Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Subterranean homesick blues

As you could most likely see from my last post, I have entered the expatriate state of "culture shock". I had a bit of an outburst of hate there. I am sorry about that.

I am usually not one to put people in categories and just because I had a tough week and I was angry at the whole world does not mean I get to condemn all of America as flaky, rude people. Because they are not. 

People sure are busier here than in Europe but life is tougher here too. You have to fight a bit more for having a good life and ... you know ... basic things like health insurance ... but the rewards for fighting the fight and winning are higher.

Soooo ... culture shock. I think on a deeper level the Americans are not that different to the Euros but it takes a bit longer to get to this deeper level.

I am pretty good at reading people. Usually my first impression of people is always correct. I can also tell if somebody likes me or not, if I annoy somebody or if they are really delighted to see me, when somebody says "Hey, let's hang out" I could tell if they meant it or not ...
This "talent" helped me a lot when I was managing a team, I would even go as far to say that it got me the job in the first place. I think this ability even helped me with my portrait photography because I could make people feel comfortable in front of the camera.
Well - strangely - in America I can't do that. I can't read peoples faces and body language. I don't really get it. I talked to my Euro-friends about it and they have the same problem.
This makes me feel like a dog who lost it's sense of smell and is trying to find home. I don't know if somebody is being serious or sarcastic, I don't know how far I can go with my jokes until it's too late, I don't know if I am saying the right thing ...

So I am asking myself what this is all about. Can I simply not read people because people show their emotions differently or do people see it as rude to show their emotions on their face or is there something else I am completely missing?

Only now I am realizing how much I depended on this "talent". It really helped me a lot - to make friends, to get jobs, to get people to help me, to get people to like me ... 

What I am getting at is that I still have a lot to learn about this country. I might be interpreting things that people do or say in a wrong way. I must keep that in the back of my head because it's not their fault that I am absolutely incapable of "getting" them. 

The Dutch culture is pretty different to the Austrian culture but I guess I already kind of was more like the Dutch, so that was an easy transition. This transition will be more difficult I just have to deal with it. There will always be times when I am doing really well and times when I am not feeling so great.

Talking about culture: Last Sunday I got to part-take in the German-American culture. I worked as a beer-wench in my Austrian dirndl at the German Mayfest. It was a lot of fun, especially after I had my first beer! All of my friends from the library were there too. Good times! I didn't think I'd enjoy polka music an drunk people that much but it was great! On top of that people loved the dirndl. I got a lot of compliments and people who wanted to take pictures with me. After I finished working there E and I went to Home Depot to buy some soil for my tomato plants. It was fun to go soil shopping in my dirndl!

So things are looking up even though I still have the occasional bouts of home-sickness. Bear with me. I promise I won't turn into a hater. And adjustment is next on the list.


Hayley said...

Hi A, I know exactly how you feel - Americans can be difficult to read. When I lived in the USA, I found this very disconcerting, and in many cases, led to disappointment on my part. I think with time, you will get a feeling for it and be able to 'read' the situations better. But if you also notice, I think some Americans often struggle with foreigners as well - I often had the feeling that I just perplexed people! Kudos to us, I say!

The Austrian said...

Thank you for your comment! It makes me feel better to know that it is not just me who feels this way.
As you say - I do also feel like I perplex some Americans. Especially after living in Holland for so long.
I feel like the Dutch are the complete opposite behavior wise than the Americans.