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From TV sitcoms to Hollywood movies, the U.S seems all familiar to us! Yet, culture shock in America can be very real for Indians travelling here.
Photo by Anju Jayaram
America is a land of dreams and for some Indians, it is their dream and only goal in life. The US has many great things to offer but as an individual coming from an entirely different culture there are many aspects about the culture that can strike a first time traveler. For me, the distinct cultural differences I perceived were not the short dresses (TV had sufficiently prepared me for this) or public display of affection that Indians usually assign as something Western; in reality I have seen more PDA around parks in Nagpur than anywhere in the US.
A great guide for life in the Americas is a book called Inscrutable Americans that lists the maladies a naive Indian comes across on his visit to the U.S. Some exchanges with ‘the natives’ in the U.S. are embarrassing and awkward, for example when trying to return a hug from an American friend (I am quite the non-hugging type) which leads to several dives in the wrong direction and finally both parties settling for a handshake.
America is fun, interesting, dynamic and a place where many cultures merge. I have found more cuisines, cultures, races, and ethnicity in this one country than in any other country I have been to. Hence America is much more inclusive as it is said to be the land of immigrants. But America is not all roses and peaches as there are negatives and positives like any other country and is guaranteed to have its share of culture shocks for a person from a different cultural perspective.
I had a great time traveling in the U.S and I was lucky to see many parts of this amazing country. Some of this is written as an attempt at wry humour and some of it is of course true. Anyone traveling to a new culture is bound to have some culture shock whether it is Indians visiting the U.S or Americans visiting India. I also believe that such culture shocks are what make travelling to a new country exciting.
This article was first published here.
Header image by Anju Jayaram.
A traveler at heart and a writer by chance a vital part of a vibrant
As a US-born Indian-American woman, I agree with what you’ve stated about portion sizes, spotty public transport, and drug ads.
But with all due respect, there are some points I disagree with here. There are cities like Las Vegas (where I live for many years) where some shops and restaurants are open 24 hours, 7 days a week. While most people do eat dinner by 6pm or so, I personally don’t know a single person who is in bed before 9pm, unless they need to be at work very early or are a senior citizen. Small talk can be avoided altogether if one is in a cramped intimate space such as an elevator. I myself prefer not to go beyond “Hi, how are you?” and use this chance play with my phone. The majority of people do this in other crowded places such as waiting rooms, bus stops, or when standing in line. One big advantage of having a mobile phone! Emergency care is NOT free for all US residents, though there are a vast number of patients who are unable to pay for emergency care; hence many ER facilities are forced to give “uncompensated care” to the medically uninsured. Patients who can pay, do, and are expected to. Incidentally, even ambulance rides are billed.
You are very correct in stating that culture shock can take many forms and are inevitable when being in a different place. I experienced this firsthand when I lived in Kerala for 3 years in my early 20s. But it really does make the stay a great learning opportunity. Cheers!
I agree on most of your points Jen. Personally I adapt easily and don’t really have any issues with any of the points I have written about except for the hugging and small talk which took some getting used to though I don’t mind it really. One of the ideas I wanted to bring forth though on a lighter vein was that the US or any of the so called promised lands are not homogenous, there are big cities like LA, NY and Philly where it is always happening and the bulk of America that lives in the suburbs and smaller cities and towns where shops and people sign off early. You are right about the emergency care not being free but gets waived of for people who cannot afford. The place where I volunteered had people coming from low income groups and that was the route most of them took when they needed medical attention along with signing up for free trials.
People with their noses in their phones All Day are very annoying. Talk to people And stop worrying about your dumb phone. I don’t even own a smartphone.
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