Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Culture Shock in Many Directions




I haven't posted for a while because my mother-in-law has been visiting, spending the last few weeks in April here. She just returned to America yesterday.

My mother-in-law is Japanese, but moved to America when she got married and has lived there for forty years now. It was an odd visit, because she so clearly suffered from terrible culture shock...all the more painful to her because it feels fundamentally wrong to have culture shock in the country you grew up in. But she doesn't know any modern slang (imagine someone whose English is frozen forever in the early 70s, how many terms they wouldn't know), no words for computer terms or new technology, none of the modern media. She was so exhausted by the time she was ready to go. "I'm tired," she sighed. "Everything here makes weird chirping sounds and talks at me, it's overwhelming. I want to go home."

Being an expatriate means, at some level, to resign yourself to a life of culture shock. No matter where you go, it's not quite what you're used to anymore. The Internet helps. I at least know what American Idol is, what music is popular, the latest slang I see in Youtube videos and from my friends' emails. I don't feel completely unmoored from the world I spent the first thirty years of my life in.

I've spent a quarter of my life living abroad now. That's an odd thing to realize.

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