culture shock

Culture shock hit me fast and furious my first year in southern Arkansas.
At first it was simply the children who answered my questions with a respectful, “Yes, Ma’am.” One little girl smiled and nodded her head in beat with her frequent “yes Ma’ams.” I thought she was mocking me.
At school, my own children quickly learned that their casual, “Yep!” incurred a sharp, “What did you say?” from teachers. They began saying, “Yes, Ma’am” to communicate their respect
In an after school conversation with my son, I explained that the reason he could not find “chere” in the school’s dictionary was because the word was “there” as in “Right there” not “ri’chere.”
The differences in language, pronunciation and expected responses were just the tip of the iceberg of my cultural shock.
If southern Arkansas teachers expected respectful responses, the community at large exhibited great disrespect for the land. We left northern Indiana where the Amish, Mennonite and Conservative Brethren’s well-kept homes, farms and communities influence the entire community. Accustomed to neatness even in the backroads of the community – and regular garbage pick-up – we could not believe the flagrant violations of anti-litter laws throughout the area and the county’s open dumpsters. It took a county-wide curb service to see tidier neighborhoods and roadways.
Respect for others proved to be a bit more illusive. We welcomed all of our children’s school friends into our home only to discover others did not. When one guest asked where the other – different – guest would sleep my child said, “With us, of course.”
Having lived in four distinct cultures within the contiguous United States, I should have anticipated the cultural encounters.
As a teenager, the southern Arizona school cafeteria burned my tastebuds with enchiladas and tortillas. Having just left a dairy farm in southern New York where we ate boiled meat and enjoyed an occasional dish of milk toast, I hated the south-of-the-border spices and resolved to take my lunch to school on Mexican meal days. It took time and several more Mexican meals to grow to appreciate the taste. Eventually I even learned to cook Mexican meals.
My time in southern Utah gave me my first taste of being a minority. As non-Mormons in a predominantly Mormon community, my brothers, sisters and I did not know how to respond when other students asked us, “Which ward are you in?”
We quickly learned that “ward” meant church – or the local congregation in the Mormon church. In southern Arkansas, the question is “What church do you attend?” and no one considers it presumptuous or out of place to ask the question in either state. Attendance is expected.
We also measured cultural differences with the Utah arrangements for the time-out allotted to religious education. In New York State, a teacher visited once a week for an hour or so. In Utah the church provided a full-time staff with a separate building on property adjacent to the high school.
Utah classmates and teachers ardently, and vocally adored their saint and church founder whom we considered a cult leader and defiant law breaker. It was good training for moving from the North to the South where differing viewpoints on the war of the 1860s resulted in us clarifying to our children which side won.
In time our culture shock waned … and my parents’ began – especially when their southern grandchildren visited and responded to questions with a sincere, if drawled out, “Yes, Ma’am.”