Thursday, February 10, 2011

Culture Shock

I spent the morning walking around Ikea all by myself. My kids are getting a market stand for their birthdays and I was looking for little things in the kid section that could go with it (like fake food and plastic dinnerware). The market stand is going in the game room and the little pink kitchen is already in Annabeth's room. I thought Jackson would get a kick out of being the grocer and Annabeth would have fun shopping with her little cart and taking her groceries back to her kitchen. I also got a little table for her room where she can pretend to eat what she cooked. I think it will be adorable.

I was enjoying myself until I walked up on the checkout lanes and the only thing open was the self-checkout. That happens sometimes at the grocery store I cannot tell you how much it annoys me. Instead of being rewarded for shopping at a low traffic time, you get to serve yourself! I really don't mind if I have 10 things, but more than that is ridiculous because you've got to fit it all on the narrow table where an automated voice yells at you if something you scanned is not immediately laid to rest on it.

My cart was full of little things (for example, 13 individually priced fake flower stems) and it was taking me sweet forever. A worker - the first to speak to me since I'd been there - came over and helped for a minute. I got finished and realized that there were no bags to put all this stuff in. She told me matter of factly that I had to purchase my bag, but by then I'd completed my transaction. Then she reminded me that to get all my loose items to the car, I had to wheel the cart to a loading area, leave it there for anyone to take, and go get my car. The next step was to gather as much junk in my arms as I could and make five different trips from the loading area to put it all in the Jeep.

I kept saying to myself, "What kind of store is this? You can hardly figure out how it works!" It's a good thing none of the employees said a word to me or looked me in the eye because I might have said it out loud. Then...then, dear reader! I realized exactly what kind of store this was. A European store! Or more specifically, a southeast Texas interpretation of a Swedish store!

All the memories of my head exploding while we lived in England came flooding back to me. Standing at the check out line at Asda, just twittling my thumbs or making jokes with Curtis while everyone in line wondered why that American chick wouldn't get to bagging her own groceries. (I forgot!) Having to put a pound in the grocery cart at Sainsbury's to be able to use it. Ordering popcorn at the theater and forgetting to specify that I wanted salty popcorn, not sweet. Having to ask and ask and ask for our drinks to be refilled. Accidentally getting two tickets for driving in downtown London without a permit. We thought there would be a toll booth or something and boy were we wrong. Learning that at age 24 I apparently did not know how to stand in a queue correctly.

It had been a long time since I remembered the insecure - and sometimes maddening - feeling of living in another country and not knowing how things work. You'd think England wouldn't be that different from America, but it is. And we were in the northeast, which meant it took a long time before we could understand what anyone was saying.

During those five months I often thought about what immigrants must go through when they come to the United States. It must be so hard. It's very humbling to be placed in an environment that makes you question your capability to do basic things like stand in a line. Being misunderstood - whether culturally or verbally - is also a horrendous feeling. It gave me a lot of compassion for what people go through when they come to our country. As Americans in England, I'd say Curtis and I received favor, or at the very least a decent amount of respect from British people. But I don't think one could say the same for immigrants in America.

Hard. That's all I'm saying. It's hard to leave your culture and adapt to a new one. Let's remember to have compassion on people who are new to our country.

And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
(Zechariah 7:8-10)

50 comments:

Tara G. said...

Well said. It is quite enlightening when you're the foreigner making the language and cultural mistakes! My peeps down at the local market don't freak out anymore when I come in with all 3 kids. And the only reason the guard will follow me around now is to ask why I haven't been in so long and where are the kids?! :)

Tara G. said...

P.S. Melissa and Doug food are some of my kids' favorites- you can sometimes find them at Marshall's at a great price or Amazon, etc.

Marla Taviano said...

Amen, girl. I get so angry when Americans make fun of people with a foreign accent. AS IF we know any other languages besides English!! (okay, some of us do, but I'm not one of them) I'm sooooo sick of being so self-centered. I so easily point at others, but I'm the worst offender.

Marc and Charity said...

I LOVE this post for so many reasons. :) I just got home from Tesco, and lost my darn pound coin- the slot was too loose so when I went to plug it back in my pound was missing! And I sometimes still break out in a sweat as I'm bagging my own groceries, they push it down the table so fast I get stressed.

firstinmyheart said...

I really like how you help us remember to have compassion on people who are new to a country... I really really want to have that quality.

But, it's it a bit of generalisation to talk about Europe like that... Europe has 47 countries so I think your experience in 1 country doesn't really represent customer service in Europe. Yes, I am from Europe (the Netherlands), so I felt the need to clarify and kind of 'defend' it ;-)
I just don't want people to think that customer service is awful everywhere in Europe.

I encounter so many people from Morocco, Iraq and other countries every day and you really reminded me to be mindful that they are used to such different things!

Jessica said...

My family moved to London while I was in high school. As a girl who spent most of her life before that in Texas, I can definitely relate to your England experiences and wondering how two English speaking countries could be so different!

bethany said...

In New Zealand I remember that we were so fed up with the service one particular night that our entire group raised our hands until we (finally) had our waters refilled. It took them soooo long to do everything.

You're right-I should think about how hard it is for others to understand everything more often than I do. Thanks for the reminder Amanda.

Amanda said...

Firstinmyheart, you're right. I was speaking as though England + Sweden = All of Europe. I probably should have sat on this a while before hitting publish and running to get my kids from school.

Susan said...

Your words today have been the Word He has been giving me lately. A lot. Thank you for sharing and being so transparent, Amanda. As always.

Susan

The Beaver Bunch said...

We are moving to Kenya in about 18 months, and though my mind is preparing for what it will be like to Mother our 6 children there (as much as I can prepare) I can honestly say that I am DREADING the culture shock.

Dreading it immensely. I hope we can find some sweet Kenyans to have mercy on our Western souls.

Susan said...

I am an expat living in Switzerland, and I had to chuckle as I read this blog post because what you describe at Ikea is so "normal" to me now.

Actually at our Ikea the customer service is remarkably better than what I encounter at most stores in Zurich.

My experience here has changed my view of foreigners, and I hope I never forget how it feels to be different and far from home.

Kristen Maddux said...

Oh my goodness, I am so glad someone else had a similar reaction at IKEA! Of course I love their stuff (hi there, $2 picture frames...who wouldn't? ;)
But when I finally shopped at their actual store, I couldn't believe how much you had to figure out and no one warned me you had to walk and walk and walk and there was only ONE exit! whew.
Add to that that I have horrible back problems and can't walk long distances. It was quite the experience and I think I'll be ordering from IKEA online from now on ;)

Shelli Littleton said...

You had me laughing so hard ... then you just jabbed my heart! And I thank you. I've thought that so many times before, too. On a lighter note ... I saw the most glorious thing today! I took the girls to a new Double Dave's pizza in Arlington, and they have a new soda machine called "Coca Cola Freestyle"! A rather small computerized machine, with only one spout which offered your ice and "106" soda flavors! Forget the pizza ... had I died and gone to soda heaven?!! I didn't know there was a Fanta Grape Zero or a Fanta Orange Zero, etc!! So awesome! And let me just say, I had to learn how to use it!! ... my 12 year old showed me how. :)

Ashley said...

I love this post...on the one hand I feel you on the customer service thing. I despise self-checkout - I need a human and I hate when the machine yells at me for no reason. On the other hand God has really been teaching me about the weight of giving dignity to people - ALL people. Even ones who might be here "illegally" or ones who are very different than me. Life isn't always as cut and dried as I like to think it is and all people are worthy of respect, because we are made in the image of God.

Stylish Housewife said...

What a great post. It really is amazing how different even Canada or England is and out of everyone in the world their culture is the most like ours. Good thought to have a little compassiuon with anyone who is in a new situation.

Shelley said...

Fun to read as I am a Brit living in Canada and experienced culture shock - I remember going through a 'drive-through" for the first time, then trying to figure out why the girl in the supermarket looked at me weird when I stood in the meat section looking for mincemeat. Driving on the wrong side of the road, and for goodness sake being able to turn right at a red light - WHAAAT?? lol (they do that in Canada!)

But the Lord did call me here as a Missionary so I find it a privilege to adapt - but yes you are right - it can be a challenge.

Blessings!

PS I miss Asda :(

Susy said...

Thanks for that AJ! My parents brought us here from Mexico when I was 6 and yes it sucked for a very long time! Even harder was watching my parents who were supposed to be the grown-ups need me to translate all the time!! To this day I haaaate translating! LOL! When I was little I couldnt wait until I had my own kids and NOT ever ask them to translate!

Mari Bryant- Marks said...

You are so right! When I was in El Salvador last Summer everyone was so sweet and helpful to this silly Gringa, but I can't remember the last time I saw someone in my town help out a new immigrant.

hopeforcambodia said...

This is the first time I have commented on your blog, Amanda - I hail from Perth, Western Australia - and I had to chuckly at this! I have 'done' Ikea with a baby in tow - trying to load stuff and sort the trolley and find the car and not lose the baby!

This reminded me of our holiday in France a couple of years ago. We got to the grocery shop ten minutes before closing (they all shut between 12 and 2!) raced around grabbing some provisions for the day, and then after paying for it all realised of course that this was France - no bags! While the checkout people watched us with disdain or with bored faces, we piled all our items precariously in our arms, teetering out to the car. So funny! We never forgot our bags again!

Valerie

April said...

On that same note, I have come to realize how people who have no church background or a different church background feel like foreigners in church. We speak a different language at church. We have ways of doing things that we all understand but aren't self-evident to someone new. And, sadly, sometimes we Christians can seem exclusive. I pray I will have compassion on both the newcomer to our country and the newcomer to our church!

Good Stewarts said...

Although I'm sure it's nothing like moving to a different country, moving state to state can be a bit of culture shock too...at least it was for me everytime we moved.
I love my friends from England even more now. :)Thanks.

Bianca said...

This made me laugh!!! I stuck out like a sore thumb in England and asked the most banal of questions. I'm sure they thought I was beyond annoying.

Joybird said...

Great post. There are some immigration political issues that seem so clear to me until I think of the people I know who could be affected. Sometimes I get so tied up in issues that I forget that "issue" is a distancing word for problems real people whom I know and like have. One of the little things I love in the Mosaic (is that even close to being spelled right?) is how God made provision for immigration. He knew that drawing strangers to Him meant they'd have to adjust to a new culture and He made a way for them. I want to do the same.

Sister Lynn said...

As a child of immigrant parents (from India), I think this is a beautiful post. Makes the passage in Scripture "for you too were once strangers" so much more relevant.

Thanks for the reminder to reach out to those from different cultures!

WendyB said...

It's funny, because as I read the beginning of your post, I thought, "How lucky she is to be at IKEA in America!" I'm an army wife stationed in Germany, and IKEA has been my go-to place - but totally frustrating as well because every sign is either in Swedish or German; few employees speak English, etc. etc. Living in a foreign country is MUCH harder than I thought it would be. Exhausting.

aeblossom said...

Amanda,
I'm friends with Melissa. My husband and I just moved (with our 2 young boys) to London 3 weeks ago. You are spot on lady! I feel like it takes all of my mental faculties to even try to understand what a cab driver is saying or worse, someone on the phone with a strong accent. I'm sure they feel the same about me. Glad to have found your blog.
Cheers,
amber
thebackwardspilgrim.wordpress.com

Megan said...

I loved this post and it is just what I needed to read today. I have moved to Singapore from Texas and have been here for 10 days and it has been hard! I am glad for the experience because now I have a whole new perspective on what it is like to be a foreigner.

Joyce said...

We spent six years living in the UK and have been back in the states almost two now. I see life here so differently as a result of that experience. Every time I'm in Newark airport trying to get on the right road home I think to myself, "How do people just arriving to the states ever figure this out?" I live here and its confusing. I guess the biggest thing is that I notice those newly arrived now. I'm sure I passed them by with not much more than a glance prior to being that person on foreign soil myself.

Christi Brown said...

I love how the Lord puts us in certain situations so that we are forced to think about others to the point of having a real sense of compassion for them. Great post!

Lindsey said...

Ya... we felt culture shock when we went to Paris just for a vacation! The hardest part was not knowing the language and still trying to deal with it. It was very different. Ivan's Aunt lives there and just the way they do things at home was so different. I think I would have a very hard time living in another country.

Lindsey said...

Oh and Amanda... you could probably add France (at least Paris and its outskirts) to the list of bad service.. lol. I can't tell you how long we waited at restaurants for the waiter to even come by. It was like "do they know we are here?" It was awful. But, that is partly because in France you don't tip the waiters, it is already tacked on to your bill...

Peggy C said...

LOL! Last my daughter & I went to Ikea was quite frustrating. We decided that European shoppers are much more hearty than us wimpy Americans. Plus, I got a plant (at a good price) and it scanned twice in the self-check. We were well and gone before I realized it. Going to Ikea is an EVENT!

Amy said...

Thanks so much for this post, Amanda! I don't comment often, but this one struck such a chord because I grew up watching my dad (a professor) struggle with the treatment he got because of his accent, and because he was a foreigner.

(That might have something to do with the fact that I have two degrees in English now!)

I feel a little rootless myself, a year after moving to a different state. But if there's one thing to be said for feeling out-of-place... it's a great way to remember "we are not Home yet". :)

The Shinnicks said...

Haha. I feel like I'm living in a diff country. I'm from Hawaii, but am now living in Fayetteville, North Carolina?! Might as well be another country. Really. Thanks for the reminder to have grace for self and others.

And we love IKEA.

Casey (@ Ever-Changing Life) said...

I've lived in Germany and now live in Turkey, so I had to laugh imagining you with no bag at the checkout. Been there! I feel blessed though, to have lived overseas, as I feel is makes me so much more sensitive to outsiders coming to the states. What culture shock! Now I just cringe when people say, "We are in America, speak English!" because I know just how it feels to be helpless and far from home in a new place!

Carey said...

So true - we moved to Budapest from Houston 4 months ago. I am a stranger in a strange land with a stranger language! I always forget my bags, don't have the right change for the cart, etc. I do, however, love IKEA here because it reminds me of Houston!

hungarytexans.blogspot.com

Patty said...

Well said. The only time I have ever been out of the country was to Canada and that was just for a day of shopping and sightseeing, so I don't have a culture shock story to share with you. Unless you count the time I moved to upstate New York from Tennessee. Everyone made fun of my accent and their way of living is totally different from what I was used to. I lived there for 5 years and even though it was a good experience for me, I was never more happier than the day we moved back to the South. Of course that is nothing compared to living in another country!

Barnhouse Family said...

I learned the hard way after trying to communicate with Brazilians during a mission trip, and having very little knowledge of Portuguese, that the hand gesture of "OK" was NOT culturally acceptable! Here I am trying to share the love of Jesus and I just flipped someone off in their culture! Sheesh. I remember returning to the states to stand in our packed grocery store aisles, choices abounding, and realizing how out of place I felt back at HOME! The simplicity of their lives, the meager beans and rice to live on, and the tenderness of their hearts to the Love of Jesus was definitely a culture shock! Oh how I wish Americans could sometimes be more simplistic and tender!

Barnhouse Family said...

I learned the hard way during a mission trip to Brazil, struggling through knowing very little Portuguese, that the hand gesture for "OK" was NOT culturally acceptable! There I was, trying to share the love of Jesus only to learn I had been giving our equivalent of a middle finger. OUCH! But then I remember returning to the states and standing in the grocery store, choices abounding, and people too busy to look me in the eye, and I felt out of place. Oh the culture shock of being "back home" after having been in a land where their meager beans and rice were an act of service, where their tender hearts were open to receive the love of Christ!

Tina said...

This is a great post Amanda.
I've lived in Russia, Czech Republic and now Spain and I STILL have moments of forgetting to take bags with me! By far I've had the best customer service in Spain.
After having spent so much time as the foreigner, I do have so much compassion for foreigners in the US. Some of the places I've lived cater more to foreigners and some have not. Unfortunately I don't think we cater much to foreigners in the US, but I know that can vary location to location.
Great food for thought!!

Hilary said...

Ah, yes... culture shock. You don't even have to leave America to experience it! I grew up in San Diego, CA... and then went to bible school in Tampa, FL... going from the West Coast to the Deep South was definitely a shock. And then later on in life I moved from California to Michigan. The Upper Midwest is so totally different from either place I had lived before! And we STILL don't have an Ikea. ;-)

Ali said...

Great post!

I love the ikea felt food! Did you buy some? It's so cute!

What type kitchen set does Miss AB have? Please post a pic of her playing with her kitchen set and little kid table! I'm about to buy one for my daughter! Any suggestions!?!

I love kitchen sets and kid tables! So fun for kids!

~ Ali

HisTreasuredPossession said...

Amanda,

I read this yesterday, and was thinking about it all the rest of the day. I was still thinking about it today!

Having lived in South Korea, travelled in Europe and the Middle East and moved around the USA my whole life, I know of what you speak. Sometimes, I find it easier to pick out these issues in foreign countries. But my experience living in the East, Plains, MidWest, Southwest, Northwest, and now West-WEST (Southern.CA) is that we have a lot of issues of things getting lost in translation even in our own country! For example, friendly chatter to a Southerner is overly personally to a Northerner. The slower paced, relaxed of life in the West *kills* the Easterner who likes propriety, manners and establishment. (don't mean to over-generalize here, but I think we know this...movies like Sweet Home Alabama caricaturize it well!)

I know since moving to CA, I've had a hard time figuring out the cultural differences. I love it but several times, words and actions have gotten lost in translation...and that's in PERSON, not to mention how it can happen online. I'm forming friendships slow. Ugh, but it's hard. Praying people will have that compassion on me! :)

Anyway, all I'm trying to say is that I loved this post and am thankful that you've reminded me to strive for unity in my own backyard, when I'm not travelling...and that I need to extend the grace to others and think the best of them, just as I hope they will do to me when life doesn't just compute the way I hoped it would. Thank you!!

hugs,
rachel

Jessica and Steve Otto said...

Thank you for this post, Amanda. My family and I are missionaries in Guatemala, and after nearly 3 years, I still haven't gotten used to feeling and looking "different." I fervently hope that we will remember how uncomfortable that feels when we move back to the States someday. I hope we'll have more compassion on newcomers to our country.

It's always a shock for me to go to a grocery store in the States and see the amazing variety of food and not have to bag my own groceries at the end while juggling foreign currency, 3 kids and hurried customers breathing down my neck! It's a luxury I always, always took for granted.

So, thank you for the reminder to remember the overlooked people all around us.

Shellie Paparazzo said...

See, being a depressive, I'd have just lost it and left everything there! And cried for the next week. Come to think of it, I do things like that a lot. (Not at the store.) I give up quickly and I pretty much have felt like a foreigner in America since the day I was born. I just don't fit and I do have trouble doing the little things that other people take for granted. And I rarely get any compassion whatsoever. I'm just supposed to suck it up and move on. I'm trying, but it's so hard. Especially when no one listens to you. Not even the person who's supposedly "counseling" you and your husband.

strvn2plsHM said...

And please remember those of us in prayer that are living in a foreign country that don't even speak English!! A British accent would be welcome :) IKEA is a staple here since it is the only store here that we also have in America!!!

strvn2plsHM said...

Please remember those of us in prayer that are living in foreign countries!! Especially those, like us, who are living in a European country that doesn't even speak English and rarely can we find it printed!! We love where God has placed us but it is difficult and there are times the homesickness is overwhelming.

conniesueiorio said...

One way to look at this is that this store saves tons and tons of money by having you bag your own groceries. A lot of us benefit from that. Also, please, please bring your own bags!!!! It helps not only you, but your children and grandchildren and their children! I know it seems annoying today, but please look at tomorrow and this countries' debt. We would all be blown away by the $$$ we could save my minor inconveniences.

My-An said...

At age 14.5, I moved from an underdeveloped third world country to America. I still remembered how difficult it was to leave everything behind and have to learn all new things in a short amount of time. It's was not easy living like a baby while being a teenager. It still not easy sometimes because I will never fully see myself truly one or the another...someone says I will forever floating somewhere in the pacific!
But, the Lord has been especially gracious to me and have brought me friends from different nations who loves me deeply and receive me into their circles. I guess in a way, we all are aliens and our citizenship is in heaven. Our common bond is Jesus Christ and that binds everyone together so tightly.

Allison said...

I so agreed with this. And even sometimes its hard to be a person in this country if you are not educated and at least middleclass. I used to always feel awful for our patients at the hospital that didn't speak english or know how to work the system.