You might think that anyone who moves to a new country might be in for a bit of culture shock. If the person is coming to America from a wealthy Western European nation, Norway let’s say, you may not expect the shock to be too great. After all, aren’t we as advanced as any of the other leading nations of the world? Would we not seem as modern and progressive as anywhere else? If we leave the political situations out of the equation, you might think those from the most prosperous of countries would feel at home here. Of course, if their nations are modern, prosperous and progressive, you might wonder if there is much interest in emigrating here. I have not met any new Norwegians in the neighborhood.
Arriving at Chicago O’Hare
What of those coming from South or Central America, for example? Would the architecture astound? Would the museums and parks enthrall? Would the restaurants, night clubs and bars amaze? Would the typical tourists spots excite? Let’s say you are coming to Chicago. Would you be blown away by the skyline? Would the Planetarium be out of this world? Perhaps the things that we would think provide culture shock are not those things at all. So we have a giant bean in the park (Cloud gate, actually), will this surprise a new resident?
In a world where the internet is just about everywhere, a new resident, no matter what part of the planet he or she comes from, would likely have researched the new destination. The immigrant would have seen the famous locales, and then it is only a matter of visiting in person what has been seen online. The tourists spots and infamous towers were already known. They may provide some momentary amazement but no surprise and certainly no culture shock. No, it is other things that brought shock to my new South American roommate. Surprisingly, they were in my home.
For a couple of months I saw my roommate peel potatoes with a large knife. I never thought much of it until one day I realized he should be using the potato peeler. So I got it out of the drawer and took a potato from him and showed him how I do it. Yes, this was one of the many culture shock moments. My kitchen was filled with little gadgets that were not common to a poor household in South America. Imagine what you have in your kitchen that would be a surprise, even a shock to others.
“Rich!” my mate called out one day. I came running, so to speak, (OK, I wasn’t actually running) as if something was wrong in the kitchen. We had recently been to the supermarket, another culture shock, where roomie had picked out some cans of tuna in oil. He showed me the can and his face told me the problem. They just did not buy canned goods in his area. Getting into a can was a mystery. I handed him a can opener but he returned it with the best “What the hell do I do with this?” look. This gave me the opportunity to demonstrate the fine art of the can opener. While we now know how to open cans, we also had to learn that we do not drain off the oil into the sink. This is why I save certain jars.
While the kitchen is filled with unique gadgets, I did not expect that the coffee maker was one of them. I guess what I have is non-traditional. It is a Hamilton Beach that has a reservoir on top and you dispense the coffee like a pop machine by depressing the lever. Roomie told a neighbor I did not have a coffee maker with a coffee pot. The nice neighbor gave him one for Christmas. Now we have two perfectly fine coffee makers. I was shocked to find a guy from Colombia who does not know how to make good coffee. Fortunately he does not read me so I can continue to insist his weak efforts at coffee-making are just fine. I have tried to buy coffee that mentions “Colombia” on the package as one of us thinks it is the only good coffee in the world. I do not wish to shock him with coffee from other lands.
He has, of course, seen microwaves, but never actually had one. He had a television with a remote, but not multiple remotes for multiple devices. I am still trying to get him to use the on and off buttons for the satellite remote. The “on” button will turn on the satellite box and TV and when you hit it again it will turn off the television. I frequently find the box is still on while the TV is off. Getting television from other countries was no surprise, but I guess the amount of them is a bit of a shock.
The stove is rather interesting, I guess. It is not two burners hooked to a giant propane tank. It is five gas burners I have been unsuccessful in explaining that the flame is not just on or off, but you can control the level. Everything is cooked with a high flame which usually means we have another in-home annoyance. The smoke detector is shocking every time it goes off, which is just about every time roomie cooks.
The biggest shock to date is the weather and the temperature indoors and out. The house is not a comfortable 85 degrees during the day as it is in his homeland. Now that my warm weather room-mate has figured out what the up and down arrows on the thermostat are for, I am usually in for a shock when I come in the house from outside. Thankfully it is a programmable thermostat and resets periodically. Wait until he finds out how 85 feels in Chicago in July or August when the humidity is high. Yes, the culture shock will keep coming.