There are lovely things about having a friend from across the pond, regardless of which side of that pond you reside. It’s a keyhole view into another world, where cultural norms may differ. There’s also the added benefit of hearing their accent whenever you want. *swoon*
But sometimes these cultural norms can be utterly bewildering. Shocking, even. My guest today is someone most of you know and LoveAdoreCherish as much as I do: Lizzi of Considerings. She has a tale of culture clash that will leave you shivering in your knickers….or some English phrase like that, and I haven’t the foggiest notion who this mystery ‘Murican is. See if you can guess.
Have you ever been thrust up against a cultural difference so great it made you gasp as the realisation sunk in?
Or have you ever been so flummoxed by the incredible size of disparity that having it suddenly revealed to you in all its glory left you flushed to the very roots of your person, and uncertain as to how to get a handle on it?
I have, very recently.
It rendered me suddenly tongue-tied, with anxious butterflies swirling through the pit of my stomach and my mind desperately censoring thoughts; melting unbidden imagery into 8-bit pixels and piling frantic blackout bars over the repeating slideshow of that moment.
I’m not a prude (probably) but there’s a certain English delicacy to my sensitivities (most of the time), and on occasion they become entangled with a level of American exuberance which has a tendency to render them stutteringly inadequate to the situation. I find myself left stumbling in a hopeless attempt to prevent the emotional equivalent of falling, quite gracelessly, flat on my face.
Allow me to set the scene…
Late one winters night, with the weather hurling itself at the windows and the lights turned low, I was cosied up on my sofa, snuggled in blankets and immersed in keeping up with the Blogosphere, messaging a number of friends, and trying to wrap my brain around outlining the next chapter of my book. A sudden, offhand remark from one of my ‘Muricans sent all of my mental processes to a screeching halt:
“I’m in the tub soaking muscles…”
I felt as though I’d inadvertently walked in on her! I froze stock still, my mind gradually draining of white noise as I became acutely aware of every fibre of my Very English Being SCREAMING at me to get the hell out of there.
Which I couldn’t, of course, because we were thousands of miles apart, in our respective phones, but the situation still suddenly felt intensely uncomfortable. For me.
There were a few moments of radio silence, and I fumbled a message back:
*eyebrows raised sky-high*
Then she giggled.
I stammered out a nothing statement full of hesitations and ellipses, and she came back, quick as a flash “What’s the difference if I was on the couch or in the tub? Except for the nekkid part…I’m just lounging!”
I mean, yeah, okay, but ALL THE PARTS WERE NEKKID!
I gathered myself together and responded in the breeziest, ‘I’m cool with this, whatever’ way I could manage at the time:
“I’m afraid I don’t have your New World exuberance, exhibitionism or ease around such matters of the human body – in England we need to be clad head to toe even to write a letter, or else it feels vaguely pornographic…”
Her response let me know that she understood that I was “heebed out” (well yeah, if that’s what you’re calling ‘taken aback because you suddenly got clued in that the chica on the other end of the conversation is OHMIGOSH COMPLETELY STARK NAKED!’) and she asserted, somewhat poutily, that at least she wasn’t sharing ‘from the tub’ pictures. At this point my imagination flubbed its blackout bars and suffered a small attack of the vapours.
Perhaps I should have been better prepared, after all, this is a friend who frequently writes of flashing her boobs at people she admires, joins in lusty group flirts on Twitter, and has written sex-poetry, which (to judge by the comments) left not a dry seat in the house. The thing is – as is my wont with social media – I had tended to attribute 85% of it to horsing around, but no, maybe she really is just that comfortable!
I just never thought that such a level of comfort would strike me so hard, nor the ripples of my reaction run so deep. There is clearly an entrenched part of me which feels breathless and shaky when its expectations are flipped on their backs and handled with such unprecedented force.
On the other hand, it’s plausible that this tale of a reticent Englisher and her SoapyNakedAmerican shows rather more than just a level of inhibition which was as lacking as her clothes…it might just show trust.
Now that’s exciting.
[I’m not one to kiss and tell, so I won’t name her…I’ll just let you use your imagination.]
Have a story of your own culture clash? Do share in comments!