Let me just make this clear. I am secure enough in my masculinity to write a post about learning from Lorelai Gilmore. So following it (almost immediately) with a post about what I learned from Crocodile Dundee is in no way an overcompensation for that. The same goes for my next three posts, “What I Learned About Culture Shock from Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and Chuck Norris”. I’m glad we cleared that up.
America . . . Australia. Same place right?
I know, I know, Australians wrestle alligators, go on walkabouts through the Outback and cook shrimp on the barbie. Americans have never heard of Vegemite . . . or soccer . . . or Europe and our football players are such pansies they have to wrap themselves in kevlar body armor.
But deep down, we’re the same right? Same economy, same values, same language just with a funny accent (not saying which side that is). That’s what made Crocodile Dundee such a beautiful picture of crossing cultures. He was the same basic hero that Americans had grown to love only with different accessories and a different tag-line. His “Go ahead make my day” was “That’s not a knife . . .” Tough, gritty, smirky, confidence that stares death in the eye and says something horribly corny . . . and awesome. Just like we like where I come from.
Almost the same. But different.
One of my best mates (that means friend in Australian) is Australian. One time he thought it would be fun to teach me how to play cricket. Only it wasn’t just him it was another Australian and it wasn’t just me it was nine other Americans.
It was terrible.
Not because it wasn’t fun. We had a blast. We set up on a tennis court (because there aren’t a lot of cricket fields in China) and lined up for our lesson. They explained the rules in perfect English and walked us through like we were second graders learning to play chess. They were flawless teachers. Do you know what we learned?
We learned that Americans can’t play cricket.
Not because we don’t get it. We understood the rules perfectly but we literally, physically could not force our bodies to play. I don’t mean we weren’t very good. There was no way of knowing how good we were because we were NOT PLAYING CRICKET. I don’t know what we were playing but it was NOT CRICKET. The Australians were ripping their hair out because the Americans, for the life of them, simply cannot play cricket. Know why?
Because we couldn’t stop playing baseball.
There was something deeply embedded in our core that impulsively forced us to swing for the fence every time (which is not the point of cricket). If you put a bat in our hands and throw a ball at us we have to swing as hard as we can. If you put a ball in our hands and tell us to bowl . . . we pitch (or we laugh because the bowling ball is so small and there are only three pins). We throw sliders and curves and fastballs. Really fastballs. As fast as we can because that’s how we did it on the sandlot, or in the cow pasture or (when we were lucky) on the diamond, but we are incapable of bouncing the ball before it gets to the batter and we DO NOT keep our elbow straight.
Who pitches like that?
Here’s what I learned about culture shock. Sometimes it can be more of a challenge when things are almost the same . . . but different. The shock is not as intense or initially painful but it’s the intense, painful parts that you generally force yourself to adjust to. The bigger problem comes when the differences are subtle . . . when it feels the same . . . looks the same . . . but is still fundamentally different. That’s when the shock (low voltage as it is) drags on for a very long time.
I see (and feel) this a lot in China. Simply because China is becoming so Western it feels . . . well . . . Western. It looks Western, feels Western, tastes Western and is even beginning to smell Western. But it’s still not Western.