Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Good Day and How Are You

Occasionally I still encounter moments of "culture shock" here in the States. Those times can take me by surprise, and they're often little, but they remind me gently that I have roots on the other side of the ocean that are still very much present.

Yesterday I was walking from one class to another, crossing the salt-crusted plaza along with the other students braving the cold as well. I passed a professor as I walked. I haven't taken a class with that professor, but his face was familiar to me from around campus. It pained me that I couldn't greet him with any respectful phrase, like "Good Day" (students won't usually greet professors they didn't personally know). He is a professor, someone I respect, and I had to walk by without acknowledging his presence. This still feels strange with my Czech instincts.

As I left another classroom later in the afternoon, the same sensation came over me again as a different professor walked past me in the hallway. Just like the time before, because I hadn't taken a class with her, nor had a conversation with her in the past, she didn't make eye contact, and I couldn't say hello. Not to mention, a friendly "hello" didn't seem respectful anyways. It's confusing.

In Czech we are trained from pre-school to greet those in authority with a "Dobry Den" ("Good Day"). If you walk past a group of kindergartener's, chances are you'll hear them all exclaim a long and loud greeting of Dobry Den to you. It's adorable. In high-school too, whether I knew a teacher personally or not, I always greeted them if I passed by them. It's a sign of respect. Maybe they get tired of being greeted all the time, but it's part of the culture.

That was just one Czech moment I had. There was one more yesterday. (Strange how some days are just like that, right?)

I subbed for a desk worker on campus for an hour yesterday, so I sat at the Welcome Desk, which is at one of the entrances to Moody. People are usually kind and say hello when they walk in, but one friend in particular surprised me with her greeting.

This friend was walking by the desk and asked, "How are you?" I answered something along the lines of, "I'm alright. I'm a little sick, but it's ok." She stopped in her tracks and spent the next couple of minutes talking with me and listening to the rest of the answer to her question. "How are you?" is usually a greeting asked in passing, often answered with "Good, how are you?", but this friend took the time to really ask the question and wait for the answer. It was good for my heart.

The friend who stopped to listen is actually German. It didn't surprise me that her question was meant to be genuinely answered then, since usually in Europe the question isn't used as much for a greeting. There is nothing wrong with it being a greeting here in the States (I've gotten used to it!), but it took some adjusting of expectations when I first came in as a freshman. I was reminded of my other culture when my German friend stopped to ask that question, which was different from the American quick greeting.

I appreciate so many aspects of both of the cultures that I call my own, and actually ended up laughing at the end of both of these instances. Little cultural idiosyncrasies say so much about a country, and I love getting to experience those in person. For example, Americans are generally friendly and approachable, so respect and status may not be as high of a value for them (hence the lack of a "Good Day" to professors).

For those of you who have travelled or who live overseas, what are some of these cultural differences you have noticed lately? I'd love to hear!

And here's a photo of Czech my mom sent me a few weeks ago, just for fun. 


  1. I think folks not speaking to one another in passing may depend on where in the states you live. I grew up in the Northeast and there wasn't a lot of friendly greetings for people we didn't know but it is different here in the South where I live now. Most folks will speak when passing each other even if it is just a hello or at least smile and nod whether they know each other or not. As you say it is a cultural thing. If I were to move back North I would take this "Southernism" with me. I say speak or acknowledge whoever you want. You may be happily surprised with a response now and then.

    1. Patricia, that's a good point! I think that the States is pretty culturally different depending on what region you're in. I remember the first time (and only time) I went to Tennessee (where my sister-in-law is from) I was surprised by some of the very things you mentioned...the openness and politeness! Maybe I'll try saying hello to a professor I don't know one day even if they don't make eye contact. ;) I'm learning how to adapt to different cultures, while still preserving values from other places as well!


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