Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Culture Shock

An afternoon caffe - Italian Lavazza coffee in my espresso cup from Caltagirone

Moving back to the States after four years in Sicily has taken a bit of adjustment.  Culture shock was to be expected, but the thing about culture shock is that if you know it is coming it isn't terribly shocking.  So, needless to say the differences in culture that caught my attention were completely unexpected.

Overwhelmed by options
The first difference - one not so shocking - is the number of ways Americans have to part with their hard-earned cash.  The number of stores and restaurants blow my mind, not to mention walking into a store like World Market or Petsmart and being completely overwhelmed.  Sure, in Sicily we had Auchan and other supermercati but nothing like these massive stores dedicated to a narrow purpose such as housewares or pets.

The Pasta Aisle
My first trip to an American grocery store after moving home was to pick up a few things for dinner.  I was making a quick pasta dish and needed some pasta.  In Italian grocery stores entire aisles are dedicated to pasta and I spent several minutes going from one end of Vons to the other looking for the pasta aisle.  Certainly I didn't expect an an entire aisle to be dedicated to pasta, but surely it would be a rather large, obvious section, right? Wrong!  It was just a tiny section of one aisle.  No wonder I had a hard time finding it!

Everyone (well, mostly) speaks English!
While living in Sicily I had the comfort of knowing that while out in public I could speak English to my husband or friends and know that most people around me didn't have a clue what I was saying.  Needless to say the filter between my brain and mouth became a bit disused. I could blurt out random observations, some of which should have probably gone unsaid, or at least said in a whisper.  Now that I'm back in the States I've had to remind myself more than once that people around me understand what I'm saying!  Yep, I'm having to dust off that filter and be careful what I'm saying out in public or else I'm likely to embarrass myself or offend someone else.

Ordering a cappuccino
In Italy cappuccini are exclusively ordered in the morning.  If you order one after noon (some say even 10AM) it is obvious you are a foreigner, most likely a tourist.  In an attempt to try and fit in I rarely, if ever, ordered a cappuccino in the afternoon.  However, since I've been back I've truly enjoyed the fact that I can order a cappuccino any time of the day without anyone caring.  It is really rather nice!

No riposo?
Speaking of doing things in the afternoon - being in a land without riposo is awesome!  I can actually run errands and get things done in the afternoon!  What a concept.  In Italy, and especially in Sicily most everything shuts down between noon and 4pm.  It is also common that many shops and restaurants will be closed Sunday and/or Monday and/or Tuesday. Getting anything done in a timely manner was usually a joke, so it is certainly a welcome relief to be back in a country where most things are taken care of in a timely manner.

A simple hello
One thing about Italy that I truly miss is the simple greeting - when you pass someone on the street, enter a shop, etc. it is customary to greet people with "salve" (a formal hello), "buon giorno" (good day) or "buona serra" (good evening).  In the States people often avert their eyes when passing and I've discovered that I really don't like that. It feels so cold and impersonal even just walking though the grocery store. If you say hello or even just smile at people they don't know how to react.  Often after the initial surprise you get a smile and hello in return, but it just isn't expected in Southern California culture. I'll be doing my part to change that, even if it does surprise people!

These are just a few of the observations I've made over the past month during our transition.  Moving back to the States has been bittersweet.  I'm glad to be back in the land of convenience, but I miss Sicily, it was my home for four years and is now part of who I am and always will be.


My Captivating Images said...

I love the part about everyone speaks english!!! Also, I love that I live in a very small southern town so that people do smile and speak for the most part to other people in stores. :)

Sheena said...

I love the filter, too! lol I remember avoiding the grocery store for about two or three weeks. My grandma went for me. When I did finally go, I gave my grandma my list and was like, "Okay, where to so we can go." I didn't like it.

I did the say hello to everyone thing, too. And I was in the DC area! Everyone looked at me crazy, especially the few times I accidentally said it in Italian.

Glad you can enjoy your cappuccino any time you want now. =D

J&J said...

I loved this post. You did an great job of summarizing culture shock when moving from one country to another. I experienced a lot of these same thoughts/feelings. I remember feeling so overwhelmed when going to a superstore. I still won't go to Walmart. It's too big and I really don't like it.

Cat said...

This was a great post. You really did a good job of telling it like it is for you and allowing us to experience as best we can. For the few (but fortunate ;)) times I visited I loved the ways and the culture. But even just visiting and coming home, you know each successive time that Americans are indeed different.
You now have some new colors added to your life's weaving.
Ti amo figlia bella!

A. Rogers photo said...

Your blog makes for an interesting read. I work with foreign exchange students who come here and some of the things you mentioned are their first impressions as well. I love how getting out of the country (or back in again) there are so many eye openers that are good or bad. I like the last part you wrote about saying hello. It IS weird sometimes if a natural "hello" makes one uncomfortable. It really shouldn't! I am looking forward to reading up on some of your adventures (and of course seeing what images you captured) time to time! I found you through another readers blog in case you wondered.

Angela said...

My Captivating Images - Small towns do have that advantage! Luckily some neighborhoods in San Diego have a small town feel.

Sheena - I've gone to the store with a list and been so overwhelmed by the choices! Its crazy the variety we have.

Jill - I've never been a big Walmart fan, but they do have good prices, I just make sure I go when they aren't too busy, otherwise I just can't handle it. :)

Mum - I'm glad this post helped you experience a bit of my culture shock. I know you've seen the differences when you travel.

A. Rogers photo - Thanks for visiting my blog! I hope you return often. I think you may have found me through Thru Catz Eyes blog - written by my mom! :) I happened to see your comment on her page.

Adrianne said...


You did such a wonderful job detailing the differences! I feel a small portion of these when I just visit and worry (a tad) about it when we come back to live. I have to say, though, that the part that had me rolling as well as served as a reminder and warning was the filter!! I will most certainly need one of those!

You are missed dearly, my friend!

I'm so glad you are back to blogging! Adventures through your eyes are fun!

Love you!

Angela said...

Adrianne - watch out for that filter1 lol although I think you have a bit more restraint with what come out of your mouth than I do :)