Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Culture Shock - American Style

I’m pleased to welcome Jenyfer Matthews to the blog today. Jenyfer is an American living in Cairo, Egypt who I met online when we were both published at Cerridwen Press, and I’ve enjoyed hearing about her life in Egypt and her travels on her blog. Today she’s here talking about culture shock, American-style.

People give me a lot of credit for living abroad and traveling as much as I do. Really and truly, while it is interesting and often fun, it’s not really that difficult.

Think about it: I am a blonde American woman living in the Middle East so I don’t blend in at all. No one expects me to know anything so they are inordinately thrilled when I can manage a few words of Arabic (or whatever language of the country I’m visiting) If I inadvertently overlook some local custom, no one expects any better of a know-nothing foreigner anyway. Truly, traveling in Asia and the Middle East is pretty easy – Europe is where I’ve had more trouble. I guess it’s all my Northern European heritage showing because no matter where I’ve gone, everyone has always seemed shocked to hear American accented English coming out of my mouth instead of the local language.

Having been away for just over a decade now, it’s actually the US that I find challenging. I look like an American and I sound like an American, but I’m hopelessly out of touch with lots of everyday things in American life. For instance, I use my credit cards a lot for online shopping, but rarely in Egypt (where they still have the manual carbon paper swipe). I do however tend to use my cards frequently when I am home in the US in the summertime, yet it seems like every time I come back there is a new system for swiping cards at the register. I always look at the key pad and have a private moment of panic where I’m wondering at what point in the transaction do I swipe and if I need to know my PIN or not. And am I the only one who detests the electronic signature? I spend most of my time typing so my signature has deteriorated anyway – on an electronic screen it looks like little more than a scrawl. How that proves anything I’ll never know.

One summer, a few years ago, I saw one of those self-checkout lines and decided to give it a go. I worked retail in college and it wasn’t so hard. I had a few too many items for the bagging area however so when I removed one of the bags the register started to scream at me. I tried to put it back, but that wasn’t good enough – I had to have an employee to reset things for me. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has ever had trouble with those things, but the look she gave me said otherwise.

I’ve heard of Tivo, but haven’t got the faintest clue how to work it. Same goes for car GPS sytems and Wii. Don’t even get started on how many hit TV shows I have never heard of let alone seen. It’s much harder to be a foreigner in your own country.

The fact that I live abroad and travel so much myself made it seem natural for me to write a book in which my character travels. I channeled the clueless feeling from which I often suffer into my character, who strangely enough encountered many of the same problems and situations I’ve encountered in my own time traveling. Which were real and which were fictional? Well, my husband never ran off with his secretary! You’ll have to decide for yourself on the rest.

When Jenyfer isn’t traveling or writing, she’s busy quilting, baking, or providing shuttle and cheerleading services for her two sports-crazy children. For more information on Jenyfer and her books, please visit her website at http://www.jenyfermatthews.com. Her latest book, SEPARATION ANXIETY, is available digitally in all formats from Smashwords.com and in print from Amazon.


anny cook said...

I've also loved your glimpses of overseas life! As for Tivo, GPS, etc... don't feel bad. I don't know about those either and I live in the good old USA. Not all of us are "up to the minute"!

Jenyfer Matthews said...

LOL - it's good to know I'm not alone, Anny :)

Jess said...

those self-service check-out things just got to my town. they ALWAYS hate me. I avoid them. What's the point of them when you need 3 people hovering around to fix all the errors? ;)

Jenyfer Matthews said...

THANK YOU! That's exactly what I think, Jess!