As I have gotten older, I have experienced many instances of cultural shock. Some have been smaller such as meeting my friend’s Filipino family for the first time. Some have been much greater such as the first time I went to Europe. In “Transistion Shock: Putting Culture Shock in Perspective”, Janet Bennet talks about all the different types of culture shock that people can experience. Much of what he said brought me back to my first time to Europe.
I traveled to several countries in Europe last summer; Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. By far, the country where I experienced the most culture shock was France. Maybe this was just because it was the first country I traveled to or it was the extreme difference in language, but it was a very hard adjustment to make. Like Bennett said in his article, many people often feel hopeless when they travel to a different country. That’s exactly how I felt for most of my trip. I had trouble communicating with the natives so I couldn’t ask for directions to the bathroom and I didn’t know some words on menus or signs on the wall. Luckily I was with my family who helped me find my way around. We also had access to a tour guide who spoke basic Italian so he was able to help us around. As the weeks went on, I felt a lot more comfortable in my surroundings and was able to order basic drinks and food off a menu. I learned how to say basic sayings like “Thank You” and “Wheres the bathroom?”
According to Bennet, there are three stages that occur to you when you experience culture shock. Fight,flight and filter. The fight stage is what happened to me when I first arrived in France. It is when the traveler’s guard is up and they are very shy of their surroundings. The next stage, flight is what happened to me about 24 hours after I arrived in France. It is when the traveler is so overwhelmed with what they got themselves into and they often feel very lost. For a moment, I felt as if I wanted to go back home to America becuase I thought there was no way that I was going to be able to feel comfortable. The last stage, filter, is when the person finally starts to adjust to their new surroundings. This actually happened to me the last couple days of my trip. I was finally starting to feel like I was grasping the culture and language differences.
When someone first looks at me, not much of ethnic diversity usually comes to mind. Instead, most just file me under the tag of “white girl American”. While I am a proud American, there is another part of my culture that often goes unnoticed even though it is very important in who I am today. My grandparents are from Italy, so for every Christmas, Birthday and Thanksgiving, there was some kind of Italian tradition that came along with it. When my grandparents would come over to my house, they would often talk about how things were like in Italy and similarly to Ojeda in “Growing Up American: Doing The Right Thing,” it made me question what the Italian people were like. One act that always makes me feel connected to my Italian culture is listening to, or playing the accordion. It was the first instrument that I ever learned how to play. When I was only seven or eight years old, my grandpa bought me a child’s accordion and he would try to teach me all the classic Italian songs that he learned in Italy from his father. Though I don’t play it now, every time I hear an accordion playing, I think of my grandpa and it brings me closer to the Italian culture. Another large aspect of Italian culture that I feel particularly connected to is Religion. Italy, especially Rome, is largely known for it’s religion. Being Catholic, I’ve been going to Mass pretty much every Sunday since I was old enough to remember. Though the Italian culture is not the only culture that is strongly Catholic, the history of the country still relates back to many scenes in the bible. This is shown in many classic museums in Italy like the Accademia Gallery in Florence. Religion has had a huge part in shaping me into the person that I am by making me a more grounded, humble and forgiving person. As well as being strongly religious, Italians are known for being very expressive, when it comes to their affection for people. Growing up, my grandparents always greeted anyone they met with a kiss on the cheek. I didn’t think it was strange until I had a friend from school come over and she became frightened that my grandparents were so affectionate towards her. I am very much like that with my friends. Of course I don’t kiss them on the cheek, but I do greet them and leave them with a hug. There are several other things about my personality that I notice that are derived from the huge impact Italian culture had on my life growing up. Small things such as using my hands whenever I’m talking in a conversation with someone, No matter what that conversation is about. Similarly, my taste in food choices is very limited and is often something that is comparable to the authentic Italian food that my grandparents would make me while I was growing up. Whenever I am at a restaurant, the first thing that I look for is a pasta or pizza dish of some type, because that is my comfort zone when it comes to food. It’s what I grew up and it’s what I still choose to eat most days today now that I’m older. Though I’ve only been to Italy one time, there are still several characteristics of my culture practices that are straight from Italy.