My name is Luigina Marie Webb. I am 19 years old. I am from the land “down under,” that land we like to call Australia. I was beckoned to this thriving motherland as a straight and narrow law student seeking academic solace in America, the ultimate realm of opportunity. What I discovered was something far more astounding. America not only confronted me with countless cultural hurdles, but it also challenged my comfort zone with numerous ethical and religious ideals that differed significantly from those I had encountered throughout my desert upbringing in the heartland of Australia. I was suffering from an acute psychological condition known as “culture shock” and there was only one clear means of recovery. America is all about the survival of the fittest and I knew that if I could not assimilate culturally to some extent in my new environment, I would be swept under the tires of this stupendous American juggernaut. A rapid transformation ensued …
Culture Shock Take One: Ghetto Couture
My Australian wardrobe was overflowing with brightly colored twin sets, neck ties, pleated skirts and pointy stiletto heels. Prissy Australian schoolgirl attire was simply not going to cut it in the highly provocative world of American college fashion. Upon arriving in America I decided that I wanted to adopt a ghetto style. I soon found myself sporting awesome chunky jewelry and a large and obtrusive pink Kangol hat in a rather lame attempt to look like an extra from an old Snoop Dogg music video. (And for the record, as hard as I try, I still cannot find Snoop Dogg remotely attractive, even when I stand upside down and squint.) I was reminiscent of a little white girl playing dress-up in my super-stylized ghetto garb. My image needed to be refined (to put it modestly).
Culture Shock Take Two: Culinary calamities
I am told that eating in front of the television is an American custom that remains a foundation block of the American dining experience. I discovered this when I thoughtfully lingered at the kitchen table during my dinner at a friend’s house and waited for her family to join me, only to discover that everyone was reclining on lounge chairs anxiously tuned in to American Idol. Where was the jovial dinner-time conversation? The interaction? The sequential formality of a three-course meal? Australians typically consume homemade meals in a dining room atmosphere while everyone ritually discusses the highlights of an eventful working day. This foreign system of television meal times felt awkward and peculiar at first. I was also shocked by the reality that cheese in a cheeseburger was often synthetic, and that the standard of Taco Bell meat is lower than the grade of American dog meat. American food culture is nutritionally corrupt; just observe a piece of chocolate pizza and perhaps you will understand what I mean.
Culture Shock Take Three: Mating Rituals
Dancing is perceived as the global language of social intimacy and American dancing proved to be an overwhelming challenge at times. Dance music is typically the most predominant musical phenomenon encountered within the Australian club scene. This means people dance for themselves, usually in any random style they like, and they usually do it in large groups. So when I find myself immersed in some fairly scary thrusting and grinding action in Ybor City, my scared Catholic heart goes into a cardiac arrest. “Where must I draw the line?” I ask myself, while fanning my flushed cheeks. Yes, to be truly American you have to at least attempt to booty dance and you must execute it with some level of expertise. I wondered if I possessed the correct equipment to perform such a task. I took the plunge and tried it. The first gentleman who approached me began to shake himself on me uncontrollably and I feared he was suffering from an epileptic fit. Not to worry, I was assured afterwards. This is normal protocol, apparently.
Culture Shock Four: Crocodile Hunter Woes
No Australian will openly concede that he or she has ever viewed a whole episode of Steve Irwin’s bizarre escapades. So naturally I was shattered by the fact that Americans believed Steve Irwin was the typical Australian and I felt slightly inadequate about never having wrestled a crocodile. Sadly, I began subconsciously comparing myself to good ole’ Steve and wondered whether I could ever live up to his wholesome Aussie image. To rectify the situation I took it upon myself to educate Americans on other aspects of Australian culture such as Australian music including Kylie Minogue dance hits, and Australian immigration history encompassing the rich mix of Greek, Italian, Lebanese and Asian cultures. I often performed the traditional Aboriginal corroboree dance in an effort to convey original Australian customs. (For corroboree dancing, you paint different parts of your body with various colors to symbolize characteristics of nature. Then you take your shoes off, beat your heels in the sand and move your body in a swinging “tribal” motion to show that you are praising the land and the sky as well as your ancestors.) “G’day mate” became my mandatory greeting, regardless of its clichÃ©d nature.
Culture Shock Convictions:
Through the process of tackling my cultural tribulations one at a time, I was able to grow as person and see life from an Australian and an American perspective. Regardless of whether I could successfully eat or shake my butt like an American, I still felt like I had truly accomplished something.Being American is about expressing a zest for life and doing what you feel is right. My doctor has recently informed me that my case of culture shock has miraculously been cured. Mission complete.