I have been in Washington slightly more than a week now. It’s interesting how new surroundings fill us with a measure of anxiety and confusion. My first moment of real discomfort came at the close of the last week.
I call it getting lost on the train.
I asked colleagues at the office to direct me to a market where I could buy some useful personal stuff. They suggested was a busy mall not so far from the capital centre at Pentagon City. However to get to Pentagon City, I had to use a metro train. That’s exactly where the trouble began.
I had never used a metro train before. My anxiety stemmed from not knowing which train to get on, or how to ask for directions, for that matter. I heard people talk of yellow, orange and blue lines; my sense of confusion grew. A considerate colleague advised me to just try it.
"The only way you are going to gets used to this is by trying."
What a way to be reminded of that simple lesson; you only get to know new things by trying new things. Those who do not venture to try never succeed in life. They get stuck with the familiar and miss the benefit of learning from new experiences.
Armed with a small map of Washington, I resolved that I would go to Pentagon City on my own. If I got lost, it would be part of the fun! Come Saturday morning I was up early and got on the metro right outside George Washington University, just a couple of blocks from my apartment on Pen Avenue.
Twenty or so minutes later I was at Pentagon City. Still a little anxious, but proud, too. Indeed, since this Saturday experience, my confidence in this new environment has been growing. Armed with my small map I have been able to get to several points across the city without any difficulties.
Mostly when we hear others talk about culture shock, it pretty much sounds like academic phraseology. Never again, for me.
The other day I stepped into a café for a sandwich. I was not exactly sure what I wanted to have. I looked at the long menu list, a host of foods on offer. I decided I would go with the LA Wrap.
I had never eaten an LA Wrap before. The driving spirit was to try new things as much as possible.
"You will have the LA Wrap, sir?" The lady waiter asked, and I confidently nodded my head.
"Right, give us a minute sir."
The LA Wrap was nicely wrapped up for me to carry to my desk. But on un-wrapping the wrap, I was shocked. What I saw was not what I expected.
The LA Wrap is a piece of ice-cold, probably raw tuna and some spinach leaves all wrapped in some ugly, cold green spinach wrap!! I tried testing it, and it sure didn’t taste like food. The wrap cost a precious six-and-a-half dollars. It all ended up in the dustbin.
My colleagues say that I should have returned it to the restaurant and pleaded my case for a change to something edible.
What we eat contributes a lot to defining our different identities as a cultural people. Our eating habits locate us on the cultural map of the world. What else, but an LA Wrap to experience culture shock in a new country!
The LA wrap clearly did not look like food that people from my part of the world would devour with a sense of relish.