Culture Shock

As I wrote recently, I’ve been enjoying some serious brain candy reading these days.

I’ve read several books in Jasmine Guillory’s Wedding Date series. These books aren’t quite romance novels, but nearly. They’re rom-coms!

Girl meets boy, they fall for each other, their relationship moves along swimmingly until there’s some kind of conflict or crisis that splits them apart. But soon they realize they were made for each other and make it up in a funny/romantic way. Happy endings all around!

From Here But Not From Here

Guillory is from California, and all of the books I’ve read have been set in L.A. or in the Bay Area.

I live on the east coast of the U.S., and while it’s the same USA, there are a lot of cultural differences between east and west, north and south in this country.

Also, though I am American, I have lived the vast majority of my life outside of the United States. My husband is European, I myself and a dual citizen.

So while I’m here, I never feel really from here.

The Biggest Culture Shock

The biggest element of culture shock that has hit me since being here, and since reading these books, is all about…


Food is a big part of Guillory’s novels. Of course it is! Her characters are going on dates, which most often involve eating together.

But what strikes me as so strange is WHAT and WHERE they eat. And all the snacks!

First Off: What.

Donuts. Pastries. Pizza. Tacos. In-N-Out (a California thing, I think?).

Even the one character I’ve encountered who likes to cook (Carlos in The Proposal) mostly eats takeout.

Granted, Guillory’s characters are busy 30-something-year-old professionals. They’re career-driven doctors and lawyers. They start off single in the books, living in their own flats or houses.

When I was a single young professional, I didn’t do much cooking for myself, either. It’s no fun to cook for one!

But damn. Reading these books and seeing what they eat, I wonder how her characters stay so trim in their mid-thirties.

Secondly: Where.

Here’s a list of where Guillory’s characters eat:

  1. On the couch
  2. In the car
  3. At their desks
  4. In bed
  5. In a restaurant

Taking most of their meals on the couch?? This, to me, was the biggest culture shock. In all three books I’ve read, she’s specifically said that someone or other doesn’t even own a dining table.

Even when I lived in a tiny one-room studio flat, I had a dining table. Every meal that I ate at home, I sat down to eat it at the table.

Not Just In Books

And this has been a general theme in meeting new people and going into other people’s homes in the States (something we haven’t done since February, mind you…).

Dining tables are covered with stuff. They’re clearly not where the family eats.

I remember living with a college professor and her family one summer during my undergraduate studies, and I was deeply surprised to learn that their family of three rarely sat down for a meal together.

Mostly, they ate take-out on the couch.

I thought this was just a weird quirk of that one family, but I have since encountered it so many other places.

And What is With the Snacks??

Reading Guillory, I’ve learned about “bag snacks” (snacks carried in one’s purse), “desk snacks” (snacks stored in one’s desk drawers) and “car snacks” (presumably, snacks stored in… cars).

Elsewhere, especially among families with kids, I’ve noticed that snacking is a HUGE thing in the States.

Parents on the playground are always armed with food distractions like Goldfish, cookies, crackers, gummies and more.

Don’t get me wrong: we eat two snacks a day. One mid-morning and one mid-afternoon. Sometimes our snacks are on the go, like at the park or the playground. But as soon as it’s time to eat, my boys are washing (or wiping) their hands, they’re sitting down and they’re staying on their butts until their food is done, or they’re full. This, I’ve learned, is unusual (“How do you get them to sit still and eat?” one mom asked me.)

Food as an Event

Really, the key thing that brought on culture shock for me was the fact that eating in this country doesn’t seem to be much of an event.

Growing up in Switzerland (with American parents, mind you!), eating was An Event.

For all meals (and most snacks, too!), my family would sit down together. They happened at about the same time each day, and each meal had a clear beginning and end.

Dinner, especially, would begin with grace and end with asking, “May I please be excused?” and carrying our plates to the kitchen sink.

The act of sitting down to eat together was so important to my parents, that I still remember the year we didn’t take any summer vacation to the States. It was because that year, Mom and Dad had paid for a nice dining room table with 8 chairs and a matching sideboard.

Sticking With It

Even though I’m learning that this is not how many Americans approach eating, I’m sticking with it.

Maybe it’s because I absolutely hate the feeling of crumbs on a couch or on a bed, but I will NOT STAND for food anywhere but on the table.

It’s also how Chico grew up, and to us, it’s a natural thing for our family to gather together to eat.

The Beauty of Culture…

…Is that you can take it anywhere.

And the beauty of the United States is that there are so many intersecting cultures here that you can go from one house to another in a neighborhood and experience something of culture shock.

Who knows? Maybe when the pandemic is over and we actually have people over to our house again, someone will experience culture shock in our house.