I stayed in California for a while, specifically in ‘Silicon Valley’ and the biggest culture shock to me was the huge disparity of wealth in the San Francisco area.
As someone coming from a country whose homelessness is amongst the highest in the U.K., I still couldn’t believe the sheer volume of homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area.
On the other side of all this homelessness, I saw frivolous wealth. 20–30 year olds with more money than they knew what to do with. All of them were in the software development sector and across the board, all of them behaved like “The Valley” was one big youth club that they were a part of. Money meant nothing to most of the people I met.
There was no denying there is a chasm in the bay area. To me it didn’t even seem to have a middle class, you were either in a tech industry or you were poor, there was no in-between.
I lived in America from the mid eighties to 2003 and was fortunate in having a good job to go to in San Francisco, which quickly became my favourite city in the whole world.
One of the main things I noticed was how positive people were. In the UK people tend to be a bit negative and suggest things may be difficult whereas in America people would say “Go for it” or “you can do that” which I found very refreshing. Also, it was very easy to make friends. Americans seem to assume you will be a nice person to know. My friends were a mixed lot of white Americans, black Americans, Asian Americans and ex pats from all over the world, as well as all sexual orientations. But that, of course is San Francisco, which is not representative of all the US.
The only things I couldn’t understand were how really, really bad most television was, how crooked many of their politicians appeared to be, and why it was so hard to find good cheese.
I came to the U.S. in 1965 as a young adult. Since I have been here longer than in my home country, my perspectives have changed over the years.
On the drive to my new home, I was amazed at the monotony of the suburbs, with the pastel-colored cookie cutter houses. After six months it was the pride of freedom of speech while being extremely intolerant of thoughts that were different. Another thing was the obsession with cleanliness. Everybody here had a bathtub or shower - and still people worried about how they smelled!
The religiosity and conservatism of the population as a whole still amaze me to this day. Although social norms have changed over the years, at the same time there seems to be more extremism on all fronts.
But after five decades in the U.S., I can honestly say the biggest culture shock came from two issues that are just as relevant today: Racism and the obsession with guns; the resulting violence of the combination of the two is something I will never get “used to”.
What remains to be mentioned is the friendliness and generosity of the American people. For that alone, I love America!
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