(upbeat ambient music) - Things stood out to me when I moved to Tennessee.
Whenever you are driving in the South, if you look in them into the eye, the driver, you're supposed to give a head nod or a hand gesture to show your friendliness I guess.
- In Ghana, most people that own pets give them the same food that they eat, leftover meat, leftover scraps.
Moving from Ghana to the United States, I found something called pet food.
It was kind of a surprise, it was very different.
(car purring) - I have experienced a lot of culture shock.
The main meal in Paraguay is lunch.
Dinnertime actually people eat like 9:00, 10:00 PM.
People have dinner here like 6:00, 5:30/6:00 and I was like, "What?!"
- [Narrator] Next Door Neighbors is made possible by the support of the Nissan Foundation.
(indistinct chattering) - [Narrator] It's hard to say exactly what a culture shock is, but most seem to know when they experience it.
According to Merriam-Webster, it's a sense of confusion and uncertainty, sometimes with feelings of anxiety (upbeat ambient music) that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.
But that sounds pretty negative, a bit scary even.
With the exception of some incidents that may rise to the level of shocks, those adjusting to a new culture mostly encounter surprises, unexpected differences that incite curiosity more than angst.
And that's what stood out from conversations with three Tennesseeans who moved to the US from other countries.
- [Captain] Flight time will be nine hours and 40 minutes.
- [Narrator] Their experiences obviously don't represent those of everyone from the countries where they were born; they can only speak for themselves.
(engine revving) - [Captain] On behalf of the flight crew, thank you for flying with us and have a pleasant day.
(tranquil ambient music) - Meet Sadie Wang; she was born in Taipei City, Taiwan.
Sadie went to college and graduate school in the Midwestern United States.
She's won dozens of awards for her jewelry and hollowware.
Meet Cephas Ablakwa.
Cephas is originally from Accra, Ghana.
He moved to Nashville with his family at the age of 14.
Cephas is an artist and educator.
And meet Alexis Báez.
Alexis grew up in Encarnación, Paraguay.
He met his wife in Paraguay while she was there with the Peace Corps.
They moved to the United States more than 10 years ago.
Sadie, Cephas and Alexis are among the more than 350,000 immigrants living in Tennessee, roughly 5% of the state population.
Each noticed different things while adjusting to life in the volunteer state.
(upbeat ambient music) As we began discussing customs that initially stood out to our featured Tennesseans, the United States Postal Service came up.
Alexis shared that he never had a mailbox in Paraguay.
- The mail system here, there's a person actually come every day and deliver the mail.
Something like that, we don't have it, like there's no person that actually deliver the mail to you.
In order to get some mail, you have to go to the post office and get it from there.
It kind of like surprised me, one of the big things that surprised me here, like different in Paraguay and United States.
- The greeting process is different, like say you run into somebody that you know in the post office, it's never like, "Hi, see you later."
(chuckles) Like I need to mail some letters or send packages.
You actually have to stop and kind of chat and talk to that person a little bit, and you know, like the phrase, "you all," "how y'all doing?"
All this was very interesting.
I had to learn all that.
And the pace is a little bit slower in the South, so that's part of this whole greeting process.
(upbeat ambient music) - When it comes to perceptions of time and speed, everything is relative because while Sadie found the pace of life in Tennessee to be slower than what she was used to, Cephas found it faster.
- In the United States, there's a very fast-paced life, especially if you've lived in places like Boston, New York, or even in Nashville, where I immigrated to.
And this is very different from the pace in most African countries.
Specifically in Ghana where I'm from, there's a much slower pace of life.
In America, there's a pace that is timed almost to the minute.
You know, when I come home playing with my kids or just watching something, you feel like there needs to be some productivity that's happening.
Not so much in Ghana, in Accra where I'm from, there's a much slower pace of life.
There's productivity there, but there's more of an enjoyment of the people you love; there's more of an enjoyment of the community; there's just a much slower pace there.
- [Narrator] In addition to these more nuanced observations about societal pace and priorities, Sadie, Cephas and Alexis noticed several little things.
(upbeat ambient music) - Things stood out to me when I moved to Tennessee, number one is definitely the southern accent.
I remember working as an artist-in-residence, I had to go to a mechanic in Algood area, and it's like, to me it was like in the middle of nowhere.
I had to drive in these back roads with woods, (chuckles) and I got to the mechanic shop, and he had a visitor.
And I remember the visitor, he was in an overall, and I could not understand a word he said despite my best effort.
And so I don't know, maybe I can understand today, but I couldn't understand back then.
So, and the second thing I noticed, and I was actually told whenever you are driving in the South, you're supposed to, if you look at the car, the traffic across from you, (upbeat ambient music) if you look in them into the eye, the driver, you're supposed to give a head knot or a hand gesture to show your friendliness I guess or you're not supposed to look at them.
And thirdly, I noticed the phrase "bless your heart" was used a lot and sometimes used as a joke or sometimes used sarcastically because you may not mean what you really mean.
(chuckles) So that was interesting.
- In Ghana, most people that own pets usually give them the same food that they eat.
It's usually leftovers or leftover meat, leftover scraps, and you make a meal out of that for your dog.
But moving from Ghana to the United States, I found something called pet food at the grocery store.
So it was kind of a surprise; it was very different.
I'm sure I have seen it in movies growing up, but it was also a completely different experience to see canned or food made specifically for animals.
- So one big thing like surprised me also here, like crossing the street in Nashville, instead of like crossing the street in Paraguay, Encarnación; here when you put your feet in a crosswalk, actually the traffic stop, so you can cross.
Nobody gonna like hit you, so in Paraguay it's a little different.
There's not usually people like stop for people, you know.
You have to wait like a break, break of traffic, and cross the street.
And sometimes like when you are in hurry, you really have to run crossing the street, because, yeah, most likely that somebody will hit you.
(chuckles) And so this is a difference between like crossing the street, and this surprised me, like kind of here like they respect you when you want to cross the street.
Like, whoa, whoa, they stop.
I can cross, you know?
So, (chuckles) that's a big difference.
- One other little thing I noticed, the difference is that I think the volume in general, people in Taiwan speaks just a little bit louder than the United States, such as when you walk into a restaurant, it's really, really loud in Taiwan.
And US is generally really quiet, and people respect each other's privacy a little bit more in United States, and I think that is interesting.
People tell me or their facial expression, their body language, will tell me that I'm actually a lot louder than other people, and I did not notice until I see their faces.
- It wasn't until I moved here that I understood the concept of cuss words, 'cause in our culture, in our local language, there might be things that we may consider cuss words, but since English is not really native to Ghana, we really didn't focus on cuss words a lot.
So imagine the surprise in going to school and using all these words that, you know, as I said, 14-year-old boy, around 12-year-old, 13-year-old using all these words and everybody's eyes going bigger or talking to my teacher and using these words completely oblivious that they are not (crowd laughing) words I should be using because I learned them from just watching American movies and talking in school, and it's not cuss words in our culture.
Just like there are British words that are cuss words in Britain, but when I'm watching shows in America, I don't really think of them as cuss words.
- About measuring, I still struggle.
Even living here for 10 years, I can not say what is like feet.
If you tell me like 100 feet, I don't know; if you tell me 100 meters, I know, but like a meter, like feet and pounds, I still struggle.
- I also noticed another little thing of mine is my friend tells me whenever I have some kind of emotional reaction, I tend to hit people and they, and it's not like, (chuckles) it's like a light hit, but, and they do tell me it's kind of an Asian cultural thing and that I don't notice that.
(tranquil ambient music) - Hospitality is one of our biggest things in Ghana.
We love communal interactions; we love having people over.
And part of the culture, which I enjoyed then, but now that I've lived in the United States so much, not so much, is people just being able to just drop by your house whenever they're in the neighborhood or without any announcement.
And it's very common to just be home and just hear a knock at a door or just someone just kind of coming in, and it's just part of the culture.
No one thinks anything about it.
And in fact, if somebody drops by and you're either cooking or eating, it's very customary with very pure intentions to offer them some meal, almost be insistent that they eat and you don't feel as welcomed if you've not engaged in some eating or some kind of interaction, so just to show community or love.
But here, it's different.
You don't just drop by someone's house without calling or without prior notice.
And I think I'm more American in this regard because I tend to like that; it's just with two kids and work, it's not okay to just drop by someone's house without announcing it.
So these are the few things that is in a sense, you might call it a reverse cultural shock whenever I visit Ghana, being there and just having somebody drop by, I'm like, "Well, this is not the best time.
I was about to go out; I was about to jump in the shower; I was about to do this" and people are dropping by.
Now that I've lived away for so long, this is a jarring experience to have.
(upbeat ambient music) - In any conversation about culture, food is bound to come up.
The routines around our meals are ingrained in our daily lives so much so that we may not stop to question why we tend to eat certain foods at certain times prepared in certain ways.
Any of those food-related variables may be different when you travel to another part of the world.
- I noticed when I moved to US there are certain foods people don't eat, especially animals.
In Taiwan, they're presented in its entirety, like a fish with including head and tails and fins, and animals or chicken with bones and duck, you know like, like a whole thing.
You see the whole entire thing and the inside parts, like livers, the kidney, intestines, feet, all that stuff.
There was one thing, it took me a long time to learn.
I didn't realize I was making this mistake is that someone actually told me that in Taiwan we eat food as just as it is, and we spit out the parts that we don't want.
But in the US, it's considered really rude, and that's why the food is always presented, such as fish, it's always filleted and chicken is like chicken breasts and without the bone part.
And that really was a lesson.
And another mistake that I am still making is because the food was presented in its entirety, and it's difficult to finish chewing your food and then talk.
So sometimes I still would be chewing and talking at the same time, and I can see from my friend's eyes looking at me and thinking how rude I am.
- The main meal in Paraguay is lunch, and dinnertime, actually the weekdays the people eat, like have dinner, like 8:00 PM, and the weekend time is like 9:00, 10:00 PM.
Actually kind of surprised me when I moved here because people have dinner here like 6:00, 5:30/6:00 And I was like, "What?!"
- All right, supper is ready.
Come and get it.
- Also, we have "merienda."
They call "merienda," it's like a snack.
So we have like about like 4:00 PM, we eat like sweet stuff or like cornbread, called "chipa."
That's another reason I think like we have like dinner very late at night.
- One of the other differences between the two cultures is food, and food in a way when you think about it, it's a very completely different concept, you know, it's a tropical region, so you have foods that are more, you can think of it, are more tropical.
And then in the United States, there's something that's unique 'cause it's a melting pot.
So you have different cultures.
I can't really pinpoint something I'd say this is just an American food, maybe cheeseburgers.
But besides that you have Italian food; you have Mexican food; you have Indian food.
Well, in Ghana the bulk of the food is Ghanaian.
So I find myself, anytime I go back, if I stay for a long time, I think the first time I went back, I stayed for two months, and in that time I enjoyed the Ghanaian food so much.
But the biggest thing I craved was sushi.
(upbeat ambient music) I love sushi, but I couldn't find much sushi in Ghana.
There's some places, some restaurants that sell sushi, but it's not ubiquitous as it here.
- [Narrator] While customs and foods may be noticeably distinct across countries, visible differences in buildings can also be striking.
And there's one building in particular where we all spend the most time: our homes.
From the exterior, to the appliances, to the floors, many differences stood out to Alexis, Cephas and Sadie.
(birds chirping) - In Paraguay, we have like walled fence built up around the houses, even the front yard and backyard.
So here is different like people you know have a, like they don't have a lot of fences in their house, like, or if they have, they have only their backyard, so they don't have the front yard.
(upbeat ambient music) - In most affluent communities in America, I think in almost any community, houses are just freestanding.
You have the grass and you have the next house, you know, it may be bigger, it may be smaller yard, but the concept is still the same.
That was a very different concept from the way I grew up.
In Ghana, in more affluent communities, you will see most people have a privacy fence around their house, which is enclosed or capped off at the gate to enter that compound.
And it's for two reasons; primarily it's for privacy, but you know, this is one way to have some security.
And if you think of our culture and where it's located, it's right there by the equator, so it's mostly a very warm tropical climate.
I think the one website said that the lowest temperature ever recorded was 65 degrees.
So that means that you have people outside a lot.
There's a lot of things that we do in our culture, like cooking or events that require being out in the yard.
So just to have an enclosed space, most people like that privacy and having that privacy fence, and that's very, very different from being in, any part in America you may see a, no matter how expensive the house, a few of them may have a, like building, your houses may have gates and walls, but for the most part everybody's house is just kind of freestanding.
And I think it's mainly to show off the house or show off the grass or how the landscaping is.
It's a different thought process in Ghana.
You would think that that would lead to our culture, the Ghanaian culture, being more enclosed and not communal, but it actually has the, it's the opposite.
So in Cookeville where I live, it's a little rural, and it's kind of spread out, and I have this thing I do that my wife is not, seems it's a little weird and odd.
When we have someone move in the neighborhood, even if it's two or three streets over, I always kind of walk over and just introduce myself and say, "Welcome to the neighborhood.
I live over there.
Just stop by for if you need some sugar or something."
And it wasn't until we visited Ghana, that my wife pointed out that that's a Ghanaian thing.
I never understood that until now.
Because in Ghana we just are very communal, even in affluent neighborhoods where they have walls built around their houses and their compound, most people live in a house that we call a legacy house or a family house, which means that their grandmother lived there.
Their mother lived there.
They're living there, and most likely, they're gonna pass that house on to their their kids.
And so you do tend to know the people in your neighborhood for a long time.
The people that I lived with I actually still text with now, people that I grew up with that lived next door to me when I was 10, even though I haven't seen them for 20 years, we still text.
And so it is just a different experience.
Here in America in where I live in my cul-de-sac, I think I know one or two of my neighbors, that's it.
The rest of 'em are, we wave at each other, but we don't really know each other.
(tranquil ambient music) - In Paraguay, we don't have like a lot of clothes dryer, like here, like every house, they have like their own clothes dryer, so they hang the clothing outside in the line.
So it's like they just put there for like hours, and just the sun like dry the clothing.
Yeah, it's something different, like it's very different.
Like here you won't see anywhere here like hanging clothes outside.
So there like, you can see everywhere.
(water gushing) - [Narrator] As for household appliances, despite coming from different parts of the globe, Alexis and Sadie noticed some of the same differences.
- So there's a couple things I definitely noticed.
So we have washer and dryer, but everyone that I know, I would say everyone that I know use the washer, and they do it daily.
And they would hang their clothes on one of those bamboo hangers outside in the little porch that they have.
And here we use washer and dryer like, it's just once a week or some people probably do once a month, depending on everyone's hygiene habits, and they use the dryer, it just seems like that's just normal.
So that's one thing.
The second thing is we don't have a dishwasher, and I don't really know why that is.
And I want to say when I was young, this emphasis of saving electricity and water is like a big deal.
So what we do is we wash dishes by hand, and we have a dish dryer that usually hangs above the sink and you can turn it on, and it will sanitize and dry your dishes.
(air flowing) - The air condition in Paraguay, I don't know any person that they have the central air condition in Paraguay personally, like here, every house they have like central air condition and there is like, they have like the individual, and just in the main room, like living room.
(cars honking) - So we don't have central heat and air at home.
We have central heat and air at the commercial, like shopping malls or offices.
But at home, we actually have window units or split units (buttons beeping) for the air conditioner.
We are very hot in the summer, so usually, we're actually tile floor or bare wood floor.
We don't have carpets.
(tranquil ambient music) - Being struck by cultural differences is a natural part of exploring and acclimating to a new home.
And over time, the things that used to seem novel can start to feel as much your own as the customs you arrived with.
- So when I feel like Nashville's home, it was like little by little, so you don't feel like, okay, this is my home now.
Like you don't feel 100%.
When I feel as like I can live comfortable here is when I feel I can communicate, when I learn English.
For me it was like kind of practice before I meet someone.
It's like always like interview; my life's an interview.
It's always I do that when out, with friends, like with somebody who speaks English, I always like try kind of practicing at home first, like what question might be, and that's the way, actually I get my life every day, something like that, yeah.
So when I make friends, when I like can work, so all those like facts is like when you makes you like, okay, this is now my home.
So I get to go back to Paraguay like once a year, but the reason I always go every year right now is because I always need the culture there, Paraguayan culture, you know.
And also right now it's kind of I have like two cultures in my life, so I need the one from here and also I need the Paraguayan, and I miss sometimes the culture, the whole thing, the weather, the whole like conversation, like talking in Guaraní, talking like in Spanish, so you need that sometimes.
And I need like sometimes in my life.
So, and also when I was like, when I'm there like for like a few days or weeks, also I miss United States, you know, because I really experienced, like I have been living here for 10 years, I really experienced both cultures, so it's like 50/50.
I need both cultures.
- I don't really know when I start to feel like Tennessee's home but I, just the fact that I've lived here a long time and established my own friend circle, and just a lifestyle and like living here, so before you know it, I think I just, it just totally feels like home to me.
- So I consider myself a Nashvillan now, even though I live in Cookeville now, but the my first American home was Nashville.
And I think at this point in my life, I'm more American than I am Ghanaian.
I've lived more than two thirds of my life in America.
It's so nice out here.
Are you hot?
So when you go to Ghana, are you gonna wear a sweater like this one?
- Okay, why?
It's not an easy thing for one to leave their familiarity and the country they grew up in, or the place they grew up in (tranquil ambient music) and start a new life somewhere.
Many people do it, immigrants do it all across the world.
There are difficult parts to it.
Probably the most difficult part is, as a kid, a 14-year-old kid is really making friends and fitting in and making sure that your insecurities don't overwhelm you.
For me, there was an accent barrier, and I think that even though I've spoken English from birth, pretty much, it was very noticeable and probably still is noticeable that I'm from somewhere else.
So having that not always be the center of conversation, making friends, and being a high school teacher myself, kids always mean.
So that was a very difficult thing for me to overcome.
So when I became a teacher myself, I easily noticed those kids that were immigrants themselves, whether they're from Mexico or Europe or any other place, and noticed the difficulty that they went through.
So I was always trying to make myself available to them 'cause I know what it is to be new in a culture.
And one of the advice I'll give them is that it gets better.
You integrate into the culture, and you don't think of yourself as an immigrant anymore unless somebody reminds you of it, usually not a bad way.
But as you're going through it, I would always advise people to try every new thing.
Trying things that you never would've tried before, doing things that you never do before, it's the way you become part of the society.
It's the way you actually become, develop yourself, go beyond the limitations of your own culture and to explore other cultures.
- [Narrator] The culture shocks and surprises Sadie, Cephas and Alexis shared invite us to reflect on the culture shocks we've experienced or observed and how we're all products of our environments and traditions: those we were born into and those we've adopted on our journeys.
(tranquil ambient music) - And tickle, tickle, tickle.
(tranquil ambient music) - Do I just?
- Yes, you just pull it out.
- I thought you were gonna demonstrate that.
- Okay, should I?
- Okay, lemme do it.
- I'm just spitting stuff out.
- Maybe I will spit the chicken.
(upbeat ambient music) How about that?
- [Narrator] To watch more episodes of Next Door Neighbors and videos about the little things that stood out to people when they moved to Tennessee from other countries, visit ndn.wnpt.org.
- [Narrator] Next Door Neighbors is made possible by the support of the Nissan Foundation.
(upbeat ambient music)