When you travel abroad it is inevitable that you experience culture shock. It doesn’t matter how open minded or educated you are – sooner or later you will come across some element of the other culture that is just alien to you. This has happened to me in France, in Peru and in China. Even speaking the same language didn’t keep it from happening in England where I lived for months while doing my dissertation fieldwork. Whether it was the social distance (or lack thereof – many cultures are very comfortable in much closer quarters than I am), the hygiene facilities, the food, or social customs in each case there were moments when I felt particularly out of place!
Although I’ve lived the great majority of my adult life in California, my profession has taken me all around the United States from Hawaii to Alaska to Florida and I’ve seen enough to realize that one can experience culture shock even within one’s own country. So it hasn’t been a huge surprise to confront some differences between California and Indiana culture! These are just a few of the things the kids and I have noticed:
In California if you smell smoke you dial 911. Here it is likely to be (if outdoors) a homeowner burning yard waste or (if indoors) the ubiquitous wood stove or fireplace that heats the house.
In California if you hear gunfire you dial 911. Here you just stay out of the woods.
In California we seldom saw ‘real’ wildlife (other than the odd seal or dolphin frolicking in the waves along Highway 101). Here we see wildlife all the time – deer, rabbits, squirrels, bats, opossum, raccoons, skunks, hawks – unfortunately a lot of what we see is a mess of blood and guts on the highway rather than live animals! I don’t think I’ve ever driven into town without seeing at least one road kill corpse and we have counted as many as seven in one trip!
In California the roads were wide – not just the multi-lane highways but the normal residential streets as well. Here the roads, including the highway we travel most frequently which is one lane in either direction, are narrow. Some like the one on which we live, are narrow to the point of making me wonder if two cars can actually fit abreast which never fails to heighten my anxiety when a car approaches from the opposing direction.
In California the speed limit is higher both on highways and residential streets. Here it is slower but people exceed the limit in both states. The differences is that the car that zooms past you on the California freeway is more likely to be a late edition sports car and the one that careens around you the moment (or sometimes earlier) the passing zone opens up is a big, dirty pickup truck with a gun rack.
In California (the southern coastal area where we lived) the weather was temperate. You could almost wear the same clothes year-round as long as you had a sweatshirt to throw on when the fog rolled in or the temperatures dropped into the 50s. Here the temperature can go from 60 degrees one day to 6 degrees two days later! Cold is single digits, hot is triple digits! Your wardrobe needs to include all sorts of specialized winter gear like hats, gloves, scarves, boots, long underwear and warm coats. In the summer you can discard 3 of your 4 layers but you need to add a liberal dose of bug spray.
In California people fence themselves in and others out. Property boundary lines are clear. Here fences are to keep livestock in and there are few fences between homes or around yards. There tends to be more room between houses but I don’t think that’s why there are no fences because of another difference I’ve noticed. In California people mind their own business; here people are interested in what their neighbor is doing. Depending on your point of view this is either being nosy or neighborly! I wouldn’t have done it in California but here if I notice our neighbors (who also have goats and chickens and are going to have pigs and bees) out puttering in their yard I’ll stroll over to see what’s up and chat about the weather and livestock and the best pasture seed. Guess I’m assimilating!