Friday, October 28, 2011

Culture Shock?

One of my many visitors the past two weeks asked me a GREAT question:

"Are you in culture shock?"

I immediately answered with a "Umm... a little. I think so. No. Maybe? Hmm... probably."

For the millions of military wives out there, they know exactly what I am talking about, this culture shock. Even when my Coastie and I were dating, I didn't fully comprehend this thing calling military life. I naively thought it was just a job. Sure, a job that took him away a lot, but still, it was just a job.


Wrong. This life has its own culture, language, implicit rules, and fierce love and protectiveness that "civilians" can't understand. My own family struggled with my decision to marry a military career man. Politics come in to play all too easily. How could I give up a comfortable life near family to go wherever the CG sent us?  

Here's the thing: the military life isn't just a job... it is a total and complete way of life. I had to learn (actually, I'm still learning) a whole new language. It is full of acronyms and phrases that are pretty much foreign to me. For example, I had to call someone to ask about our BAH and they said to call the MAC. Every time I have to ask a question, I had better know my Coastie's SSN, unit, and rank, or no one will help me. The social hierarchy is also different. As a social worker, I strive to create a world where all people are equally respected and treated fairly. That's impossible in this life... friendships, social activities, even conversations are based on rank. Higher ups don't socialize with the Enlisted and vice versa. Even among the Enlisted, there are rank separations about who you can befriend! We are even separated into different neighborhoods on base!! I am not criticizing this lifestyle; it has always worked this way and it always will. I cannot change it. I can accept it and not take it personal. I say these things to educate you "civilians." And yes, we do call you that. It is not derogatory; it is simply a fact. It acknowledges that we have a different culture, language, and mission and purpose on this earth. We aren't better than anyone... we chose this life. But please forgive us when we are exclusive and speak in our own language. Forgive us when we smile with sad eyes because you can't understand how we "do it" when our husbands are away. Forgive us when our priorities don't align with the rest of the American culture.

So, yes, I am in culture shock. I am completely out of my comfort zone. But I am loving every minute. It challenges my brain, what I thought I knew, what I thought was important, and who I thought was important. Here, politics are just an afterthought. Here, religion is still going strong. Here, entire conversations happen with just a bunch of letters strung together. Here, homecomings are the highlight of your year. Here, every face belongs to someone who is or has been in the same spot as you. There is commonality among strangers that is no longer achievable in the civilian world. Here, no matter what branch or rank, you can empathize with another spouse or parent over the worries, fears, and proud moments that make every part of this life worth living.

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