Cultural Shock

| October 19, 2017 | 0 Comments

Sometimes, having ADHD is a lot like being born with an entire, tiny country in your brain.

The country doesn’t really have, like, land or people or anything. But it has its own distinct culture, a set of rules that I grew up with that make every social interaction I have make me feel like an immigrant. Just as two people from different parts of the world might clash when it comes to certain social cues and behaviors, I find myself navigating interactions the same way, but with people in my little old corner of New Jersey. It’s almost like I came with a whole different rulebook in my head, and its notions of rude and not rude are vastly different than those of my neighbors, friends, and family.

photo credit: CJS*64 Catching up ! via photopin (license)

photo credit: CJS*64 Catching up ! via photopin (license)

In my little country, when people talk to each other, they’re constantly moving. They can’t really pay attention to one thing at a time if their hands aren’t occupied. If they’re staring at you and “looking attentive,” it’s probably because they’ve just zoned out in your direction. So, it’s customary to do something else while talking to someone– they see it as them keeping the part of their brain that might wander off occupied so that they can listen to the conversation.

But, here in America, other people can find it dismissive, or as a sign I’m not interested in the conversation. They like it when you maintain eye contact with them to seem engaged, but that actually makes an ADHD immigrant like me pretty uncomfortable. I start thinking too hard about how much I should be giving, if I’m being awkward, where I should look, and when I should look away. Trying to maintain eye contact distracts me from what’s being said, which is what I think is rude.

The little country in my brain also operates under vastly different time management rules. Citizens only get a few hours of productivity at a time, and tend to do work in spurts. It is very rude to interrupt a person in the middle of an activity to talk to them, even if it seems like whatever they’re doing trivial. But, as I’ve found, Americans don’t mind being interrupted while doing their hobbies or even doing their work. Many times, it’s a welcome distraction, and the people initiating the conversation tend to view beginning random conversations as an act of friendship. It tends to mean that they either saw something their friend might find interesting or funny, thought about their friend, or just wants to see how they’re doing. It means they care.

I think what I’ve learned by straddling the border between these two countries is that the idea of “polite” and “rude” are really relative. Avoiding stepping on one person’s toes could put you in the path of someone else’s. What’s important is telling others that you aren’t just ignoring their rules, but operating under your own. That way you can start to speak each other’s social languages.

featured photo credit: Seif Alaya Heroes #52 via photopin (license)

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Isabella Amorim

About the Author ()

Isabella "Izzy" Amorim's hobbies include writing for Culture Shock, spending inordinate amounts of time in BU dining halls, and purchasing children's tickets at movie theaters with her baby face. Play the system, kids.

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