Culture Shock in New York

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Culture shock can simply be defined as emotional disorientation an individual may feel when experiencing a foreign way of life (Macionis 54). It is characterized by feelings of anxiety and shock. It is that “not ok” feeling that one gets when they see something new and foreign for the first time. For many the experience is daunting and overwhelming. The magnitude of culture shock may vary from individual to individual depending on the degree of cultural differences. For example an American in china may experience more culture shock than an American from New York who decides to visit Texas. Regardless of the level of preparedness of a new environment, cultural shock cannot be avoided, neither can it be prevent. For this essay I am going to share my experience in a new environment (New York) and some of the cultural differences I witnessed.

Many people think that cultural shock only relates to the major differences in culture that one experiences but for me the small differences like the friendliness of the taxi driver has the most impact. Also one does not have to live in a new environment for a long period of time to experience the cultural shock. It can be brought about by a simple experience like making a stop to eat at a restaurant. New York has been one of the few states I have always wanted to visit and this is because of the many landmarks and the cultural experiences the place has to offer. However my trip there was not planned but this is not to say that I did not enjoy it.

On my way to New Jersey my car broke in Brooklyn and this meant that I had to stay a few hours before the garage could fix the problem. Since New York was one of the greatest cities in America I decided to use this opportunity to do a little site seeing. Although Brooklyn was the not the place I would pick to begin my New York tour this was not any opportunity that I would easily pass off. Apart from it being the most populous county in the state, it was also rich in both history and culture. Brooklyn over the years has evolved into a global cosmopolitan with evidences of strong and growing demographic and cultural diversity.

This cultural diversity could be seen in the range of restaurants available in the city including Chinese, Italian and Mexican. This was something new since in my town the restaurants there offered an assortment of foods. In my town, a restaurant offered both Italian and Mexican and sometimes even Italian and it was hard to find a restaurant that specialized in only one cuisine. So I decided to try the Mexican food although it is said that the Mexican food in New York is not that great. I found a small Mexican restaurant just around the corner from the garage. From the moment I entered the restaurant I could tell the difference between this restaurant and my restaurant at home. Most of the staff there were Mexicans and this gave the place an authentic feel. A chose a booth at the back and closely observed as people come in and out of the restaurant. The restaurant was very busy and people of different ethnicity eating there. My home restaurants consisted of mostly the locals and since the town was small the servers knew almost all their customers by name.

I was offered a menu and I must confuse I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of items on the menu. What surprised me even more was that the menu offered a number of vegetarian dishes. I did not know there existed vegetarian Mexican food.  Most of the things on the menu were new to me and I was afraid to order something new and ending up disappointed. But I also wanted to learn from the experience so I decided to ask the waiter for help ordering. Although the waiter was not as friendly and chatty as the once am used to, he was very professional and he suggested I try the bowl of queso and a small plate of chile relleno. The bowl of queso was a little hotter than I am used to but I enjoyed the chile relleno that was packed with Oaxacan cheese and served with a tomato sauce.

After my lunch which was a learning experience I decided to take a short walk enjoying the beautiful scenery. The first landmark I saw was the Brooklyn Bridge which was a beautiful architectural piece. The bridge that was built in 1869 has a lot of history and is the main means of transport from Manhattan to Brooklyn (Armstrong & Bradford, 1975). Apart from the Bridge Brooklyn was also surrounded by many beautiful architectural buildings including the Grand Army plaza and the Brooklyn Museum. Every the residential homes had unique architectural designs that represent the city’s artistic style. One such building is the eagle warehouse which is just a few miles from the Brooklyn Bridge. As I stop to admire the large brick warehouse with small attic windows and iron grilles I notice a few more tourists taking pictures of the building. Although we do not exchange words I can tell that they are also fascinated by the architecture and that the building was something different from what they were accustomed to.

On my way to the garage to pick my car, I came across a Jewish church that was conducting a wedding. Being from a Catholic family I had not seen such a ceremony before. Out of curiosity I decided to join the service for a few minutes. I joined the ceremony just as the couples were exchanging the vows and this was no different from what happened in my church. However, the vows were followed by a dance where the bride circled the groom seven times while the people sung and clapped. I stood there aloof not knowing the words of the songs. After the circling and dance the Sheva B’rachot (which I came to learn meant the seven blessings) followed. The blessings were read in Hebrew and I did not understand a word and this when I decided to leave the ceremony

Despite the fact that culture shock can be a very gruelling experience it can lead to the most beautiful and meaningful moments and memories. For me my tour of New York City although unplanned was very insightful and fun. I got to experience new cuisine, interact with new people and see new things. Being from a small town where everybody in the streets knew you by name the experiences in New York was new and beautiful. We can all learn that exposure to new and different languages, sights, smells, people and new cultures can give us an opportunity to learn about ourselves and even contribute to shaping our personality.

Work citied

Armstrong, James & Bradford, Sydney. “The Brooklyn Bridge”. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination. National Park Service. (February 24, 1975)

Macionis, John. “Chapter 3- Culture.” Sociology. 7th edition. Toronto, ON: Pearson Canada Inc. 2010. 54. Print.


August 01, 2023

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