communication centre, robert wallace
Last summer, my roommate sublet his room to a black student. Really nice guy and we could have great conversations about what he was studying. He had a few friends though, whom I didn’t know very well at all, that when they were around my sublet-roommate would act completely different. Talk different, act different, everything. I didn’t struggle with accepting his culture. I more struggled with the abrupt change and how I knew him as a normal guy without an accent and these few guys show up and I can’t understand him. I didn’t show any change in how I acted towards him and never asked why out of respect, but I just don’t understand it.
Use of language is cultural. My mother, who is from a large US city, tends to use blunt and harsh language (as she was socialized to do), so I consider it normal; whereas another person, might have it represented in their framework as offensive and upsetting. But from my grandparents, who are from Europe, I learned to communicate in a more reserved, diplomatic manner and to hold back complaints.
I am realizing more and more that I do not fit the generic mold of American culture, where bluntness is appreciated and freedom of speech placed above many other values. Please don’t misread me; I think freedom of speech is extremely important and I feel very blessed to live in a country where I can express myself in any way that I choose. However, I believe that courtesy has been lost in public communication and often I am not comfortable with the way people choose to express themselves by being impolite, vulgar, or hateful, simply because there are less social regulations now against such language.
There have been countless times when I have been studying in the quiet section in the library and there have been a group of Asian students talking and laughing loudly, despite everyone else being silent. I struggle with judging Asians. I tend to think that they have don’t have consideration for American social norms. Also, when in coffee shops even though people both talk and study there, I notice their voices are louder, and I am more distracted by the use of their native language; which makes no sense to me. I know that this is not the case with every Asian individual, and I understand that they didn’t grow up in America; however, these are people I struggle with judging.
One of the hardest things to not judge is the use of different languages. Coming from a small suburban town I never really was intermixed with minorities or different nationalities. I still become irritated when I hear people converse next to me in a language I can’t understand or when I see a language I cannot read. An interesting point here is that Spanish is not one of the languages that irritate me. I believe that it is because I am relatively knowledgeable of the language, seeing as I studied it all throughout high school. I can sort of pick up on words and get a rough sense of what is being said. This leads me to believe that the reason I judge a person based on their language is because I feel a sense of exclusion, or maybe inferiority because I am totally clueless on what is being said around me. It makes me feel like the foreigner for a minute, and I hate it. Inside, I become offended and frustrated with the person speaking because I feel that they have not accepted my American culture. This is kind of ironic because in actuality it is I that is not accepting of them trying to preserve their culture in America. I like to think that I keep all of these feelings inside. I have never lashed out at somebody because I know that it is not really my business anyways. They are not talking to me so I have no part in their conversation.
A great deal of my culture consists of things that relate to my Mexican roots. Both of my parents are Mexican and as a result, “Spanglish” (a mixture of both Spanish and English) is widely spoken between my parents and me. Culturally, language is extremely important to me. I think that speaking Spanish is a beautiful way to help keep my heritage alive and it is also the only language my grandparents and the majority of my relatives understand.
I can’t communicate with people the way I do at home as a black female in Madison, and it is very hard for me to express my culture to the fullest extent. When talking to my friends here I sometimes slip in an unusual term from home. After people hear it, they seem to want me to talk how I do at home. I don’t mind this, but when it gets to the point of trying to mimic me and sounding like I’m from the hood, which I’m clearly not, then it gets offensive.
At the store where I work, African American shoppers will often times yell across the room to each other or react with what appears to be in a cold manner when I greet them at the front door. I find myself struggling not to judge them. I think that it is difficult for me to understand why they act the way they do because I was raised to always respond politely when greeted in a non-confrontational way, and to keep my voice at an appropriate level when indoors. I also realize as I’m typing this that what they may consider to be confrontational or appropriate may be completely different from what my definitions of those words are.
I get very frustrated with people who do not at least try to adhere to this country’s cultural ways such as speaking English or other social norms. It makes me angry at myself when I get annoyed, but I just think to myself if I were in their country would I speak their language? Could I speak their language? I try so hard to not think things in my head when I get frustrated with a person not speaking in this country’s official language, but sometimes it just happens and it makes me even more mad at myself for not being able to control or understand these feelings. This is not something I am proud of but it is something I feel, and sometimes you cannot help that, and I continue to try to understand where they are coming from and to put myself in their shoes. That I can recall, I have never externally vocalized my annoyance, but I have shown the annoyance on my face from time to time, and that makes me sad for the other person, and for myself. Again, I am not proud of it, but it happened and all I can do is learn from it and work on those issues.
A facet of my culture that is difficult to share with those around me would have to be my culture of privacy. My family does not like to share their feelings and it is very tough for them to solve difficulties or drama that arises. Topics of religion, politics, and desires are sometimes very hard to relate to others no matter how close I am to them because this privacy has grown in me and when I need to talk to someone about a stress or issue that I have been dealing with, it can be very hard for me to reach out. Although I believe that every person deserves their own respective degree of privacy, it can sometimes be a burden when you do not want that privacy but rarely have another choice.
The tram, metro and other forms of public transportation in Europe have a very distinct culture that is silent for the most part. Strangers do not interact and many times people that know each other keep their conversations extremely quiet. It was not until I went to Europe that I was first embarrassed by my culture. Many Europeans, especially the older generations, do not have the fondest opinions of Americans. We were told we were rude, loud and obnoxious many times. Typically traveling in groups of two or more, we were fulfilling those loud and obnoxious stereotypes by not respecting the fact that we needed to be quiet. As I became more accustomed to this I was embarrassed when my American friends were loud. This was a very eye opening and difficult feeling for me because I am a very proud American and I felt ashamed of myself for being embarrassed by my fellow Americans for fulfilling negative stereotypes.
At times the way African Americans talk and the way they present themselves bothers me. Although not all are that way it is difficult to not generalize since the majority of people I’ve observed behaved and spoke in the same manners. When seeing those aspects of African American culture that I dislike, instead of attributing their actions to their culture I look at them as individuals and attribute it to that particular individual rather than the whole culture. I feel everyone decides for himself or herself how to act, speak and behave and it is an individual choice rather than a consequence of culture. It is good to remember the issues that you deal with within your own culture so that you are deterred from judging others. I try not to judge other cultures since the cultures I belong to have issues, I find it difficult to not judge African American culture.
I am a frequent user of a particular website that is part of my culture. When I’m with a friend who also heavily browses this website, we catch up almost entirely by discussing it. Even though we may not have spoken to each other for over weeks or months we seem to be able to catch up simply by bringing up what has been on the website. We communicate through memes viewed on the website; using them as almost short, private jokes between us. This is especially true if we encounter a situation where a meme from the site is applicable. One of us would just mention the meme and we would both know what the other was thinking and how we were viewing the situation. I realize that a lot of my viewpoints are at least similar with those posted on the website, if not learned directly from there.
Being able to connect over social networks and talk with anybody even if they are at a great distance is a valuable tool and an innovative one to keep culture and ties strong within a community or social circle. Without close loved ones, I would not be able to express myself openly and feel like someone was available and able to care and love me.