I’ve been to a lot of places in my life. As a kid, I traveled all over the United States with Mom and Dad. I’ve been to Mexico twice on Youth Group mission trips and over to Ireland, Northern Ireland, Germany, and Austria with Mom on her travels.
You’d think I would have experienced culture shock in any of these settings. Of course, it was funny to learn that “pants” means underwear in Ireland and that Germany has so many one-way streets that it’s hard to get anywhere on time in a car. But I did not experience real culture shock in these places. It was closer to culture novelty—a strange one-off happening—because I wasn’t going to stay very long.
I first experienced culture shock in Seattle. At the end of 2007 I moved from Los Angeles to the perpetually overcast city where rain comes in about ten more varieties than you might have thought possible. There I felt each difference, no matter how superficial, to my core. This, after all, was where I was going to live for a really long time.
The first thing I noticed was the lack of car horns. A good friend once remarked that Seattle was planned by two people who hated each other. But in spite of the bizarre five-way intersections, winding city streets, and overly aggressive right-turners, on average I heard cars honk once a week. And it wasn’t the punitive blast you get every three minutes in Los Angeles. It was a gentle tap on the horn to inform your error.
In addition to the quiet drivers you had gentle, inquisitive people. I learned the term “Northwestern Niceness” after I was approached by several people at bus stops for friendly chit-chat. This was a pleasant shock. I didn’t need to be afraid of strangers? I didn’t need to keep my eyes on the ground and my nose to myself? People actually talked to each other in this city? My suspicions were confirmed when, once when I was lost on a bus, the entire front half of the bus collaborated, sharing information to help me get where I needed to go.
These were two of the many things that differentiated Seattle from Los Angeles and left me a little shaken by the difference. I spent four and a half years in Seattle before returning to Los Angeles. Now I am beginning Round Two of culture shock and realize I’ve barely scratched the surface.
At the end of March, 2018, I moved to Houston. As in Texas.
The first thing I noticed was the freeways. Here they are wider and flanked on either side by something called “Access Roads” which offer parallel travel to the freeways at slightly reduced speeds. I used to have a mental picture of Texas as a desert state, but that has been thoroughly replaced by the lush green forest that co-exists with the sprawling city.
It’s no great shock, but barbeque is the staple of the restaurant industry here. There are “Now hiring!” and “Help wanted!” signs in practically every business window. But the biggest shock to me is the overt Christianity.
Without making any judgment about appearance-of-Christianity versus actually-following-Jesus, I was flabbergasted by the number of of “He is Risen!” signs on windows and crosses on front lawns. And that doesn’t even take into account the sheer amount of Christian-leaning merchandise I’ve seen in the local Walmart, HEB Food and Drug and local Cracker Barrel stores. Coming from a city like Los Angeles, I couldn’t help thinking this kind of in-your-face Jesus talk on mugs, shirts and signs was practically begging for protest and litigation.
It’s so different here. Granted, I’ve just scratched the surface, but there’s a “Harm-none-and-don’t-be-stupid-about-things-but-do-what-you-will” feel to things in Texas.
It’s big. It’s beautiful. It’s green and feels washed because it rains so much. You can taste the quality of the food.
I think I’m going to like it here.
Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash