Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Culture Shock

I've been in Oregon the last ten days or so, visiting my dad and his side of the family, and it's been quite an... interesting experience.

My family is the one poor family in two generations of hard workers and extremely wealthy, successful people on my dad's side. (This has a lot to do with the state of my dad's work ethic, but that's not the point here.) So I've grown up with the mindset that money is something to be put towards bills and food.

So I come to Oregon, and suddenly I'm thrust into this "culture" where people commonly spend upwards of $30 on a meal for two people.

My grandpa's a retired doctor. I have no clue what my aunts and uncles do, but they're all just as well off as my grandpa is, at least compared to my own family's financial state. Also, they're all very close. My cousins are real buddy-buddy with each other. (Not with me--my family has never been close to my extended family on my dad's side, mostly because of horror stories he's apparently told about my mother, none of which are true.)

I have never felt so uncomfortable.

These people have no problem spending money. Save three cents a gallon on gas if you've got a Safeway card? Oh, no, that's fine, it's just three cents. Leave a $20 tip? No problem. Spend over $100 on books in one day (something I have always wanted to do)? Pocket change.

This whole mindset of "price doesn't matter" is so completely alien to me. When I go to restaurants, particularly if someone else is paying, I get the cheapest thing possible. Here, the restaurants we've gone to, the cheapest thing is $14. This actually causes me physical discomfort. (Really, it does. I swear.)

And this has made me realize why I hate politics. Politics is the rich man's pasttime, in my world. People who don't make enough money to pay mortgage on a regular basis quite frankly don't have the time to listen to all the mudslinging people do in Washington that passes as political talk. Politics make people unpleasant and argumentative. There are a grand total of three people in my dad's side of the family who don't give a crap about politics, and they are me, my mom, and my sister. (Used to be my brother, too, but he's been corrupted recently.)

Right. I realize this is somewhat ranty, but I can connect this to writing! Really!

I will probably never be able to write well in the point of view of someone who doesn't care that they're paying $14 for chicken and dumplings. The whole idea of that rich-guy mindset is just so alien to me that I'd feel like a complete poser if I tried to capture that worldview through writing.

Anyone else feel that way about certain mindsets? Or am I just a freak? (Both options are equally possible, I assure you...)


  1. From time to time I've thought about how being a cab driver would be interesting in NYC, because of all the "life" you'd be exposed to--all those people from different walks of life, etc. Then yesterday on a bus a man utterly harangued the bus driver, and it looked like it would get physical. Several people fled, fearing just that--and others stayed, either too afraid to leave, or else unwilling to leave the driver alone in that situation.

    The driver got the man off the bus--rightly so, the abuse the man was raining on him was utterly unacceptable, and ironically that man thought HE was in the right (boggles the mind)--and obviously his day was upset.

    I remember thinking: I don't really need that panorama of NYC life, thank you very much. I thought about putting myself in his head, which I'd have to do to represent someone with his life in a book, and I thought--I don't think I can do it authentically. And I don't think I want to go there. Enough to feel compassion for him and horror and ... well. *sigh* So I don't feel it exactly as you do, but I do get what you mean about there being places I don't want to go in my writing. (Leave alone the head of that crazy guy.)

  2. It can be very hard to feel like an alien in your own family. Sorry you felt so uncomfortable.

    As for writing about what is foreign, it might be mind-stretching, but it also would risk sounding inauthentic. I have similar concerns about different kinds of characters, and I don't know if I could write them convincingly.