Adapting to Cultural Differences

When I moved to the US in 1998 I tried to keep my lifestyle going as much as I could. I had already left behind my family, friends, job, beaches, tropical climate and that was hard enough on me. I had studied English and completed the course (probably about 6 years studying twice a week), so at least language was not a barrier. But I found out culture was.
The particular area I moved to is up north and apparently it is normal for neighbors to not know each other. Also, rarely I saw people on the streets. It looked like a ghost town to me at first. Little by little I got to meet people, including a few neighbors, and slowly got a hang of their culture. One thing I insisted on was making jokes. Coming from Brazil, a day won’t pass when you don’t make one joke at least. It does not matter if people are sick, poor, suffering, bankrupt, lonely; they always make jokes. And life goes by easily this way, I tell you. There are many wrong things going on in the city I used to live in – violent crimes, corruption, abuse, negligence from politics, etc. And by easing it up with jokes, I’d say the whole country goes by day by day with a good mood despite the conditions they live in.
And so I tried, with the mindset I brought from the country I came, to make jokes to whoever I met: grocery store workers, gas station clerks, neighbors, new friends, parents from my playgroup. Right away I noticed they would not laugh at my jokes. At first, I thought it was because of my accent. But after a while I thought to myself, “How can they understand my regular sentences but not my jokes?” So I kept working hard on them only to realize they didn’t think it was funny at all. So I gave up. I stopped trying and only carried regular conversation. One day I was watching Friends (the TV show, which had ended but kept being shown in another channel), and I noticed how their jokes now made so much more sense because I lived in the culture they made jokes about. And the light bulb went on for me: “People don’t laugh at my jokes because I am telling them from my culture’s point of view; I have to switch that!” And so I did. Most people now laugh at my jokes, who are way less frequent than they used to be, I admit it.aliens
On the same line, I learned in a not very good way that people here do not laugh at little kids doing their silly stuff. That was a shock for me. Laughing at little kids in the place where I came from means you find them cute and adorable, and they are amusing you with their new discoveries, which, in my opinion, is a delightful thing! Well, some parents got pissed when they saw me laughing at their children. I began noticing they would pull their kid away when they saw me laughing, even though I had my own child nearby and would laugh at what she was doing, too! They might smile at most, but laughing is no good. Even my kids have told me that now that they are older: “Mom, you shouldn’t laugh like that at people; it is annoying.” Oh my goodness! I never meant it that way. I was just delighted and happy; and when you feel that way in the culture I grew up, you laugh and it feels contagious.
There is no manual on how to handle cultural differences and what they are; so I try to keep my mind open to learning. Every single day.


About thowling

Peace, love and light! Thereza Howling.
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3 Responses to Adapting to Cultural Differences

  1. Mara says:

    Thereza, te entendo perfeitamente.Também passei por isso.Fazia piada, para alegrar a conversa e ninguém entendia. Na cultura alema, eles sao muito direto e seco, a piada pode ser entendida como uma afirmacao ao pé da letra. Hoje, já comeco a frase, dizendo que se eu estivesse no Brasil ou se fossemos brasileiros diríamos assim… e às vezes funciona.

  2. thowling says:

    Aqui nao sao diretos; as pessoas nao dizem o que querem, entoa quando chegamos no Brasil eh um choque, principalmente pras meninas, que comecam a achar o que dizem pra ela insultos… Chega a ser engracado!
    Ontem fui a uma consulta medica e a enfermeira perguntou:”How tall are you?” Em portugues seria:”Qual a sua altura?”, mas traduzindo literalmente fica:”O quao alta eh voce?” EU respondi com: “Do you mean how short I am?” ou “voce quer saber o quao baixa eu sou?” e ri um pouco; a enfermeira riu, para minha surpresa e disse que era a primeira vez que ouvia alguem dizer isso. Pelo menos ela entendeu a piada, rsrsrs
    Mara, esses meus posts sobre diferecas culturais sao para um grupo de maes multiculturais como nos, com filhos e morando no exterior. Se voce quiser, mostro pra voce o que elas andam criando. Sao super criativas, ativas e interessadas em criar os filhos com duas linguas diferentes ou mais; sao pessoas do mundo todo, acho ate que tem uma alema por la.

  3. Pingback: Multilingual Kids Blogging Carnival: Funny Multilingualism Stories

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