Saturday, July 17, 2010

The night the port-a-potty burned down

When I think of culture shock, I think of visiting a foreign country and experiencing the differences in how people act (or react) to different situations. I have experienced culture shock a few times in my life. I grew up in Utah County which most certainly has a certain type of culture. When I moved to the Yucatan area of Mexico, that was a culture shock. Aside from the heat and the humidity, and the different language, there was also the lack of concern for time. There is a word in Spanish: ahorita. Despite the official definition, it seemed to mean, "right now" or "in a minute" or "in a little while" or "when I get around to it" depending on the person saying it or the circumstance. It took some getting used to.
The next major culture shock in my life? Moving to South Western Connecticut. As stated before, Utah Valley has a certain culture. In general, people tend to be careful of what they would say as not to offend. Again, this is a broad generality. Where we moved to in Connecticut, the general culture was to speak what was on your mind--because you had the right to do so, no matter how it made the other person feel.
Mixing those two cultures together made for an interesting experience. Also, people tended to be pretty guarded in public. In our neighborhood, we kind of knew the people right next to us, and also the woman across the street, but not really anyone else. At the end of our street was a little league baseball field. Open spaces in Connecticut were few and far between where we were, so we thought it was great to live next to an open field like that.
Sadly, it turned out not to be the best of experiences. The parking lot for the field wasn't lit, so it seemed like every night there was a car or two parked there. Why would you park your car in a dark parking lot? Well, it isn't to read scriptures or to have a quilting bee.
Our girls always wanted to ride their bikes or go play in the field, but I'd have to go check out and clean up the parking lot first. There were broken bottles that had a number and then the word "proof" written on the labels, beer cans, and other things my wife said I shouldn't mention.
One summer the town put a port-a-potty in the field. The blue stall stood like a beacon of relief at the edge of the field. Then one night, someone (more than likely one of these ne'er-do-wells that parked there at night) lit the port-a-potty on fire. Now, I'm not exactly sure how you do that, but I can tell you that when it caught fire, it really burned. The neighbors came out to watch while the fireman let the port-a-potty burn--it was beyond saving.
For the first time since we had lived there, we shared a moment with our neighbors. We talked about how it was a shame that someone would burn down such a defenseless port-a-potty, or mentioned how humid the summer had been. Heck, for a moment there, I thought we were going to hold hands and start to sing "Cumbia."
Time passed and we moved to North Carolina. Though the culture was more like where I had grown up, I still had some culture shock. The two things I noticed right away were: 1. There was no graffiti on the stop signs. 2. People you didn't know would wave to you. Now, the second one needs a little clarification. People who didn't know you in Connecticut would wave to you as well, they would just use a lot less fingers.

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