It was only a matter of time before I started to ease out among the people again. I had gone two weeks after receiving my first shot and I needed to get a couple of errands done before I got my second one, so I drove down to Bend to get them done. This is when culture shock hit me.
Culture shock happens doesn’t only happen when traveling to a new country, but also happens to a lot of ex-pats who come back to the country after an extended stay in another part of the world. It has happened to me every time I have come back to the United States after a year abroad, and I always tend to forget about it until I am in a situation where it smacks me in the face. It was even more pronounced this time around, not only because I had been away for two years, but during those two years, there have been a lot of changes in America’s culture and attitude that I was not expecting.
Some of it I was more normal, such as the over friendly attitude from cashiers. Coming from Asia where there is usually a line of people waiting to check out, even during the pandemic months. The cashiers just want to get through them as quickly as they can because they know that another person will extend the line in only a matter of moments. There is no mindless chit-chat, just a total due and them moving on of the customer. In America, a lot of cashiers believe they need to talk about your purchases in order to make you feel happy that you are making them. It slows down the process which is a little maddening, but it also makes you have to have that conversation that you are not really ready to have. It has been a long time since I have had to have those conversations, and I am a little out of practice.
These things are minor compared to the larger change I witnessed outside of a grocery store in Bend. To understand this moment better, it helps to know that Bend is traditionally a laid back town, but has been growing over the last twenty years. A lot of the people who have lived there for a long time are not happy about this change. It has brought a lot of money into town, rose prices with housing, and has changed the landscape of usually a beautiful part of Oregon. If it continues to grow the way it is right now, Bend will become one of the bigger cities in Oregon and start to swallow up some of the smaller towns around it. With all of that money and growth, it has started to bring the work force with it to support all of this change.
The biggest one I noticed was the southern twang in the accents of a few people walking around. It is out of place in this part of the country, but from what I understand, it is more common that I would suspect. I know that I should not be shocked by this, but when I have gone two years without hearing an accent like that, and then to find it in Central Oregon, not once, or twice, but a few times, made me take notice.
The moment that really stood out for me was when walking by the front door of the Food4Less where I came across one of these accents. It came from a man clearly mumbling to himself who did not see that I was right behind him. He was angry about an altercation that he had just gone through, and based on his appearance and the recent news stories, I could only guess what it might have been. He wore the leathery skin of a person who spent a lot of their time outside whether by choice or not, I could not tell. He did not wear a mask, even though he had just come out of a grocery store that had a sign declaring that masks were necessary in order to enter it. And I couldn’t tell if his wife-beater could hide a firearm, but I am sure he had figured out a way to make sure he was protected.
His mumbling is what highlighted his attitude towards his recent treatment. “They can’t do that to me. I will show them, but I need your help. Where are my soldiers?”
This is when he noticed that I was behind him. I had already started to pick up my pace, but I wasn’t going to stick around to find out what he was really angry about. I am sure that it was nothing too crazy, but the news reports being exported out of the country, and the fact that I had not been around people so outspoken for such a long time, it made me experience that feeling of culture shock. It is something that people who lived through the pandemic from the American point of view might not notice. It was a subtle uphill climb to the point of where the country is right now, so they probably did notice the change. But for somebody who has been away for the last two years, and only in the country for short periods of time while the uphill climb was happening, it is quite the slap in the face when I come across it. I am sure that I will make more of an adjustment as I am able to get out more, but it made for an interesting night the first time I made that attempt since I have been back.