Cultural Shock
The
stories that are told in Distant Mirrors reflect how people can be so
comfortable with the way they live that they will never realize what is around
them. This does not happen unless they take the initiative to research the"outside world." I focused on three stories. These three stories share in
the fact that when the person researched a new culture they were in awe of the
differences and similarities that they found. Plainly put, these anthropologists
underwent a culture shock; "disorientation experienced by a person suddenly to
an unfamiliar culture." Each anthropologist migrated to America in order to
compare and contrast their culture to a country with all types of cultures. The
first story that caught my attention was, "First Impressions: Diary of a

French Anthropologist in New York City," by Francoise Dussart. Dussart decided
to migrate to New York for a taste of its "exoticism"(p.34). She had
previously been living in Australia because she was studying Australian
aboriginal culture. Once she arrived at New York, she heard many stories about
where the "good" places were and where not to end up. She ended up staying
exactly where she was told to stay away from, "West 107th Street"(p.35). Her
stay here involved seeing the everyday problems that America and many other
countries face, which are poverty, drug abusers, and unwed mothers. Dussart is
surprised that what she was told was true. She describes these problems as"depressing." Dussart also finds that there is a distinction between poor
neighborhoods and rich neighborhoods. The "poor" neighborhoods consist of
mainly minorities, and the "rich" neighborhoods consist of mainly Caucasian
people. She states this clearly when she says, "When I note "poor" it is a
poor Hispanic and black population, and when I write "rich," it is
predominantly white..."(p.37). In conjunction to this, Dussart also makes the
observation that depending on what nationality you ask where they feel safest;
their reply will most likely be an area, which consists of their race. Clearly
this was a huge culture shock for Dussart because she says, "I can’t think
of a European city in which wealth and poverty exist in such close
proximity."(p.37) She was surprised by the things that she witnessed and by
the way society functioned in New York because that is not how her society
functioned. As a resident of New York, I have observed that when you have lived
surrounded by such issues all of your life, they become in a way "numb" to
you. Eventually, it gets to the point where you know it exists, but since you
see it ever day you become aware that you can’t change these problems. I can
do things to help try to eliminate these problems, but the problems will never
fully diminish. Someone that is not part of this type of society will be in
shock by the things that they encounter. It is only natural, and by the end of
her essay she realizes this, "The tendency to judge must still be fought. I
still make comparisons, but less often." Dussart realized that her culture
does influence how she looks at the world around her. The second story that
caught my eye was "The Young, the Rich, and the Famous: Individualism as an

American Cultural Value," by Poranee Natadecha-Sponsel. Poranee is an
anthropologist from Thailand. She went to America to see how the two cultures
varied. Poranee’s conception of how Americans interact was, as she eventually
discovered, very inaccurate. For example, it came as a surprise to Poranee that
when someone asks you how you are doing, they do not really want to know, and
they are just asking you out of respect. It is a way of greeting people. This
was contrary to Poranee’s culture. In Thailand, when someone asks you how you
are doing they expect for you to actually discuss things with specific details.

Poranee states, "We were reacting like Thais, but in the American context
where salutations have a different meaning, our detailed reactions were
inappropriate. In Thai society, a greeting among acquaintances usually requests
specific information about the other person’s condition..."(p.69). She looks
at how different American verbal interaction is from those of Thailand. Poranee
looks at all aspects of American culture including the way they eat. Her

Thailand values conflict with American’s everyday routine of compiling all
types of food on their plates. This comes as a culture shock to Poranee because
she says, "If I were to eat in the same manner in Thailand, eyebrows would
have been raised at the way we piled our food on our plates, and we