I did not know the meaning of culture shock before I came to the United States, but now I do. As an international student coming from a religious and conservative country like Afghanistan to study in a liberal, democratic country like the U.S., the move definitely shocked my nerves and appetite for a while.
When I first arrived, it was the superficial matters that grabbed my attention, like clothing, talking, hairstyles, and fashion. I was shocked the first time I saw women wearing bikinis in public near the beach.
We have public bathhouses for women in my country, but what embarrassed me was seeing the women talking to men who were with them. The men had a live view of 99 percent of the woman’s naked body. I may have shocked them as well, because I was walking on the beach fully dressed with my scarf on. Afghans are always trying to avoid the sun so they will not get tanned but some Americans love to be out in the sun, even though they know about skin cancer.
Also, tattoos are common here, but seeing whole body tattoos was shocking. What if the design gets boring next year? Or what if a man’s wife does not like it?
Pets, especially dogs, are dear in this country, sometimes dearer and closer than family members. I did not know how hard it was to take care of them, bathe them, feed or even play with them! Yes, in the U.S., they even have vaccinations for their pets!
We just started the vaccination process for children in our country and almost half of the population has never even had a vaccine in their lives. It is still shocking for me to know that in some countries animals are as valuable as humans.
Also, I still cannot eat rice properly with a fork. It’s frustrating seeing the grains escape from the prongs when I am hungry. It is interesting how forks and knives are important in most of the meals in the U.S. In Afghanistan, I only use a knife for peeling and cutting fruits.
I think that it is polite when Americans say “Excuse me!” after yawning or sneezing, but what about blowing the nose? That was the most funny and disgusting culture shock I experienced. In my culture it is impolite to blow your nose in front of others. However, sometimes it made me laugh and reminded me of the jokes I heard from my friends when I was child.
Americans like books and enjoy reading books, magazines, and newspapers. We can find people reading during the day, at night, on the bus or in the hospital waiting room. But it was shocking for me to learn that we can even find books and magazines in American bathrooms.
Sometimes being in different cultures helps one learn about the values and deficiencies of our own culture. People teach us about their own lifestyles and we teach them the way we like to live. No one has to follow the others, but the point is to appreciate human beings’ existence and our uniqueness.
The author is a student abroad.