Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cultural osmosis

I've been abroad - entirely in the Middle Eastern region - for close to 16 months straight now. In the last few weeks, I've started to feel more and more out of touch with American culture. I'm reading all the same news sources, talking with all the same friends, checking all the same blogs. And yet. I'm missing that certain something, that general, baseline knowledge of culture that is not acquired in any deliberate sense but is picked up almost through osmosis, just from being around Americans and listening and watching.

It's getting to the point where if I catch a glimpse of the United States on the news or a TV show, it already seems just a little bit foreign to me. Just a little. Like oooh, the sidewalk curbs aren't painted black and white there! It's almost like that time we went to Jordan for four months and when we came back, everyone in the US was saying "absolutely!" instead of "yes." It was sudden, inexplicable, and it happened while we were gone. Now that we've been "gone" for over a year, these little changes are racking up and I can't keep up with them all. I don't know who Tim Tebow is. I don't know what the rank and file really think about all this Occupy stuff, or about the Republican presidential candidates, for that matter. It's been ages since I heard anyone complain about gas prices in person. Today, just for the sake of forging a common bond with my fellow Americans, just to be in the know, I looked up the price of gas.

I felt a pang of...something (I'm not sure what) when I caught a glimpse of the most recent Good Housekeeping cover the other day. It was so AMERICAN, and ever so slightly so other. It was as if for the first time in my life I was able to take a step back from my own native culture and regard it from afar. All at once I could see what the world's perception of American culture is, which is difficult to do when you're immersed in it. And I have to say, I liked a lot of what I saw. America gets a lot of grief from other countries, but there is something so spunky and carefree and young and earnest about it, too.

America reminds me of these young Emiratis I teach, in a way. They're full of energy and relatively new to the world and until they learn otherwise (and they will), they believe there is nothing they can't achieve.

And that's how you know I've been in the Middle East too long, when I start comparing the US to Emirati youth. I'll stop now. My point is that I feel like I'm drifting away from essential cultural knowledge when it comes to the US. Who can fill me in on the minutiae I'm missing that I can't pick up from news and blogs and talking with other similarly disconnected expatriates?


Jen said...

Well, gas prices ARE down....so that might be contributing to the quiet on that front. (I filled up for $3.15/gal the other day and did a happy dance.)

Kathy Haynie said...

I don't know who Tebow is, either but I am a sports illiterate. I hear a lot of people talking about paying down debt instead of buying big fancy things on credit. In my age bracket, I see more people working longer instead of taking early retirement.

In Oregon, an equally-divided (Rep/Dem) state legislature cooperated and passed some legislation that is good for the people of Oregon. I hear people (I agree) being pretty disgusted with all the political gamesmanship going on in DC.

So much uncertainty--was pulling out of Iraq now a good thing? What will happen with medical insurance availability and costs? Will college grads be able to get jobs? I hear a lot of those concerns.

robin said...

very interesting. i always enjoy your thoughtful posts.

Amanda said...

I feel like all of a sudden, people are saying "apparently" a lot. "she made soup for dinner, apparently." So be on the look out for that trend.

Crys said...

Tim Tebow, plays football, paints scripture references under on his eyes, is the child of missionaries who had him in the Philippians. I used his name in a sentence just yesterday. In response to what we were going to do after residency I said, "Well we might do a fellowship, or get a job where the money is, or do what we really want to do and start humanitarian work. It would be nice to Tebow the kids." I can't help it. I'm fascinated by people who were dragged all over the world by their parents, like that guy from the TV show Ed and your daughters. It just makes them all kinds of interesting ;)

Crys said...


Tia said...

In Tucson, Gas is $2.95/gal, minimum wage is increasing .30 cents to $7.65 an hour and don't know much more than that.

Susanne said...

I love these kinds of posts. It's fun to see American culture through an American who has lived for a while in another culture's eyes. Glad you shared.

Tim Tebow played for the University of Florida and is now the QB for the Denver Broncos. Many people criticize him for not being a good NFL QB and also for being too public about his faith and thankfulness to God/love of Jesus/what have you. They even made his name into a word - Tebowing - and he gets mocked a lot for that. I'm hoping he's really a good guy and can keep a good testimony and not go the way of folks like, oh, Miley Cyrus.

I agree with some of the Occupy Wall Street message, but not all. I'm not for taking from Peter to pay Paul. If you work for your money, you earned it. I did not. But I'm against big businesses and banks getting taxpayer bailouts and influencing Congress so. I think many cities are tired of their occupation because they have - in some cases - left quite a mess and cost taxpayer money which many cities don't have in abundance.

The Iowa caucuses are next Tuesday and who is winning the GOP poll depends on the week as the lead has changed about every other week. I think the infighting has helped President Obama as his poll numbers have risen lately. I suspect he will be reelected no matter who gets the GOP nod.

Lots of crazy people fighting out there - over shoes and who knows what else. I saw a fight in the Mall of America and later the one between the Christians in Bethlehem. Made me want to knock sense into all of those involved and tell them to go to time out.

Gas prices are up slightly today possibly because of Iran's threat to cut off the supply of oil coming through their area. Of course this has renewed talks of Iran. If it's not about Iran's nuclear weapon goals and protecting Israel from those Persian haters, it's something else Iranian. Always.

Syria has been in the news again because of the Arab monitors' visit. I don't know if regular Americans care that much about this sort of thing, but it's what has taken my attention in recent days.

Also the video released from N Korea showing the masses wailing for their Dear Leader...so touching, isn't it? I do wonder how much of it is staged and how much of it is real. I am sad for those who think their leaders are gracious gods bent on bringing them the good in life.

Um, sorry for this long comment. It seems I was with a baby too long today and didn't really talk much to adults ... I did watch the news a bit while I was feeding him. I think I just gave a recap of what I saw!

Liz Johnson said...

Somehow I missed this post, but this actually motivates me to blog more about what's going on popular US culture, just to keep you informed.

Please tell me you saw THIS video, though.

Oh, and gas just jumped in Indiana to $3.55/gallon. It's annoying.

Liz Johnson said...

Also, Portlandia is available on Netflix streaming now... full episodes. I saw the first two and am cracking up (the first was better than the second, though).


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