This time, instead of the shock of moving to Texas from Australia, it’s the shock of moving from Texas to DC. It’s about equivalent to moving to a different country.
After a couple of weeks of settling in, it’s time for another entry in the shock of the shock series. To non-Americans, the USA seems at times like one homogenous culture, with the occasional outlier state or city. But obviously it’s not, it’s a patchwork of cultures, identities and lifestyles bound together by a common constitution.
This was brought into focus during the week when, over dinner, my housemates debated what constituted “American” cuisine. There was no general answer (beyond maybe hamburgers and hot dogs). There was Southern cuisine, Louisiana cuisine, mid-West cuisine… but very little that was truly unifying. Each region is like its own country.
And so it is that moving from Dallas to DC has been a bit like a culture shock once more. Here’s a few of the highlights:
I don’t know whether it’s perception or truth, but the prices seem much higher here in DC across the board. It’s barely a week into the month though and I’ve already spent half my grocery budget. Not good, but they did warn me.
In Dallas, the DART system comes in for a bit of criticism from locals, but after a couple of weeks on the Metro, it’s actually not that bad. At least the DART doesn’t schedule out of service trains to run through the system at the middle of peak hour (causing delays that cascade throughout the city), and the drivers know how to stop a train smoothly and in the right spot on the platform (more than once we've had to back up the train because the driver has overshot the platform).
Prince George’s (Dry) County:
Even though I’m working in DC, I am staying across the border in Maryland, and even that’s like a different country. For starters, it’s almost impossible to buy beer. Or wine, let alone spirits. I’m living less than a mile from a major university and there isn’t a liquor store to be found. No kidding, I have to buy it in DC and take it home with me if I want a glass of wine with dinner. Given that even the petrol stations in Dallas sell beer it’s a surprise.
In Dallas, they play country music to entice people in. In DC, they play it to drive people away. Enough said.
To be honest, I was expecting the foul weather to be in Dallas. So many stories of thunderstorms and tornadoes, and in the time I was there, barely a peep. The one tornado warning happened when we were all on our GLP trips. However, I get to DC, and in the space of two weeks I’ve been drenched twice by massive rainstorms. The second one was so bad the suit needed to be dry cleaned...
However, as is usual for these articles, it always ends with some of the positive culture shocks of living in a new place, so here we go.
Hustle and Bustle:
DC has a downtown that’s full of people, every day of the week. It’s a refreshing change from the perpetually empty Dallas CBD.
University Park, Maryland:
Even though my suburb is a long walk from shops, transport and, well, just about everything, it is very pleasant. Lots of trees and quiet streets, and the residents always say hello when you pass by.
Speaking of which, the house I’m living in is great. There’s a family atmosphere about the place, and more than once a week there’s a communal dinner with friends on the back patio, overlooking the garden and the fireflies that dart about in the twilight.
The internship is intellectually taxing work, but rewarding. I’m learning a lot about the arts sector, large scale market research, and about advocacy work with business and political leaders. There’s also a great work culture; even in what is one of the most stressful periods of the year (our annual conference is next week), people are lively and energetic.
So that’s a summary of the culture shock. DC really is like a different country to Texas, but it’s on the whole a nice one.
Observations on music, coffee, and the occasional controversial thought.
Copyright © Gerard Atkinson 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the owner is strictly prohibited.