somehow failed to see the man sitting two feet to my left, but we were the only two customers at the counter, and I really don’t see how she could have missed him. I don’t know her motivation for choosing to ignore him. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I also have to wonder if she didn’t address him because his skin tone is a few shades darker than my own. Just another drop in the culture shock bucket, right?
I haven’t reached the third or fourth stages of culture shock here yet, but I’m sure that some day, I’ll find myself both accepting and adapting to life in the rural south.
And I’m really hoping that I never again encounter ignorant behavior like the scene from the diner; racism isn’t something I want to accept or adapt to.