Thursday, August 25, 2011

Culture Shock - Southern Style

On my many walks through campus today, on this first day of fall classes at Belmont, I realized (for the fourth or fifth time in my life) how much more intensely I feel the culture shock when re-entering my own culture than when  initially leaving it for another.  As I strolled up the newly repaved paths from my apartment in Belmont Commons to the Massey Business Center at the top of the hill, I was puzzled by the happy faces making eye contact with me as I passed and even - gasp! - smiling!?  I kept thinking, "What's going on? What do these people want from me?"  

I learned very quickly in Russia - and was reminded during that first month in Western Europe - that making eye contact isn't the proper way to conduct oneself while walking on a city street.  And smiling is simply out of the question; socially acceptable only as a kid or teenage girl, and even then - only when greeting very close friends or family. To smile at a stranger is downright provocative.
(No wonder I had a perpetual trail of Russian guys behind me those first few weeks in St. Petersburg...)

There are other things I'm still getting used to, too.  Like driving.  Everywhere.  It was nice to rediscover my personal vehicle upon my arrival in Nashville, and even nicer that I could profit from its use while moving into a new apartment. But I'm still in the habit of forecasting the day's mileage every morning when getting dressed and selecting footwear from my closet, and frankly I'd rather be out in the fresh air, using the legs God gave me - than scrunched up lethargically in a car. 

Yesterday I ran across this long-abandoned journal entry on my desktop, dated February 17th, the anniversary of my second week in St. Petersburg.  It seems that adjusting to life in Russia, though much different, wasn't that hard after all. 

February 17, 2011 
It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt to a new place and a new way of life – even a new mindset. I’ve noticed this week that I’m really getting the hang of things around here.
I don’t cringe anymore when I turn on the faucet and a stream of rust-colored water pours out. I expertly navigate sidewalks and street crossings and can spot black ice several meters away. I can pile on seven extra layers and be ready to go out in about 30 seconds flat. And I’ve learned that when I find a product from the States that I like, or think I might need in the next few weeks, I need to buy it on the spot – there’s usually only one or two on the shelf and when those are gone there’s no telling when, if ever, they might reappear.   
A prime example of the black ice of which I speak...
This photo was taken at about -18 Celcius. See the water frozen in the pipe?
Oh look! Lucky Charms!! What a find!

And they can be yours for the low price of only 
FIFTEEN US DOLLARS :)
Thank you, Russia. My grocery bill
(for one rather small person) in St. Pete was
often $80 per week - and that's just cooking at home!
"Kracks" - one example of the many foreign knock-offs
available in Russia. Usually found on the shelf alongside
their more expensive American equivalents, these knock-off
brands in their almost perfectly identical packaging can fool
some consumers. But don't be mistaken - companies like
 "Kracks" cut corners wherever possible and quality is
sacrificed in favor of bringing something to market that is
actually affordable for the middle class. 


On the positive side of culture shock, I stopped by the offices of many of my current and former professors today, and was completely overjoyed and delighted to remember how supportive and caring are the faculty at Belmont. Some have stopped me in the hall, welcomed me back, and said they loved traveling with me via my blog; others welcomed me and encouraged me to continue writing and traveling and studying. I couldn't imagine a nicer homecoming. In contrast, most of the professors that I met in Russia (and the two that now follow my blog are certainly the exception) - when I explained my research project and asked for their assistance - weren't quite so enthusiastic about helping in any way.  Only one of them really thought my project was "cool."  When I did manage to elicit any sort of support (i.e. the promise of assistance in recruiting students to complete my research survey), it was quickly squelched when the professor realized they would have to put out any effort to participate in my research...namely, reserving a half hour time slot for their students to take my online survey in the computer lab.  Honestly, it's hard to hold it against them. Things just work differently in Russia, and for all I know it could be a bureaucratic nightmare to reserve any room in any academic building.  The piles of paperwork I had to do (including a tuberculosis test, HIV test, and x-ray of my lungs) just to live in a public dorm in St. Petersburg is enough to deter me from ever pursuing such a living arrangement again.  And if you could have seen the place!  View some of the photos of my room in this blog post.

I do miss my friends in Russia, and even many aspects of life there.  But I'm certainly glad to be back at my home in Belmont, and - once I get used to it again - I'm certain the South will suit me just fine for the next few months.

My Dutch roommates, Debbie & Marlou, and myself, enjoying zakuzki (midnight snack) hosted by the friendly
Russian and Turkish guys in the adjacent room.
Sergei and Pasha (in the green jacket and white tee, respectively) were such interesting people - very curious
about our countries and lifestyles - and patient with our Russian! Even though they spoke no English whatsoever,
and at that time my Russian was pretty poor, we still communicated a lot of different ideas and became great friends.


2 comments:

  1. Shirah - thank you for sharing - what a fascinating tale - oh the stories you will have to tell your children!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Shirah. Again, a fun blog!

    ReplyDelete

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