By Cayley James
Souvenirs are very idiosyncratic. My sister and her friends buy tacky shot glasses for one another. I was recently in New York with my family and my sister was racing about a souvenir shop in Greenwich Village fretting over whether to buy one glass emblazoned with a cartoon skyline or one with a loud red apple. "Which one do you think Sophie would like more?!" I wasn't much help because I don't share her same zest for ironic kitsch. At least not when it comes to paying $12 bucks for it.
But I digress.
I've started to buy books in places I go that are specific to their location. When I went to New Orleans back in 2009, I picked up a collection of beautiful essays on the city called New Orleans, Mon Amour. during my fascination with American expats in Paris I bought The Great Gatsby from Shakespeare and Company. My passion when traveling though, is the collection of ephemera. Boarding passes, ticket stubs, museum maps, napkins, menus…hairnets. I have shoe boxes, bulletin boards, journals full of the paraphernalia of my trips.
I'm shit at keeping a journal while I'm travelling, despite having kept the habit of daily jottings alive since I was 9 years old. My photos never do my voyage a lick of justice. I tend to forget that I even have a camera strapped to my side. Besides, my portraits of friends and family are atrocious. Give me a cemetery and I'm good to go.
I love collecting the random and inane. My philosophy is that any object can hold emotional weight and the more banal the object, the more you need to remember why the you picked it up in the first place. The stories become inherently ingrained. It's also way cheaper than shot glasses.
One of my favourite things that I've held on to is a paper hat from a Waffle House in central Ohio. I was on a road-trip, and it was probably around 11 o'clock, and we stopped to get something to eat. We were driving through the night and this was the only thing that seemed the least bit exotic. In the flat Ohio night the seven of us stumbled out of the van, having driven for too many hours already. The Waffle House is a mysterious place, open twenty four hours. And we discovered on this particular drive that fly-over country is filthy with them. There is nothing special about Waffle House, except that the woman who took our order must have been no older then 25. She had chipped sea-foam nail polish, her demeanour was too peppy for someone who was working a night shift and she was very amused by our appreciation for the paper hats. The dining room was full of old timers and truckers and for a late late dinner, verging on midnight snack, I got "Hashbrowns All the Way". A bizarre amalgam of textures and flavours that sat like a rock in my stomach all the way south to the Gulf of Mexico. I remember all of it because I kept that jaunty paper hat.
I have ticket stubs to almost all the shows I've seen. Coral from Hawaii. Rocks from the North West Territories. Memontos of the life I've lived and the lands I've seen. It's sentimental and perhaps I'm giving myself too much credit. But the ephemera from the corners of our lives is the most important. We don't seek it out, it's not what we necessarily wanted … it's what happened and it's what you want to remember.
culture shock in the kingdom of saudi arabia, papua new guinea, and toronto, canada - gabriel rayan
when two cultures collide - antonia bruce
nihon, the country of all contrasts - aline roch
the great leveller - ryan english
reverse culture shock - janet le
My idea for the theme for this issue (culture shock) came to me while I was researching culture shock and depression one lonely night in Glasgow several months ago. I came upon the website for the UK Council for International Student Affairs, which has a webpage addressing the issue of international students and culture shock. On this website, they have a model for culture shock with 5 distinct stages. Even though I wasn’t a student at the time, I found this model extremely helpful in understanding my experience living abroad.
The 5 Stages of Culture Shock
(This model has apparently been adapted from Orientated for Success edited by M Barker, Australian International Development Assistance Bureau, 1990).
The “honeymoon” stage – When you first arrive in a new culture, the differences are intriguing and you may feel excited, stimulated and curious. At this stage you are still protected by the close memory of your home culture.
The “distress” stage – A little later, differences create an impact and you may feel confused, isolated or inadequate as cultural differences intrude and familiar supports (family and friends from home) are not immediately available.
The “re-integration” stage – Next, you may reject the differences you encounter. You may feel angry or frustrated, or hostile towards the new culture. At this stage you may be conscious mainly of how much you dislike it compared to home.
The “autonomy” stage – Differences and similarities are accepted. You may feel relaxed, confident and more like an old hand as you become more familiar with situations and feel well able to cope with new situations based on your growing experience.
The “independence” stage – Differences and similarities are valued and important. You may feel full of potential and able to trust yourself in all kinds of situations. Most situations become enjoyable and you are able to make choices according to your preferences and values.
Scotland’s rejection of me (or rather, my rejection of Scotland) made me want to sit alone in my flat, watch American sit-coms and scroll through old Facebook photos of my Canadian friends (ok I still do that a lot). My prolonged culture shock made me idolize Canadian culture and wish that I could move home almost daily.
One thing that helped me move on from this “distress” stage was having friends and family visit from home. I was very lucky and in my first year living abroad, I received 9 visitors. Apart from the obvious fact that visitors are a comforting reminder of home, they can also help you to realize how much you have adapted. Even if I only knew where I was going half the time, my guests never knew where they were going. It gave me a perverse sense of pleasure to realize that I was more adapted to Scottish culture than they were. A few moments that stand out in particular are translating a Glaswegian taxi driver's accent for my mom and whispering to my Dad that he didn't need to tip the bartender at a music venue.
Another way to beat culture shock is to completely submerge yourself in the new culture, so that you adapt out of necessity.
One rainy night in Toronto in 2008, long before I ever set foot in Scotland, Rory and I watched a film called Ratcatcher. It was about a garbage collection strike in Glasgow in 1973 and even though the film was in English, it had English subtitles.
"Wot???" He exclaimed as he often does when he finds something unfathomably ridiculous. "It has subtitles? It's in English."
I needed to read them. I couldn't understand the Glaswegian accents.
Two years later, I got a job at a deli in Glasgow's trendy West End. For the first few weeks, I suffered from a complete inability to communicate with at least half the customers.
When people ordered pickle I gave them gherkins. I thought tuna salad was tuna mayonnaise, not tuna mayonnaise plus salad vegetables. (Not British? Confused? Good.)
I was forever grateful when a coworker explained to me that when a customer asked for a bap, he was asking for a roll. I hadn't misheard him and he didn't want ham and salad in a wrap.
I learned to say two pounds ninety and started to pronounce lahh-tay like laa-tay just for the hell of it.
It took me a few more weeks to realize that I should pronounce bag more like bahhhg and less like bayyyg, so that a customer would know what I was talking about when I asked if they wanted one.
(How could they not understand me? I had a North American accent, just like the cast of Friends and the characters on The Simpsons)
But, the characters on Friends and The Simpsons never had to work a food service industry job in Glasgow.
I've heard that the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in it, so that you learn to speak it out of necessity. That's probably why I understood more French when I went to visit my relatives in France for a weekend than I did after years of studying French at school. And so, when you have a queue of 30 hungry patrons shooting sandwich orders at you, it's a sink or swim situation. I was forced to learn to understand Glaswegian English or look for another job.
I can now understand about 95% of customers on my first try, which means I must be entering into the "autonomy" stage. I no longer view every daily task as a source of cross-cultural frustration. In fact, I recently served two customers from Vancouver who told me I no longer have a Canadian accent (!) and many of my Canadian friends and family can attest to my newly acquired Scottish lilt (though I'm not sure if any Scots believe them).
Some customers still look at me like they have no idea what the hell I'm talking about when I ask them if they want a bayyyg. But this is mostly a source of amusement for my coworkers and me, and no longer makes me feel like a freak.
I want to watch Ratcatcher again and see if I still need to read the subtitles. I reckon I won’t.
Photos via Antonia Bruce.