I wasn’t accustomed to being the odd one. So it took me by surprise that people stared at us. All the time: In Walgreens, in the grocery store, on the sidewalk, while driving by. They would see me on my bike and crane their necks out the window as if I had green skin and two heads.
I also wasn’t very experienced with super duper kindness in person upon the first time meeting but then the cold shoulder otherwise after that. But that is how we were (are) sometimes treated here. It makes me leery of any kindness extended, because I am unsure this person will speak to me again.
Finally, I had to adjust my own driving style to accommodate the TAILGATING here! It is so scary. I just drive a little slower than the speed limit and put my blinker on way before I need to turn. So many cars here are dented (or worse) and it doesn’t take a genius to understand it’s because of the way they drive.
Of course, now that I’m used to these things, I realize also that people aren’t as touchy feely as I’m used to and aren’t as responsive to conversational opinions either. Most times I just get a blank stare when I say something. To soothe the awkwardness of social interactions and ease into another culture, consider the following:
- It is easy to romanticize where you formerly lived and think where you live currently is full of odd cultural ticks. Even though you might still be in the US, there are regional and even municipal cultural aspects that differ significantly place to place. Accept it: What’s normal for you is balls-out weird for others.
- Personal space is a key cultural factor. Figure it out. For example, most people don’t want to be hugged by a stranger during a conversation, but that’s how people operate in Eugene, Oregon. Conversely, I was hugged by an elderly Latina as I dropped her off at her appointment when I was a driver for the Red Cross here in Wichita; I have never seen her again. It just depends.
- All citizens in the US either are immigrants or descendents of immigrants. That means that another country’s culture has been transplanted here as well. So it could help you understand some nuances by learning about what settlers colonized where you live and then read a travel guide on cultural competency for the original country. For example, it helped me to understand that parts of Kansas were colonized by religious Swiss immigrants. Since I’ve lived in Switzerland too, I started recognizing cultural similarities in small Kansas towns and here in Wichita. In fact, for some people in Kansas German is their mother tongue, so some Kansas government documents have a German-language version. Cool!
- Change. Don’t do what is comfortable to you. Mimic and imitate. Observe what locals do. You might fit in more quickly and get a favorable response sooner. Instead of expecting chatty customer service, I state the facts now and reduce my friendliness to wait staff unless they initiate something more.
- Get a sense of humor (that’s culturally sensitive). Everyone likes a good laugh!
What have you done to adapt to your new place? Let me know in the comments!