How were you first exposed to “mainstream” American culture? What were your first impressions?
I was public schooled all my life and so lived in this “mainstream” culture first hand. I say “lived in” because it was beaten into us that my siblings and I were sojourners in a foreign country. Martyrs for the cause of patriarchal Christianity. The only reason we had to be in this culture was because our evil father had forced it upon us.
But I wanted it. I wanted a girlfriend. I wanted to make love to someone I cared about. I wanted to play sports. I wanted to go to parties and be accepted by others. I wanted to be a good student and yet have a little fun sometime. I didn’t want to be seen with my Mama. I hated her with a passion and was embarrassed by her presence everywhere I went. I wanted to eat lunch in the cafeteria with everyone else. I wanted to watch movies so I would know what other were talking about. I wanted to not go to the Meet You at the Pole meetings. I didn’t want to go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, and other nights. Sunday morning would have been fine with me. I wanted to swear. I wanted to go to a prestigious university and make oodles of money. I didn’t want to drink. I didn’t want to smoke. Drugs never interested me and, to this day, I have never even touched them. I hated pornography because it bored me to death. I loved erotic stories online and yet felt guilty after reading them.
Really, I just wanted to be normal, even if it really was a unique kind of normal.
My year at a local community college at age 22 was my first opportunity to interact with non-Christians and non-homeschoolers. I spent most of that year trying to manage my social anxiety and proving my academic abilities to myself, so I wasn’t really changed by the experience. I was surprised, however, that the teachers and students didn’t seem to be actively trying to destroy my faith.
The following year, I got my first real job, working in retail. During the hours of downtime at work, I couldn’t keep to myself like I did at school. In interacting with my coworkers, I was pleasantly surprised by the kindness that people showed to me despite my awkwardness. It probably helped that I kept quiet most of the time around them because I couldn’t keep up with the pace of conversation, which was full of cultural references and assumptions that I didn’t understand.
When I was high school aged, I had to go into a public school to take a test. It was a big high school, and it was during the school day. I was scared to death. Everyone around me looked so worldy, so strange, so different. I felt so out of place and just wanted to disappear.
My full immersion in “mainstream” American culture began when I arrived at college. For a while, I was pretty horrified, both by the language I heard used and the open way people talked about sex. It was quite the culture shock!
I got the full blast of American culture when I left my family. I never had much to do with it. It was very much like living in a parallel universe. I was shocked and embarrassed when I first tried to fit in. It was so different, so many things I didn’t understand. I think I acted like some kind of native from a lonely island to the world around me. I didn’t even know how to order and pay at a restaurant.
I was sort of always aware of mainstream culture—we had “worldly” cousins, I was friends with the neighborhood kids, etc. My childhood friends were mostly kids with more “normal” families, and I remember being introduced to the Dixie Chicks and NSYNC and Britney Spears all in one year (I think I was 9), when my friend’s mom got MTV. I was also introduced to the word “shit,” the concept of an affair, and the idea of a “bitch” around that time, from the same family.
I remember being judgmental (but secretly amused) at the music, and was horrified to watch my friend’s parents’ marriage fall apart. (She said her mom wasn’t having sex with her boyfriend—he was just sleeping over. I told her that was impossible.) I was appalled at their use of crude language and tried to talk my friend out of saying “shit” all the time.
Another impression that comes to mind: when I turned 6, my parents had just gotten our first TV, and my grandma bought me a copy of The Little Mermaid for my birthday. I only saw it a couple times before it was removed from the house–she was rebellious and had a bad attitude toward her dad. I still walked around the house wearing a blanket around my hips and my mom’s bra over my t-shirts for a year or so, pretending to be Ariel. But I had to be a respectful to my dad, because Ariel was a bad girl. Mom said so.
After marriage I listened to regular and Christian radio which I had not been allowed to do before. I watched movies and TV that had not been allowed before. I went to some seminary classes with my spouse, and learned about church history and theology which was more broad than the Mennonite curriculum we had used. I felt like I did not know as much as I thought I had, and also frustrated that so many people did not know God the way I did.
I think the first time I really experienced any culture shock was when I started taking Mixed Martial Arts classes. As I have mentioned on my blog, my parents stepped way outside their comfort zone and let me participate in MMA when I was 15, on the condition that I never trained with or near boys. 3 nights I week, I would go and spend 2 to 3 hours training with a group of about 25 men and 2 or 3 women. It was a huge shock for me. At first I was terrified, but the more I got to know everyone, the more I realized that “wordly people” were good and happy too. I developed a much more relaxed, confident, and expressive side of myself during those years in Martial Arts.
I was always envious of mainstream American culture. Although I was taught to despise “worldly” people, and did absorb some disdain for sports and shopping culture, I mostly just wanted to be normal. I secretly liked the Backstreet Boys when I heard it at my cousins’ house. I really wanted to cut my hair and wear jeans. I was not a girly girl and would have been much more comfortable in pants. My church was always so focused on the apocalypse that I loved the comfort of being with ordinary people who weren’t worried about demons, being in the Rapture, or the end of days.