Monthly Archives: September 2012

Cultural faux pas and DC

Standard

As a short introduction to the topic of culture shock, I recall a conversation at our dinner table in one of the first weeks here at GW – my roommates and I were having dinner together.

V: “We used to eat those specific kind of noodles all the time…, you know, those long, flat, thin, white noodles.”

L: “Like Me?”

V, puzzled: “You?”

L, confused: “Me?”

V, mystified : “What do you mean, like you?”

L, bewildered: “Huh, why, like me?”

V: “yeah, you said: like Me, so what do you mean, like you?”

By this point of the conversation the other two roommates, who were whipping their heads from V to myself like we were at a tennis match, were almost under the table with laughter. Once V and myself saw how bizarre a turn the conversation had taken we looked each other in the eyes for a moment after which we both cried with laughter for the next 30 minutes. Of course, the crux in this conversation is that I am not talking about myself at all, but about the specific kind of noodles V was talking about – Mie. However, due to the implications of the English language, V thought I was talking about myself when she was describing something as long, flat, thin… You get the point.

Of course, this is a simple misunderstanding, ending in hysterical laughter among friends, but in a different context, certain misunderstandings could escalate. However, in terms of actual culture shock, I have to admit that the cultural differences between the USA and the Netherlands are not that big. In general, we have the same values and ways to go about things. For instance, the personal space Americans appreciate when talking to one another, is something I completely endorse, and conversation topic taboos here are the same – do not make inappropriate political-sensitive comments when you do not know the other person that well.

(I think this is a cultural faux pas that many people commit, but, luckily, students at GW do so themselves as well – it is completely normal here to have a political discussion with people that you only met once or twice. DC is, in that sense, an exception to the rule, or so I’ve been told, and that makes sense: being the political capital of the country, people are bound to have an opinion.)

Yet there are some habits I had to get used to. For instance, American people are really into making superficial small-talk. As a general rule, when meeting people, I learned the standard greeting here is ‘Hi, how are you?’ (a question you NEVER answer, but reply with ‘Hi, how are you?’), and ‘It’s nice to meet you.’. To be sure, I have already adapted unconsciously –  I caught myself using the same phrases (and others) that I would not have used had I not come here.

Little quiz: did I hit or did I miss? – Answer will be up next week

Another difference are the types of sports that are really hot here, but those cannot account for a culture shock – it is more fun than shocking. Now, this is not my area of expertise, but it is generally known that Americans are really into baseball, American football and ice hockey. Unfortunately I could not come to the organized trip to an American baseball match because I had to attend class, but I did go to the practice session that was held prior to that trip, to ensure everybody more or less knew what the game was all about. This was really fun – just playing a bit of baseball (not with the actual equipment – we were too amateur for that), and relaxing on a sunny Saturday afternoon – the photo illustrates my very fanatic attitude that day.

As a conclusion then, I did not encounter a culture shock here, or maybe I am just really good at denying this, but I can honestly say that so far I have enjoyed most differences between home and DC. I am not saying that the differences are better, nor are they worse – they are just as good. I am definitely looking forward to the very American holiday season that is about to start – we’ve got Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas coming – and to the culture shock any of those might hold for me.

Advertisements

Hey girl, hey!

Standard

“Hey girl, hey! I was just about to get a froyo in admo, you want to join?” “Totes! I just pulled an all-nighter and still need to get some groceries, but I’ll drop by fobogro later. Just give me two minutes.” “No probs, it’s so obvi you’re exhausted, I’m shocked you’re still up!”

– Behold: an average conversation between two GW girls running into each other on campus. I did try to cram as much slang words into these three sentences, but the words or expressions that you do not recognize are probably the words that a student at GWU knows, if not uses regularly.

My favourite slang words are words that one uses daily, and that are quite inconspicuous in character – words such as totes, obvi and probs. During the orientation week three weeks ago, the Office for Study Abroad taught us a short slang lesson, which was quite hilarious at the time, and my roommates and I are sometimes still making fun of it. However, with hindsight, it was quite helpful, and if I do not pay any attention to the language I am using, you might even catch me using these words for real. Another one of my favourites is the word hipster – a word describing someone who is considered to be a little alternative, or ‘indie’. In the beginning of our stay here on campus, my roommates and myself came up with nicknames for each other, and we continue to teasingly call one of us ‘Hipstah B.’

(Short digression: My nickname is ‘Miss Liza’, resulting from a short encounter with a man who fixed our power plugs – who continuously called me Miss Liza. He was very friendly, but now I am stuck with this name because my roommates won’t stop going on about it.)

Of course, there is a fine line between using slang and being inappropriate. For instance, if I would talk to my professors in the language as used in the dialogue I cooked up above, they would probably tell me off or at least lessen their opinion of me. Even for me, when somebody I just met tells me things like ‘F* meeeee’, I feel a little uncomfortable (this really happened). Nevertheless, in general, it is fun and easy to abbreviate your language.

Thesaurus:

Hey girl, hey!                                    Greeting a random friend in the street

Froyo                                                 Frozen Yoghurt

Admo                                                 Adam’s Morgan, a very popular street in DC during nights, with lots of clubs and bars

Totes!                                                Totally!

Pull an all-nighter                           Spend an entire night studying

Fobogro                                            Foggy Bottom Grocery (foggy bottom is the name of the GWU campus area in DC)

Probs                                                Can be used in two instances: probably, or problem(s)

Obvi                                                   Obviously!

I’m shocked                                     I am surprised

I hope this was all very enlightening. Have a good one, laters!

What the Dutch can learn from the Americans

Standard

An unconventional title – coming from the patriot I am (not really). I am not the first to say that the Americans can learn a whole lot from the Dutch, but I would really like to tackle the same issue from the opposite angle. Since my arrival in the US six weeks ago, I have visited no less than 10 states, and naturally, D.C. too. The lasting impression that I acquired in those weeks traveling around, was a feeling of being welcome – the natural state of each American is to say ‘welcome’ to each foreigner that roams their country. Now, this state is not something that the Dutch have managed to attain too successfully, and in my opinion, accomplishing this would greatly enhance our country’s international image.

Traditionally, the Netherlands was a country of refuge to people who were frowned upon in their own country because of their different opinions, such as Spinoza and Descartes. I do not mean to bore you with history lessons about the Dutch Golden Age [seventeenth century, roughly], but the point I want to make is that the attitudes of the Dutch people have changed a great deal since then. Recent monitors in Maastricht (where my home university is located) among foreign students show that they do not feel very welcome, and that it can certainly feel as if people would rather see them go than come. Other reports and monitors show that they feel culturally marginalized by the municipal government, expats feel unwelcome, language barriers form significant obstacles and different population groups do not mingle well. Of course, this only pertains to Maastricht, and becomes an immense generalization if applied to the rest of the country. Recent national election polls show, however, that 13% of the population will vote for the most right-wing party the Dutch currently know, the PVV. This party advocates a stop to immigration and a withdrawal from the European Union, a proposition that should already give you an indication of how idiotic and populist this party aims to be, but let me not digress from my initial subject.

For me, the last few weeks have been a breath of fresh air, from the security guy at DC’s airport welcoming me, to neighbors on the campgrounds, to the cashiers in supermarkets who wondered where I was from and, upon hearing the answer, immediately welcomed us wholeheartedly, to the people that I meet daily at this university. This attitude makes me feel welcome, truly.

Label: Amsterdam Hall – my current home

Now, I do not want to look down on the Netherlands quite so harshly as it might have come across earlier. Of course, in general, I do not believe that foreigners in the Netherlands feel particularly unwelcome, I just believe that we could make them feel more welcome than they might feel at the moment, through having a more open-minded attitude than usual. What is the point of that? The point is that it makes the transition from one culture into another a lot easier and more pleasant, something I can already fully support through experiencing this myself. Also, in the long term, it makes people more aware of the new cultural habits and in turn, this might encourage them to become an active participant in civil society. Like I said, my arrival and subsequent stay in the US has been one of a true welcoming spirit, and any daring student encountering a different culture and country deserves the same treatment. That is why I chose this title, and that is why the Dutch can learn from the Americans.

P.S. Disclaimer (how American!): I do love the Netherlands, and people should definitely come visit. Also, whenever I speak to people here in the US that have been to the Netherlands, they are very positive about the Dutch. We have beautiful canals, buildings, history and in general, people are not so mean as you might think after reading this.

Academic Hysteria and its Remedies

Standard

I have no idea whether the following entry can be viewed to represent all exchange students and freshmen here at GW, but I have some anecdotal evidence, not to say memorized roommate conversation transcripts, that tell me other students are dealing with the same issues. The first week of class has just concluded and I can say with full honesty that the first few days were very scary.

            The amounts of reading that are involved here are similar to my home university – about fifty pages as preparation for each meeting. The big difference being, however, that I have nine classes each week, instead of five, meaning that the amount of reading is almost double of what I am used to. Nevertheless, this is not the biggest issue, because I can handle the amount of reading. No, the thing that really hit me this week, and I guess the other students too, is the realization that the coming months are not a semester-long holiday with some occasional studying, but rather the other way around. My plans of traveling during the weekends and exploring the city in my spare time have had to make place for my academic ambitions and duties, even though I will try and squeeze a little trip into my schedule here and there.

            Yes, life at GW is certainly very busy. At the beginning of this week, a huge student organizations fair was organized, with all student orgs trying to recruit freshmen for their activities. The event in itself was very exciting, having some delicious food and simply strolling along all the stands admiring (and sometimes shying away from) all the promotional talks and shouting. In the end, I decided to become a member of the International Affairs Society, where I hopefully will be able to attend cool events, both academically and socially oriented. In addition, I enrolled in the George Washington College Democrats. My friends and myself already acquired quite some cool stickers, buttons and other promotional items for both candidates, simply because the campaigns are currently full-fledged. Of course, the main reason for me (and most of my fellow exchange students) to become a part of the College Democrats is to become involved and be able to follow the raging political campaigns, both of them trying to out-do the other. Sorry to say (although it was a good decision, budgetary-wise), my roommates and I, when shopping for the apartment, decided not to buy a television. As a consequence, we won’t be able to follow the live debates, conventions, or other political events that are broadcast by the main news channels. The only options that I’m left with is either to stalk my neighbors on our floor (who did buy a television), which is a little inappropriate; or to go the gym, which is not even one block’s walking distance away, and watch television while working on my fitness. Indeed, this is how I managed to watch parts of the GOP convention earlier this week!

            As for  the remedies to such a busy academic and social life here at GW: I haven’t figured out how to balance everything yet. Nevertheless, I think it is a matter of setting your priorities, which is hard when friends are going out or when there are cool welcome-events being organized. The coming few weeks will be a test for me, and hopefully I will learn how to deal with all the different aspects of college life here at GW very soon.