Cultural Shock

Cultural Shock

This small village is surrounded by fields. Flat fields as far as the eye can see. However, in all fairness, every village, city, hamlet in most of this province can be described exactly the same way. This village, however had a very large auditorium – in proportion that is – as it could hold 5,000 plus people. In this village’s peak population burst in any year it wouldn’t come anywhere near that high a population. I suppose the thinking was if you build it they will come. Not sure how well that is working for the village. Another contrasting feature about this place, as opposed to every single other hamlet, village, or city around is the absence of a curling rink. Oh, and a grain elevator.

Come to think of it, there were a lot of contrasts about this place. The building structures were just the beginning and the contrasts had more to do with my coastal expectations then the imposed comparisons to this village’s neighbors.

Culture shock indeed.

It fascinates me that within the same country there can be such a diversity of cultural experiences – completely different worlds of living and being and participation. Having spent my entire life to this point growing up and participating with the most western province’s culture I had fallen into this place of assumption – assumption that this was how the world was for it was my world. I knew that academically this was not true. But the basis of my academic conclusion came from acknowledging that people groups from far away places in foreign countries, accessed only by boat or plane, were different than I.

Then as I got a bit older I would see reflected in TV shows the various ideas of cultural differences, most accented through settings like New York City, that seemed to be identified by geographical areas of the City, each thriving under its own beat of the drum, and the various differences in dialect and patterns of behavior explained informally for the viewer. But I still didn’t fully appreciate that such a thing existed in Canada.

Growing up all over the most western province I had the luxury of being immersed into various geographical locations and in those locations I would encounter different people groups that were of a different race than I. Consequently, this was the culture that I was introduced to and enjoyed getting to understand. But, that is not what I am referring to here. This is a layer of culture that is laid on top of someone’s existing culture. It is the little cultural nuances – shared with one another in a geographical location – and superseding one’s own race or cultural origin but instead is a reflection of shared experience and shared community within this geographical location.

In broad strokes one could talk about the woodsy, forest people of the most western province, divided into two distinct groups of people – those who enjoy chopping down trees and those who enjoy hugging trees. And within this gigantic province these two groups of people both had the trees and other woodsy things in common. The conflict only provided the entertainment.

But transverse the mountain ranges and break free into the prairies, traveling to the heart of the prairies and what you find is something completely different. There are no woodsmen here. No tree choppers in conflict with tree huggers. No, this cultural landscape that I now found myself in was something completely different altogether.

Over the years I have been searching for language to describe what I have experienced here. I can only chip away at some sort of description. My wife has come close in a succinct way of describing a cultural attribute to this place. She has described the people as being ‘nice’ but nice is a word packed with condescending, authoritative, egocentric, religiously motivated overtones. And I don’t see two groups of people like the tree choppers and the tree huggers, unless of course one could describe the cultural fabric of this prairie province as those that have always been here and those that have just arrived. Shall we call them the ‘visitors’?

Yes, that will do to set the stage for unloading the moving van. We have the ‘nice’ people and we have the ‘visitors’. It doesn’t matter that some of the ‘visitors’ that we have met have been here for a long, long time. No, not until a ‘visitor’ takes that journey to becoming ‘nice’ they shall still be considered a ‘visitor’.

Perhaps a brief story to help illustrate. Shortly after we had unpacked and had settled into our new place we were visited by the pastor of families – a position set up through the school to care for new families who had arrived in which one or both of the spouses were enrolled full-time in studies. He dropped off a plant and seemed charming. He had a smile and was welcoming with his words and his actions. Such were most of the encounters that I had with these ‘nice’ people early on. It occurred to me that since we were going to be there for a few years it would be worth the effort to get to know these people. To make an effort to develop a friendship. – ah, now there you go, your first mistake.

We were a ‘visitor’. Such a thing was not permitted. Since we were only going to be there for the next three years there would be no friendship, said the ‘nice’ people. Not once did this happen but several times, over and over again in an attempt to help me understand this cold truth of our new home. In all fairness this message was most accentuated in this small village and changed slightly when we moved to a much larger city in the same province after my schooling was finished, but the ‘nice’ is still there. And it is far more horrific then we first thought.

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