Culture Shock

It’s what everyone says when they learn that Lifelongnewyorker has moved to Montgomery after a lifetime in the Big Apple.

“Wow, talk about culture shock.”

Maybe if I’d been striding purposefully through the streets of midtown after lunching at Le Cirque and suddenly found myself on Fairview Avenue in Cloverdale on my way into Sinclair’s I might suffer shock and awe, but mostly it’s America down here.  People talk about the weather, which is too cold;  they discuss Big Love and American Idol; they like food.

So, my answer has generally been “No, not really, not too much shock.”

Until last night, that is, when Mr. NYer and I walked into the Home Depot from an Alternate Universe.

From the outside, it looked like any Home Depot, perhaps a little neater and cleaner, with a fresh delivery of carts.  We’d gone there after dinner to check out some light fixtures and appliances.  Entering, I spotted some patio furniture and headed over to look at it.  A young man, clad in signature Home Depot apron, stood nearby stocking some items.  He approached us.

“How are you folks?  Anything I can help you with?”

I don’t know whether people often stare at him as if he’d just stepped out of the Black Lagoon, but Mr. NYer and I were struck dumb by the mere fact of being approached by a Home Depot associate and asked such a question.  In Staten Island, one finds few carts and fewer workers.  To locate someone who can actually help you involves a recon mission that takes you through half the store.  When an associate has been found and brought to ground, he or she, it usually turns out, does not work in that department.

After a few moments, we regained our senses and told him we were just looking.  “Well, you just let me know if there’s anything I can do for you,” he replied.  Nicely.

From the patio furniture we wandered to the lighting aisles and then to the appliances.  Along the way they appeared, like pod people:  one friendly Home Depot associate after another, all eager to say hello and help us in any way they possibly could.  After telling the sixth one that we were “just looking,” — my mother’s code for “leave us alone,” — I succumbed and began asking questions of the appliance guy.

He volunteered that tonight was not a good time to buy.  “Come back tomorrow,” he said, “when all the Energy Star appliances are 10 percent off.”   The sale, he added would last for a week.

Lest you think that perhaps the Home Depot employees have been subjected to some kind of cultish on-the-job training regimen, there’s more.  Now that he’s here — and retired — Mr. NYer has taken on a long list of local errands like arranging for insurance, visiting the mortgage company, and going to motor vehicles.  At home I’m finding lists, in unknown but legible handwriting, of doctors, dentists, restaurants and mechanics.  Everywhere he goes, it seems, people want to help him find his way.

“Just let me write down a few recommendations for you … and call me if there’s anything you need to know,” they offer.

Wow.  Talk about culture shock.

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8 Responses

  1. Years ago, we experienced a similar culture shock in PA when a sales clerk in the local supermarket asked us if we had a coupon for the item we were purchasing. We said no, at which point she pulled the weekly circular out from under the register and cut the coupon out for us! My Dad, who was with me at the time, didn’t stop talking about that for months! From that point on, he never visited us without a side trip for grocery shopping at Laneco.

  2. Well, your Dad was a supermarket afficionado. And, of course, we have fond memories of Laneco — it was where we were able to secure the much-coveted Supermarket Check-Out that Abandoned wanted one year at Christmas.

  3. Oooh, good post. I had a similar experience when I moved to California. I was bowled over every time I was discovered half-wandering around a supermarket looking for something and an employee intervened, told me where the item was, and insisted on personally *walking me* to the aisle, no matter how many aisles away, to point out the item or grab it off a shelf for me. When I was pregnant, the supermarket cashiers placed every bag they packed into my shopping cart for me, and at first I always protested that really, I was fine and didn’t NEED help out to the car, too. But after awhile, I thought well, when in Rome… and let them pack the car, too! (I even have pleasant experiences like your Home Depot excursion in NJ that I just didn’t have or expect on the island.) It took me awhile to be receptive to such helpfulness and stop wondering why people were being nice…for no apparent reason!

  4. Maureen,

    i love this…and find that this sort of thing generally applies anytime one leaves a major metro area.

    People tend to be more humane and civilized when not overexposed to a crush of humanity and civilization

  5. When can we come?

  6. Similar experience to our experience at Home Depot in VT and MN. What really surprised me was the fact that the cart and the receipt were not checked by a guard on the way out of the store!

  7. Ah yes, sounds like here. When the supermarket cashier asked if I found everything I was looking for, I mentioned one item that I hadn’t found. She said, I know where that is, and headed down the aisle and came back with it. That’s when you know you’re not in the big city anymore.

  8. Ah, the light begins to shine…

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