Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Culture Shock

I should be topical and write about the Superbowl, especially since it was such an entertaining game. I don’t care about either team, and never found myself rooting for one side over the other, which is unusual. I enjoyed the game and I’m glad I watched it, but if these teams met in, say, week 11, I wouldn’t have watched it unless it had fantasy football implications.

I’ve been back in the States for a little while now, and have been real lazy regarding this blog, and most everything else for that matter. Zelda is a demanding mistress. I still hadn’t written my reverse culture-shock story, thus I will now segue into that.

I landed at SFO after a no-sleep 10 hour flight in row 55E. On a Singapore Air 777, that’s the single worst seat. Wiley picked me up, and we drove straight to CC’s parents’ house for lunch. No culture shock yet. CC’s house and SFO aren’t really “America,” at least in the Replay Lounge sense. Lunch with Wiley, CC, her friend, and her parents involved talking to well read people that travel.

Wiley and I took to the road, heading to Vegas after determining (rather, Wiley determining) that the weather in Reno was too formidable. I slept most of the way - no culture shock there. We stopped at a truck stop along the way, and I was dazzled by the selection of snack foods that I actually wished to purchase, I was amazed by the size of the coffee cups, and I instantly re-sparked my love affair with shitty truck stop coffee - Korea doesn’t do drip. I was a bit confused that my purchase total didn’t end in 0 - in Korea, and really in every Asian country, every price ends in 0 since tax is built into the price. $7.28 felt strange. I also had to remember to not take my change with 2 hands, because that’s what people do in Korea, and I figure it would make me look a bit crazy here. I bought a large can of Bud and Clamato, and opened it immediately, knowing that Wiley wouldn’t let me drink in his car. After one sip, Wiley said I should throw it away, since there was a cop gassing up at one of the pumps. Big culture shock. People can’t just drink on the street in this country.

Back in the car, sleep until the Nevada border. Vegas turned out to be the perfect place to go for a soft landing from Korea, Nobody would ever confuse Vegas and Seoul, but both have bright lights, bars that never close, and no open container laws or smoking bans. Elvis impersonators aside, Vegas was minimal culture shock. Vegas isn’t really ‘merica either.

The next day, we crossed the Hoover Dam and headed for Kingman, Arizona, thus really entering red state America. We had satellite radio, so we listened to lots of hard core right wing talk, including “The Gun Hour,” which is actually 3 hours long. We stopped at Arby’s in Kingman, because that’s where I always stop in Kingman, I requested a medium sized value meal, and was taken aback by the 32 ounce cup and tub of fries. In Korea, SuperSize Cokes are 21 oz. We also met a drifter that Wiley chatted with for a bit, but that’s more his story then mine.

Perhaps the strongest feel of reverse culture shock I had regarded dealing with peripheral people. For example, Wiley and I stopped at a grocery store in Arizona, and like all grocery stores the world over, the pisser was hidden. I thought to myself, “okay, how do I ask where the bathroom is? It’s 화장실이 어디에 있어요? (hwajangshil-ee oodey issoyo?) Alright, I should be ready to understand what the clerk says too. Oh, wait, this dude speaks English.” For the better part of the first week I was back, I had a similar train of thought every time I encountered a clerk, waitress, bartender, blackjack dealer, whoever, and I’m sure every such person I spoke to thought I was a bit off since it took me that extra few seconds to conduct a routine transaction. Talking to Wiley or CC felt normal, I was used to talking to western friends, as I’d done so every day I was in Korea. However, If I was out drinking at my local convenience store with a couple non-Korean buddies, I would of course naturally speak to them only in English, without hesitation. However, when I went inside to buy another beer, I’d have 10 seconds of conversing in Korean with the clerk.

I have more culture shock stuff to write, regarding cops and airplanes and other such things, but I’ll stop here for now, as I have no other way to wrap this up.

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