I’ve been contemplating culture shock recently, but not the culture shock experienced by people who move from one country to another, but rather the shock produced when someone moves from the country to the city.
For anyone who hasn’t been following this blog that long, I grew up on a farm in a Vermont town of 2000 people. I’m a country girl who moved to the city, but not just any city, I happened to choose a city in another country, an 11 hour plane ride plus 3 hour car ride away from my hometown. I’m all about subtle changes, can’t you tell?
Adjusting to city life surprisingly wasn’t that hard for me. I like it a lot. I like that I don’t have to have a car, I like that there are tons of places to go and things to do, I like the rhythm of life in Santiago. This isn’t to say I don’t miss open spaces and the color green, but I’ve adjusted.
But the fact that I came from the country explains a lot of things about me, like the fact that I didn’t know the word for andén in English. Of course, I see “Cambio de andén” every day when I’m in the Metro, and I know what it means. But last night in class, when my students asked me how to say it in English, I had to look it up in the dictionary. Why? Because before coming to Chile I had been in a subway a grand total of about 10 times. It’s a word I learned entirely in Spanish. Andén is platform, by the way.
It also explains why I’m so numb to fashion. Growing up on a farm, you go for comfortable and functional clothes that you don’t really care that much about. Because after all, even if you try to keep them “good”, you’ll probably end up getting cow manure on them somehow. I mean you can’t exactly run and change clothes when the cows get out. You stop what you’re doing and go traipsing through the fields to round them up, sometimes getting covered with poop in the process. Thus is life.
When I got to high school I suppose I started caring a bit more about clothes. I remember in 7th grade my new friend M. introduced me to brands like Calvin Klein, Steve Madden and others (can’t think of any off the top of my head! see: fashion numb). At first I thought she was talking about friends of hers. But despite M.’s best efforts, my school was in the middle of Hippy-ville, where it was entirely acceptable to come to school in pajamas, ripped jeans, overalls, sweatsuits, etc. It was also okay to wear the same clothes two days in a row. I remember my big fashion “accomplishment” was starting to wear hooded sweatshirts instead of crew-neck.
Then I went to college in the bustling metropolis of Waterville, ME, where things weren’t much better, but at least I got introduced to popped collars, pearls, Uggs, Lacoste and seersucker (none of which I adopted into my wardrobe!). I’m slowly changing my wardrobe now that I live in a city, even though people tell me the fashion isn’t all that great (I honestly wouldn’t know). I bought boots with heels (heels!) and have some pants that aren’t jeans.
Although this is slowly changing, it explains why my first instinct is to trust people. It’s all I can do not to give money to every person I see begging on the street, even though for all I know they might use that money to buy drugs or alcohol. The other day I was in Subway and my first instinct was to save a table for myself by putting my bag and coat on it. HELLO? I know that you can’t do that here, but it’s hard for me to reverse my instincts. In my town, people leave their cars unlocked with their purse in it and usually nothing happens. We never locked our house at night until a few years ago when we moved to a different house that is on a main road that has a bit more traffic.
Living in the city has taught me a lot, and I think unfortunately it has hardened me a bit. I’m no longer naive and I trust people less. However, I have grown up a lot in my short time in Santiago. I’ve learned to be independent, despite the millions of people that surround me. And just as I wouldn’t change my upbringing for anything, I also wouldn’t change where I am now.