Culture Shock in America

I posed this question: Have you ever visited a part of the country where things were done as an older time, or were far more modern than you are accustomed?

I haven’t been to anyplace that was more advanced than I have been used to, but four decades ago my sister and her new husband decided to  relocate, make a fresh start and take their business away from the Washington, DC suburbs where she and I were born and raised. They settled on the southeast corner of Idaho, and I went, as I worked for that business and my mother was going with them, along with my nieces who were as close as any children who were not actually born to me could ever be.

When my sister came back after bidding on a house there, she brought a tee shirt back for me which read: “Welcome to Idaho. Please set your watches back 25 years”.

I think it was even farther back than that.

What made it a little better was that there was a large naval facility close by and I got to work with quite a number of naval wives who were from all over the country. (Yes, it was that long ago that almost all of the military personnel were men.) Those people were not behind times, and we got to laugh about what was backward in that place together and find coping skills.

Fast-forward more than a decade later to see me moving to a small-town in Kentucky from the Denver area where I married and my sons were born.

Culture shock again.  I won’t go all of the small-town problems, (like  having a hard time getting some  local businesses to  take my check even though I had a local address on them issued by a local bank, which was corroborated by my in-town address on my driver’s license, even after I had done business there and already got them to take checks before!), but old-fashioned notions were here and entrenched. They have yet to implement more than one ‘oversized pickup’ for the local dump for the county because they assume that everyone has or knows someone who has a pickup truck and has family to help them get things to the dump, whereas in the ‘city’, the trash trucks will come on-call because they know that people there don’t. With all the new neighborhoods, townhomes, etc. they still won’t do it for us outside the ‘city’ limits.

 Just before we came they had added one more exchange to accommodate all the new telephone numbers for the children of the large, local families growing up, all we “Brought-ins” and “those computers that no one needs” that people were putting in. Most people, however, were accustomed to only having one exchange (348),and even after more and more phone lines were needed and another, additional exchange was added, (349, then 331), most folks still gave their phone numbers by only four digits, the numbers after the exchange, still assuming that everyone knew that their exchange was the old 348.  Now, of course, it is different. No new exchanges because the computers don’t need phone lines, and fewer people have landlines. Now, exchanges are from all over because people keep their numbers from wherever they got their phones. For example, Son #1 changes his plan while in Colorado some years back so his number looks long-distance. It is hard to get many folks here to understand that; they assume that Son#1 is out-of-state and schools have not wanted to call him for his daughters. People dismiss me when I give my area code before my number, because they automatically assume it is the local one. It is, but just a couple of miles away it would be another. (People here are very territorial.)
Son #2, the D-in-Law and Teen Grandson have three different ‘Kentucky’ exchanges but they live in Nevada now. I guess the folks here will have to get with the idea of all types of exchanges and area codes.

I won’t even go into how I shocked the Locals with food other than country ham and overcooked green beans,and pastries other than jam cakes.

However, biggest shocks came to me when I was a child.
I went with mother and siblings to a small town among the cluster of small towns in Pennsylvania where my mother grew up to care for my very elderly and ill grandmother. You understand that here I was, born and bred suburbanite from what was then, (in the early 1960s), basically the capital of the world, with everything was as close to modern as it got.

We had a cold snap and I only had shorts and dresses. My mother took me to a local clothing store where she bought a couple of warmer nightgowns for her mother and a pair of pants for me. She and the lady shopkeeper had their heads together whispering. They came up with a pair of what would now be khakis. I said they were boy’s pants; Mom said, “Look at these”, pointing to metal loops on the side. “Have you ever seen boys’ pants with these?” I had not. I was cold; I wore them.
My aunt’s place was a very large house that had been made into three apartments. Two boys who lived in the attached section became friendly with us, especially with my brother. One was talking a blue streak, but when I came out of a bedroom, he stop dead and stared at me. We stared at each other for more than a few seconds, I can tell you. I was shy, but it was so obvious that he had stopped talking because of me that I had to ask what happened. He could not talk. My mother finally said, “He’s not used to seeing girls dressed like that.” “Like what?”, I asked. The boy still stared,wide-eyed. Mom said, “Girls in pants like that.” He ‘came to’ and said, “Y-yes”.
He had never seen a girl in pants….in 1963. They didn’t even have any there. My mother admitted that they were, actually, boys’ pants; that was all the store had to sell.

Two summers later I went alone with my aunt and cousin to their place in PA. My cousin was younger and not feeling well. My aunt handed me money  and asked me run in to pick up a few things at a drug store. Again, I was shy, but what could I do? I went in and there were no aisles. There was open space with lovely wooden counters all around. Behind them were items on the same  type wood in the shelves behind wood-and-glass doors, but no one was there. I thought that I should be waited on, but I wasn’t sure. I waited. I wondered if I should go  between the counters and open the cases, after all, I had never not gone into a store and just picked up what we needed off of a shelf and then paid for it, except a prescription counter, and I had the idea that this was more like that. Finally, a man came out and asked if he could help me. I told him the items that my aunt had asked for, he got them from behind the cases, I paid him and left.
Then that aunt asked me to run into a grocery store for a couple of items. I was afraid to take things off of the shelves, but this place was more like a ‘normal’ grocery store, if tinier, than any  I had ever seen.
I had been used to what we considered ‘supermarkets’ then; I can’t imagine what those people  would have thought had they been dropped into a megastore  of today.

There is a series of books published called “Culture Shock!”, written for Americans for many foreign countries. I have run across a number of them. They are very interesting , if only for curiosity’s sake. I don’t foresee myself traveling out of the U.S. or indeed, within the country much anymore, but reading these for each state at the time would have been very helpful.


About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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9 Responses to

  1. Jeff Salter says:

    Your anecdote about the pants reminds me of a Christmas gift I received from a relative. It was a nice-looking, tan, sweater vest with buttons. In that period I wore vests around the house — not for “style” but for a bit of extra warmth without any restriction of my arm movement (or the bulk of a jacket).
    Anyway, when I first put it on, and admired it in the mirror, everything seemed copacetic. Then one chilly day, I decided to button it. Hmm. Had my fingers forgotten how to button things?
    You know how some people have a habit of buttoning things from top to bottom — or bottom to top — and any other process feels unnatural? Well I tried both ways, and it still felt weird.
    Finally I posed the question to my wife: “how come I can’t seem to button this sweater vest?”
    “Because it’s a woman’s vest,” she replied.
    I looked down at the front expecting to see “darts” worked into the weave to allow for a bosom. “What do you mean woman’s vest?” I asked.
    “The buttons are on the opposite side.”
    No wonder my fingers didn’t know what to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I think I would have a hard time adjusting to living permanently in a place stuck more than 25 years in the past. Love the story about the boy being in shock seeing you in pants!


  3. I think that would be interesting to move to a place that was behind the times, for awhile at least. I did enjoy your story about the boy and your pants.


  4. Elaine Cantrell says:

    Growing up I lived in a little town with only one exchange. We always gave our phone number using only four digits. I still live in that little town, but now we have many more exchanges. I can’t remember the exact time that I started wearing pants, but it was in the early sixties I’m sure. Girls were forbidden to wear pants to school until the year after I graduated from high school.


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