Saturday, April 25, 2009

Culture Shock

After over ten years traveling around the world racking up frequent flyer miles, and having set foot on every continent except Antarctica, you begin to think you're immune to culture shock.

Posted to Flickr by aallan.
Sunrise over Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf.

I know the best place to eat in more than two dozen airports. I know the hidden and totally unsigned walking route between the main terminals which keeps you airside at SFO rather than sending you back through security.

I can speak fluent American as well as British English, or at least I can get the words right. My accent is unmistakable, and at least some of the time, an asset here in the States. I've stayed in some of the best, and certainly some of the worst, hotels in the world and I'm familiar with many of those little cultural taboos that catch out in-frequent travelers and cause difficulties.

Culture shock is what happens to other people...

The sight of what appeared to be a cute soccer mom, with large sun glasses and a scowl on her face, driving a black sport utility vehicle with tinted windows, being pursued at some speed by six police cruisers with sirens blowing and lights flashing down Pacific Avenue here in Santa Cruz proved me wrong.

Or rather the fact that I was the only one paying this incident any attention. The sight of one of the cops leaning out the window of the lead vehicle holding a shotgun wasn't apparently that unusual. The ambulance that raced by a few minutes later, heading in the same direction as the now long departed cavalcade of vehicles, didn't seem to be raising any eyebrows either.

Of such small incidents, and other little things, comes the large and uncomfortable feeling of disorientation that tells you you're a very long way from home. No matter how many times you visit a country, and no matter how at home you feel there, there is always the possibility that culture shock will creep up on you unexpectedly.