Posts Tagged With: culture

Grits, Girlfriends and Garburators: Culture Shock Stateside

When we set out to travel Europe, we knew we would be in for a bit of culture shock, but heading back to our own continent seemed like going home. Even though we were going to the Southern US, and we live in Atlantic Canada, I think we all expected it to feel more familiar.
And to a certain extent, it does, (they speak English and drive on the right side) but I, for one, was unprepared for it to feel quite so different. I guess I expected to recognize stores and restaurant chains. I didn’t expect to have to search for a grocery store (Publix? Who knew?) or a pharmacy. And I did not expect there to be fresh fruit and vegetables in Walmart.
And here are just a few of our other unexpected moments of culture shock:
On our first morning, we went out for breakfast and I ordered tea. It came with ice cubes. And as the girls inspected the menu a little more closely, they told me I could have had “teamonade” instead! But if I actually wanted a cup of tea (which I did) I would have had to order “hot tea”.
Then when I ordered my omelette, our server drawled, “you want grits with that?”. Maybe. If I actually knew what they were. But probably not.
The next day, out for lunch, the waitress bounced over to our table, and said to our reserved little girls, “Hey Girlfriends, how y’all doin’? Can I start y’all off with a soda?” Might as well have been a different language.
And then there was the garburator in our apartment. USA’s answer to composting. Shoving food down the sink so it can be cleaned and treated along with waste products. Hmm. You’d think that would use quite a bit of energy…

So there you go. Different. I mean, to be fair, I always get cranky when Europeans or Brits assume I’m American, and I am quick to point out the difference. So why did I expect them to be the same?

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Culture Shock

Well, I don’t think you can get much more Italy than this. Cinque Terre, meaning Five Lands, is exactly that – five villages connected by hiking trails and a railway. We arrived in the first of the five, Monterosso al Mare on Wednesday evening at about 6:30, and we wandered aimlessly until the guy we were renting an apartment from, Fabio, appeared on the street calling “Janet” (which was me, as it turns out). The kids were overwhelmed, and I was too, to be fair. It was a lot to take in after two full days of driving. Bustling streets, raucous Italian voices, and colourful stucco buildings – all very unfamiliar.

Here are some of the comments over the first few hours:

I don’t like it here.
I didn’t expect it to be so foreign.
It reminds me of India; I didn’t think it would be like India.
I feel like I’m in Alladin.
I want to leave; it’s scary here.

Here are some of the comments on our third and final night here:

I wish we could stay here.
It’s so comfortable here.
This is the best beach I ever went to.
I love Monterroso the best out of all the towns here; it’s so comfortable here.

It’s amazing how you get used to a place, and how quickly it can feel like home. The first night they were clinging to us, and tonight they were racing around the streets, dodging tourists, laughing and shouting just like the local kids. They can order their own gelato, count to ten, and say thank you. They even hiked the arduous trail from Monterroso to Vernazza today, a stunning part of the Cinque Terre UNESCO World Heritage trail that links the five towns. It was a two hour, steep uphill trek, on which Liah was occasionally “going to die”, but all in all was quite successful. We saw lemon orchards, and lots of grape vines connected by a little “grape roller coaster” that allowed the farmers to pick way up on the cliffs and get the grapes back down again. The views of the ocean were absolutely stunning.
We also took the train to Riomiaggiore to have a little visit there, and then came back to an afternoon of snorkeling. A lot to fit in a day, but a great one.
This quick trip has reminded us that we need to stay longer in places. We are really just getting our bearings, figuring out how to read the menus, where to buy the best bread, where the freshest pastries can be found, and it’s time to go! Well worth the stop though, even though it was a hairy drive getting here – I would definitely consider a train in if we were to ever do this again.
Off to the Adriatic Coast tomorrow!

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The Pub

It’s one of those British things that just doesn’t exist in our culture – or at least it doesn’t in mine. Walking down to the local pub, just sitting around chatting and drinking. Quite a lot. On school nights even.
People go out in Canada, and some people even have a sort of “local”, but it’s just not the same thing. I know because I went last night. Dev and his friends always used to meet at the pub once or twice a week when we lived here 15 years ago, and I know he really misses it. There was never any planning involved – you would just go and people would be there. And sometimes people’s dads. And possibly even grandads. It’s an inter-generational activity. And weirdly, it still happens – same pub, same peeps. There’s a little more communication involved now via texting, but essentially, it’s the same.
It brings back a lot of memories, being in the local pub. I experienced lots of hazy, Magners-induced flashbacks. The sound of the DJ banter as he reads out the quiz questions, the patterned carpet, the sketchy door locks and cigarette-burned floors in the Ladies…
I think about the first time I ever ordered a round in this pub when I moved to England in my twenties. The landlord asked me if the 1/2 a lager was for a man or a woman. I didn’t get it, but later discovered to my intense disapproval that women get a different glass – one with a more “feminine” shape. I remember then as well that girls only ordered halves, not pints. Unwritten rule.
Things have changed since then, obviously, and I’m not as stroppy. Well, that may not be true, but I do like to think I’ve at least mellowed a bit. It was fun last night. Mostly watching Dev almost laugh himself off his stool all night. It makes me smile. And I get why he misses it so much.
I’m not saying I like everything about the pub culture here, but there is something quite romantically “England” about it. It’s a shame to see so many of the old pubs closed down and boarded up.
Of course, if I lived here, I don’t think I would find it quite as romantic. Especially since I’d probably see a lot less of my lovely husband:)

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Culture and Education?

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Just having a bit of a think about the educational side of things today – taking stock of what the girls have learned from their new “teachers” (us), and their new surroundings so far.
So, on the up side, they have all got a new library card for the UK, and they have all borrowed books. I chose some of them, and those are the ones that remain unopened, but I feel sure that they will be hugely educational when they do actually decide to open them, so it’s all good.
They also have been given a couple of great lift the flap books (I know, they sound too young, but they’re not) – one is a children’s atlas and the other is a math book. They have delved into those already, so that’s good. Although when I asked one of them to choose a European country they might like to research, the response was Jamaica, so we still need a little work there…
Oh, and we had a bit of down time tonight so we played a very educational family game of Bananagram and some sort of shape game that I didn’t do very well at…
Those, I would consider to be the most directly educational things we’ve done to date, but naturally, there has been lots of learning happening in between. Some of it is perhaps of a questionable nature, but all learning is good, right?
Let’s start with what the youngest one managed to sort out today: breakfast is breakfast, dinner is lunch, tea is supper, and supper is bedtime snack. Done. Very confusing for the past two weeks apparently, but now fully understood.
She has also learned from her super-shopper auntie’s expert tuition that Primark is the best place to buy shoes, because it won’t take up all of your pounds, and you may even be able to buy two pairs and still have money left for ice-cream.
Speaking of ice-cream, we have all learned that hearing the sound of an ice-cream man from a distance, and then not having one come up your street is a tragedy of epic proportions and can ruin your entire day.
And still in keeping with that theme, our middle daughter has learned that a person can eat a lot more chocolate, ice-cream, cakes, and sweets (aka candy) before actually throwing up than she ever thought possible. Mmm, not sure I can find a positive spin there…moving on!
Our oldest daughter has been very busy making up a fabulous game based on “3 movies, 5 books, and a previously invented game” with her cousin. They are full of imagination and adventure, and are absolute kindred spirits, so lots of learning there, I’m sure.
The biggest and most disturbing learning for me happened while we were at the caravan. As all Brits will no doubt be aware, there are things called “amusements” at seaside resorts, caravan parks, etc. I would argue – in a court of law if necessary – that these establishments are very poorly named indeed. They are not one bit amusing. Well, that’s a lie, because I used to find them marginally amusing before I let my child with a slightly obsessive/addictive personality go there. I have to tell you, if you have one of these children, and they are previously unfamiliar with “amusements”, DO NOT GO IN. Because when you put your 30p in, the teddy does not come out. And all your 2p’s actually disappear into oblivion instead of pushing out more 2p’s and the plastic car. And, if you could just have ONE MORE TURN, you would be able to get that monkey into the claw and you would be a WINNER!!
No, not amusing. Not amusing at all. A child’s introduction to gambling hell. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere, but until we figure it out, we need to just step away from the amusements.

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