Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Morning Confess Sesh: Southern Culture Shock

The Lifestyle Project: Monday Morning Confess Sesh

I’ve been visiting the southern states of the US for the past four months and things are certainly different around here. It’s an interesting dynamic as America is so vast and multi-faceted. Parts of the US are undoubtedly cosmopolitan, progressive, and open-minded. 

Yet I think just about everyone would agree that, as a whole, the southern United States has not historically fit this description. 

I’ve written about my process of expatriating from Canada to the US but, aside from that post about guns in the bedroom, I haven’t really talked about experiencing culture shock since I’ve been here.

The funny part about arriving in the US after backpacking through Central America was that I immediately considered it akin to home. The signs were in English. The roads were maintained. There were fast food joints everywhere. “Yup, definitely not in Central America anymore,” I thought after my husband picked me up from the airport. Sure, there are differences between Canada and the US, but in general they are both developed Western countries that share a lot of similarities. 

Dealing with culture shock as an expat
Can you tell whether this is in Canada or the US?
I carried on daily life as though I was back in my home country only to be belatedly slapped in the face by culture shock the further I settled into life in America. 

The first time I did a double take was while I was shopping. I was picking up a spare battery for my camera and the customer in front of me had a gun sitting on his waist in a holster. I couldn’t help but fixate on it – why did this man feel the need to bring a pistol into a battery store? I know that a ton of Americans own guns but does that mean they should be flaunted in public? This was happening around the same time that Starbucks and Chipotle asked patrons not to bring guns into their restaurants and I think it’s obvious that I wholeheartedly agree with that policy. 

The next set of eyebrows to be raised were not my own but they were in my direction. Everyone thus far has been subtle, but I can’t tell you how many times there have been double glances in our direction when seeing a woman of colour holding hands with a white man. It was especially notable when I first came back from Panama and my tan was particularly dark. M insists that people are just checking me out because I’m hot, which I think is an adorable husband-like thing to say, but the realist in me knows there’s more to the story than that.

The Lifestyle Project: Antigua, Guatemala
In Guatemala I was often mistaken for a local
My biggest problem so far has been deciding when to stand up for my beliefs and when to stay quiet to keep the peace. My usual Monday Morning Confess Sessions tend to be more light-hearted but this one has really gotten to me. In fact, I’ve been putting off writing this post because of two reasons. First of all, selfishly, it’s easier to delay the things that make us uncomfortable. Second of all, I have a public website. People in my “real life” read and comment on what I write. I didn’t say anything in the moment but I’ll be damned if I don’t say anything on my own freaking blog. 

I confess that I have kept quiet in the face of bigotry. A few times, in fact, and it chips away at my heart every time I do it.

The worst incident was a few months ago when we were out with friends. Because they live an hour away and we were planning to drink, my husband and I decided to sleep over that night. We parked our car at their house and hopped in with the DD. As we arrived at our destination, parking was filling up fast. 

“There’s a perfect spot on the right,” I said as we drew nearer.

“Hell no, I’m not parking next to no niggers!” he exclaimed and pulled into a spot two rows away. 

“Did you… really just say that?” I sputtered.

“Yeah. I just don’t like black people,” he replied as he turned off the car.

There are very few times I would describe myself as literally astonished and this was one of them. My mouth was hanging open hearing this blatant racism. I glanced to my left at the “niggers” in question. A family of four with two young children were getting their things out of the trunk.

I felt my face flush red as I struggled to react. My surprise made me hesitate and the moment passed. Everyone got out of the car and we joined our friends who’d pulled in beside us. 

I don’t know if anyone noticed but for the next couple of hours I wasn’t myself. I could not believe that I’d heard those words come out of the mouth of someone I’d consider my friend. More than that, I couldn’t believe that I’d kept my own mouth shut and didn’t call him out for being incredibly racist. I chose to keep the peace because we were staying with this group of friends overnight and it would’ve put everyone in a very awkward situation. Mix a little bit of alcohol in there and it wasn’t likely to be a productive conversation. 

I’m usually very outspoken on these kinds of issues so it kills me to keep my mouth shut when words like nigger and faggot are thrown around. Do I make the situation uncomfortable by calling out friends or acquaintances? Should I correct people in bars or social settings when they tell an offside joke? Do I get into a debate with someone I just met when they casually throw out a homophobic slur? These are the times I wish eyebrows were raised but I’m the one who seems to be outnumbered.  

It should go without saying that there are many kind-hearted, hospitable, and tolerant people who live here and I've been very grateful to meet them. Unfortunately there's also a louder group that spews ignorance and perpetuates the reputation that's come to be associated with the southern US.

It was hard for me to see how racial and sexual discrimination are still issues in a modern society until I witnessed the way it’s passed from one generation to another. Blogging has been a huge help through the transition of culture shock. I don’t have many friends here so it’s comforting to connect online with people who can relate. If nothing else, writing helps me get my thoughts straightened out and is cathartic in that sense. It helps me understand how I feel. When I publish more serious blog posts like these, it's freeing because it's like the anxiety that I was holding on to has been released.

Have you ever struggled with balancing when to stand up for your beliefs and when to keep the peace? For the travellers and expats out there, do you notice a difference between life in Canada versus the US? How how do you deal with culture shock? 

Linking up with Vodka and Soda.
      
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