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What I Learned Overseas

It's scary when the realization finally hits that you have lived most of your life "overseas."  And what's even scarier is when living in Bujumbura and Bordeaux and Berlin and Rome and Sofia doesn't produce culture shock but coming "home" does.

I suppose I've always been either too young to care about differences in cultures or just prepared for it so well as not to be surprised. I've gotten to the point where I write everything strange off as a "cultural habit" and forget about it. So Africans reuse cat litter, the French have no qualms about skinnydipping, Germans go wild over an American president who lustily proclaims "I am a donut," Italians sell beer to kids under 8, and Bulgarians sip from the same cup as the same sex or opposite sex or anyone-but-the-dog. So what? It's "European." Thus classified, I've always been able to dismiss shocks before they managed to penetrate.

Coming "back" to the United States to live, however, I was not prepared for the shocks and was not able to write them off as "European." Imagine my surprise when I was judged according to my clothes; when girls at 12 had already been dating for years; girls at 15 had two kids and weren�t even married; people got up at 5:30 in order to be properly made up for work at 8:00; everyone with suing and/or blaming it on someone else; people who played games all day got paid more than people who saved lives; everyone--grownups, too--spent most of their free time in a huge building designed to promote the spending of money and cleverly named to sound like a cow--the �maaauuul!�

Certainly, I'm more American than anything else. And I'm willing, from time to time, to get up and defend my country. And it still takes me time to realize that when someone in schools talks about the "internationals," they're talking about me. But great gosh in a goulash! How can I identify with a country that consumes frozen dinners and made Jenny Craig a household name? Should I be proud? Should I be cocky? Should I take my usual approach and appear not to give a ding-dung in a doily? Sorry FOLKS! Can't happen. It's my country. I'm proud of it, but it has surprised the heck out of me.

So, my experience with culture shock. I would venture to suppose that the most shocking revelation has not been when I find the differences between cultures, but when I find the similarities. Finding similarities between American culture and another can be rather astonishing. Once I get over the initial bewilderment, however, I suddenly begin to feel almost...good. It's heartening to realize that, regardless of race, color, sex, or religion, we are all human. We're basically the same. WE ARE ONE.

I have learned that:

  • Everyone likes getting flowers
  • Everyone wants to dance
  • Sharing builds friendships
  • Everyone looks forward to Fridays
  • No one likes a bully
  • It's harder to love than to hate
  • The smallest ballerina always gets the most applause
  • Everyone needs a Christmas once in a while
  • No one likes to hurt
  • Given the proper motivation, babies will smile at anyone

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