Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Oklahoma Coma

The day I told my mother I had decided to go to OU, the first thing she tried to do was talk me out of it. Now, I found out later from her that she was trying to make sure she couldn't; she figured that if she couldn't change my mind, then I was certain and set and meant to move out to Nowheresville Norman. At the time though, that wasn't abundantly clear to me. Here's a small excerpt from the part when she told me about culture shock and I, already upset that we were even having this conversation, heard that I was going to be a social failure.

Concerned Mother: Jen, you know that life is different down there.
Headstrong Rude Daughter: It's Oklahoma Mom, of course it's gonna be a little different.
CM: No, really. It's a completely different way of life.
HRD: What do you mean?
CM: They have a different set of etiquette. Your sense of humor might come across wrong, rub people the wrong way. Someone as forward as you might have trouble.
HRD: Are you telling me there's not a soul in the whole state who understands sarcasm?
CM: I'm telling you that it's not really accepted there.
HRD: So you're telling me that I'm not going to make any friends.
CM: I'm just saying you might have to think about your words a little more....
HRD: So you're telling me I'm not going to make any friends without changing the way I talk?
CM: Sort of...

If I recall correctly, it was at about this point that I frustratedly left the room, convinced that my mother--who was trying desperately and lovingly to make sure that I didn't have a terrible college experience--was trying to keep me at home by telling me my personality wasn't compatible with anyone's.

Ironically, she went to college about as far from home as I did. And made lots of friends.

Since "culture shock" is so often talked about, both in situations like this one and when you come home for the first time, I figured it would be worth addressing.

Though there are stereotypes for each region of the country that speak for themselves, I think this issue still merits a post. After all, how can we navigate Southern belles and New York minutes if we cannot even understand that the two places are different?

I, for one, was convinced this would not be a problem. As a well-seasoned traveler (vacations in Wisconsin, a wedding in California, a dance competition in Tennessee the obligatory childhood trip to Disney world--the works), I knew that all parts of the U.S. were the same. I'd even been to Oklahoma before--twice! (Once when I was 3 and a half and once when I spent the entire time inside in the air-conditioning with my 86-year-old great aunt.) Other than a marked lack of tall buildings, nothing was different.

But people are not the same as buildings, and it didn't take me long to find out that life here is different. People live at a rate that I can only describe as The Oklahoma Coma. Want them to get that piece of paper for you? They'll do it with a smile and a 10-minute conversation and a complete inability to move at a comparable speed. Need to get something done? No you don't--why rush!

Now, I am happy to report that this is not the extreme that one might expect from the worst of stereotypes. And it is less noticeable if you stay on campus among the relative hustle and bustle of student life. But it still exists, especially if you run into someone who's been living in Oklahoma for 40+ years. (This probably intensified by the presence of so many Texans in OK. Apparently distance from the equator is proportional to speed of living).

I'm sure the reverse effect occurs for people migration the other way. Heck, even I get left behind in the traffic of Boston proper. Chances are good that if you're not used to that fast culture you'll get turned on your head before you know it.

However, for the most part things are the same. College kids are still college kids, and buying a piece of gum at the gas station is still buying a piece of gum at the gas station. It just takes a little longer here. Don't be worried about not understanding what's going on, but do be prepared for some small, often humorous differences.

Just something to be aware of when you're packing up your sarcasm and slow southern drawls!

Also, you'll be happy to know that I've successfully made friends here. And that's not sarcastic.

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