I hadn’t heard that term before, but it’s probably the best candidate so far for my memorial bench.
Before the session with Rick, the Cultural Awareness Trainer, I had acquired few preconceptions and even fewer facts about Boca Raton, Florida. The most common quip is that it’s for the ‘newly-wed and the nearly dead’. Most people know about the hurricanes in that part of the world, but did you know that after a hurricane hits Boca there is a global drop in junk email because it’s the spam capital of the world? Further notoriety is bestowed upon the city by the Mafia, who go there to ‘lie low for a while’ – it’s surprising what you can learn from watching The Sopranos. And a brief tussle with Google revealed that the Floridians themselves concede that they only have two seasons: summer and not-as-hot-as-summer (which starts and ends around 14 January). They’re also keen to point out that this is why there are so many scantily clad women walking around, all the year round.
Well, given the huge benefits for my wife’s career, and the wealth of opportunity for the kids in terms of life experiences scarcely available to them in Surrey, I didn’t feel the need to carry out any more research. It sounded fine to me. I thought it best to focus on finding a place to live, getting the kids into schools, letting our property, changing our bank, shipping our stuff, making our data remotely accessible and all the other practicalities of moving abroad. All that went so smoothly that I was beginning to properly look forward to the move.
And then Rick pitched up.
The point of this training, courtesy of The Company, was to expand my knowledge of the host culture and forewarn me of the symptoms of culture shock that could strike at any time. Either that or it was an exercise in how much doubt a PowerPoint presentation could instill in someone. I’m conflating the bullet points with my discussion notes here, but the key messages were:
- The State of Florida is particularly conservative; a stay-at-home Dad will attract ‘curiosity’.
- Florida has the highest religious participation in the USA. Non-participation will be noticed and probably queried.
- American patriotism should never be questioned or made fun of. Ex-pats are expected to display the Stars & Stripes outside their homes on certain days of the year, if not all the time.
- British humour is not widely appreciated in the US, except by particular groups of people living in cities not located in Florida.
Rick went on to describe the symptoms of culture shock: anxiety, irritability, depression and an inability to concentrate, all of which I was experiencing just from reading his slides.
Perhaps he was only presenting a stereotype. Perhaps I can choose to surround myself with enough people who don’t conform to it. Perhaps I’ll just go native and never look back. I’ll start to find out in four days.