Transitioning into a New Culture

When I shared my wedding photos a while ago, Sprouting Acorn asked:

While you knew you were ready to leave your Amish community, was it difficult to jump into the “English” ways and traditions? (Church wedding, white wedding dress, etc.) You seem so at ease in these photos, which only says you must have been very comfortable with your decision to leave your community for a new life. But how easy was it to move into this new world? 


This is a very good question and thought it merited a post-length answer because it is not a straightforward one. I have to say, I was probably most at ease on my wedding day of any other day in the first ten years of my life out of the Amish. You were perceptive in picking that up. Usually I would cringe in front of the camera, but that day I was oblivious of it. What I felt was an outpouring of love — not just between David and me, but also from and for our guests — these people were my new community. They had graciously brought a dish to share for our meal, long before it was “acceptable” to have potluck weddings. As far as I know, there was only one person who made a remark that she had never been asked to bring food to a wedding before. Two women from the church were happy to coordinate the food at the wedding. The singer was happy to sing as a gift. David’s brother-in-law was happy to be the photographer. And the pastor was gracious in performing the ceremony as the pastor of the church. So, it was a shoestring wedding, and as much a community affair as an Amish wedding.


Life wasn’t always like this. I was often unsure of societal “graces.” I still cringe when I think about those incidents. In fact, there were several surrounding our wedding that I’ll share.

I had no money to buy a wedding dress. I bought a white cotton-blend dress that I was planning on wearing. (In fact, I ended up dyeing it blue and Mary Francis, the maid of honor, wore that dress). Mary Francis had a friend who offered I could wear her wedding dress. I tried it on and it fit perfectly. But it had some stains on it, so I had it dry cleaned (they had to really work on getting the spots out) and then I had the perfect gown. At the end of the day, I hung it on a hanger and asked Mary Francis to return it to her friend. She mentioned something about having it cleaned first, and I said, “Oh, but I didn’t get it dirty. In fact, it’s cleaner than it was when I got it.” Mary Francis, bless her heart, said she would have it cleaned as my gift to me. It makes me blush today that I didn’t offer that. But I honestly didn’t know any better. I was still thinking “in Amish.”

Another thing that happened around our wedding: David had two young friends and neighbors who he asked to be ushers at our wedding. I knew they were in military school, and I asked David to request that they wear civilian clothes, because I was uncomfortable with them wearing a military uniform to our wedding. He did request that, so when I walked into the church and I saw them walking down the hall in their uniforms, I was very upset. I think my face must have shown just how upset I was. Luckily, my friend, Carol McQuillen was there. She said, “Saloma, this is your day, and you cannot allow something like this to upset it. You must let this go if you are to live this day to its fullest.” Carol was absolutely right. I had conveyed my wishes, but I was not in control of what my guests wore to the wedding, regardless if it stood for something that was so completely against my pacifist upbringing.

A third thing I will share about our wedding. I worked for many hours in advance of the wedding to make oatmeal rolls and freeze them, buy hams and slice them, I called people to ask them to bring a dish to the wedding and coordinated it so that we wouldn’t end up with only fruit salad or potato salad, and then finally the day before, I got the tables set up in the community room at the church. We also spiffed up the sanctuary. All that, and I never once thought about flowers. Thank goodness, one of the people coordinating the food, Barbara Dunnington, brought in that beautiful little bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley for the bridal table and larger one for the sanctuary. I was still thinking in Amish, and they don’t do flowers for weddings.

Yes, I was very ready to leave the Amish by the time I left the second time. And yes, learning the ways of a whole new culture was challenging at times. The incidents I just described around my wedding are good examples of some of the cultural differences I faced when I left the second and final time.

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9 thoughts on “Transitioning into a New Culture”

  1. Culture Shock was very challenging for me. I thought I was losing it mentally and emotionally until I was sitting in my Anthropology class listening to the professor talk about people from other countries moving to the USA and experiencing culture shock. Everything he described about their experiences described what I was going through. It was such a relief knowing that I was just experiencing a normal human phenomenon and not going crazy!

  2. So glad you had a wonderful day! I am sure no one thought anything about
    your “missteps”, although they were hardly anything in the big picture.

    There are a few things I wish we had done differently for our wedding, but somehow, nearly 32 years later, it’s all turned out all right. :

    Blessings to you,
    Karen

  3. I find it fascinating that we have so many cultures right here in the US, of which we know so little about. Thanks for sharing. Consider yourself a trendsetter. :) It takes strength from within to do what you’ve done in your life. A strength and comfort to know who you are and be comfortable within your own skin.

    I just finished your book. Nicely done. Love the reflection via car trip. Congratulations. And, can’t wait for this WIP to be published!

    Lynnanne

  4. MT, thank you for your comments. These weren’t the worst examples, but it demonstrates some of the “not knowing” that goes with leaving the Amish and integrating into mainstream culture.

    Aleta, you’re so right — culture shock is a very emotional experience. So glad you found an explanation to help you understand what you were going through. I also found that to be helpful when I found there was such a thing as culture shock.

    Katie, as you well know… you did it, too. Love to visit your blog when I get a chance.

    Karen, isn’t that the truth? The wedding still happened, it was still the happiest day of my life, and we are still married this many years later!

    Lynnanne, thank you for the compliments. I don’t know about a trendsetter, but I am pretty comfortable in my skin and with who I am. It has taken many years to be able to say that. Thanks to you for asking this question. I love when someone asks something like this, because it makes me reflect on these aspects in ways I may not have before.

    Happy Summer, All!

    Saloma

  5. I never even thought of culture shock being such an emotional trip, but then I guess I never thought about it all that much.I didn’t because I never made the culture change that you did.

    I do know, however, how it feels to occasionally be that “fish out of water” – don’t we all?! The closest I came to a culture change was when we moved and spent a few years in Texas. LOL – not nearly the same thing that you experienced, but it did wake me up to the fact that each area has their ways of doing things. It was then that I began to really get the concept of “do as the natives do”…

    quite interesting all the differences even within our own country, not to mention in the world as a whole. The sad part is that so often those within a culture think the newbie is the strange one, not realizing that they could just as easily by that person if the situation was reversed!

    How very fortunate you were, Saloma, to have found David and his family, as well as others who were more than willing to stand by you 2 and roll with what differences there were. Indeed, the things you mentioned here were minor, but I’m sure you now appreciate what glaring differences they were in your mind. Thankfully, youth & inexperience can make us naive in many ways, and sometimes that is a good thing.

    Once again, thanks for sharing. You’ve opened my eyes, once again, to seeing life from another’s perspective.

  6. Being a country girl, moving to NYC was a big change for me. Happily, I had Bill along (it was his employment opportunity that took us there) and two of our children so I could ‘hide’ behind them when I felt uncomfortable or out of place. Busy mommies can legitimately excuse themselves with children in tow to make a quick exit if they need to! I didn’t quite fit in to the city routine, but our church friends were wonderful and gave us all sorts of hints and ideas. We had a great neighbor, too. Our landlady was amused by us … but was kind and generous as well. You can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl!

    However, I find that I miss my city years … kids growing, new friends (still in contact) new experiences. It was all good and still is!

    Probably the most dramatic of culture shocks was doing short term mission work in several different Latin American countries. All eyes were always on the Americanos … just waiting for us to “do” something; anything. Not necessarily wrong, or foolish; just watching us to see how we talked or what we ate (or wouldn’t eat) … some places were easier than others; much easier!!!

    I think Burlington, VT was a good choice for you and you didn’t even know it!

  7. I’m not even close to Amish but I would have thought the same thing about the wedding dress as you! If I had already cleaned it so that it was better than I got it before I wore it, I might have considered just giving it back without a second cleaning if I hadn’t gotten it dirty. So, I wouldn’t consider that thinking in Amish. LOL

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