Monday, June 18, 2007

Causes of culture shock for newcomers

What are the main differences between the Charlotte area and other parts of the country? Plenty, I learned after I asked people to describe what caused them culture shock when they moved here. Some more examples from transplants:

“For culture shock, lack of places to eat was one. The number one was bakeries. We were used to going and getting rolls, etc., and there was only one bakery in town and they only made cakes and cookies and were CLOSED ON WEEKENDS.

The next (big change) really was how nice people were and their willingness to talk to you anywhere and be helpful just out of habit. One example - a woman came up to me and put her hand on my shoulder and said at a Blockbuster Video, ‘We rented that last week and you will love it.’ In New Jersey, A) no one is that nice in public, B) people don’t talk to you if they don’t know you and C) they definitely don’t touch you.” Jim Fritz, now of Charlotte, first moved to Concord in 1990

“We met more of our new neighbors in the first week (met two in the first day) than we met in our old neighborhood in four years in Michigan.” Sherry Swett, moved to Concord in October

“When my husband and I moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area, we experienced plenty of culture shock. We love it here because it is so different! Some of the things we noticed:

-There are few privacy fences between houses. You can drive around neighborhoods, and see through to the next block!
-No one is offended by terms like sweetie, hun’ or darlin’ when used by a stranger!
-There are churches everywhere you go - little one-room churches, huge community churches, old churches, new churches - and their members will invite you to come sit with them on Sunday as comfortably as if they were inviting you to a barbecue.
-There is a commute hour instead of a commute three hours.
My husband says that California is a good place to be from, and North Carolina is a great place to live.” Heather Rodeman, moved to Concord in 2004

“Culture shock: Incredibly warm and friendly people. I love total strangers waving to me as I run, sharing smiles and greetings, and not trying to run me off the road - unlike South Floridians. Yes, drivers here may be aggressive on the road, but they do share and are nicer about it than those in south Florida.
-TREES.. so many beautiful trees. And flowers. South Florida is a palm-tree-and-concrete jungle.
-NO HURRICANE SHUTTERS. (Only a Floridian could truly appreciate this.) We would spend weeks, sometimes months living with our windows covered by heavy metal shutters.
-Porch rockers in the airport - this was one of the first wonders of the city that I noticed - and I still smile at the image of them in my mind.
-The lovely Southern twang.
-Getting lost. I had a good sense of direction until I moved here (of course living in grid zones with bodies of water on both sides helps immensely.) I keep a map of the city in my car at all times and am still trying to find even one road that goes in a straight line.
-Car and state taxes. They don't exist in Florida. But we pay them, just so happy to live here.”
--Mindy and Ed Amster, moved from south Florida in April 2006 to Berewick in southwest Charlotte

And I like this stream-of-consciousness entry: “Wildflowers like the daffodils on the side of the road (485), incredibly irresponsible drivers, ready with the horn and using the shoulder to PASS! Friendly, smiling talkative clerks making running errands so pleasant, WAVING, everyone walking, biking and driving through our neighborhood, strip malls so beautifully constructed, unfortunately costly groceries, (not the competitive market I'm used to), $4 for milk???!.” --Colleen Oakes from Michigan


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I moved here from Boston about a year ago and I noticed that grocery prices are definitely through the roof. Of course this is more than offset by the lower cost of just about everything else, especially taxes...

8:57 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I just wish the roads were better marked. I'm used to having LARGE roadsigns (you can read them at a fairly large distance) suspended over the middle of intersections between the stop lights on major roads. Every single road appears to be marked with residential scale road signs. Those are fine for side roads but not for major arteries.

It's rather annoying to drive down a major road like Independence and not know what road you are crossing until the very last second.

I like it here but I'll just have to get used to circling the block until I get the roads memorized.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Culture shock = seeing confederate flags and bumper stickers about Yankees. I guess that is why real estate is so cheap here - you can get a nice cookie cutter house but your surrounded by white trash.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The way people dress! Ugh, the guys dress horrible! Like 40 year old golfers with those short short khaki shorts and that weird "bowl" like shaggy haircut and of course, a polo shirt (that is usually tucked in HAHA). Ew!! Get some style boys!!!

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about the dirty looks some locals give a newcomer when they realize that new person attends a non-protestant church (or no church at all).

That same look goes towards couples that buy a house together before marriage. One of my coworkers experienced just that when he intorduced his next door neighbor to his fiancee. The neighbor stepped back and started gathering her children in fear of this. Very absurd.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The church thing made me laugh. I was shocked,SHOCKED,when within a week of moving here 3 or 4 people asked me what religion I was or what church I went to. I'm from the Northeast and couldn't imagine anyone asking me that. Then they found out I was an Atheist and I'd swear they must have thought I was either a child molester or a terrorist. It was nuts. I've since learned to not answer the question. :)

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Charlotte native and although I don't live there anymore(I'm now in SF) "The Question" always makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.

To wit: "Where do y'all go to church?"

Charlotte's many positive attributes-trees, terraced topography, opportunity in a meritocracy, relatively low costs, booming economy, international air service, major-league sports, glittering center city and grand in-town neighborhoods-are all but done in by "The Question."

Here's my suggested response: "You know, I'm not a church-goer. Where do you go to church?" And when they tell you, follow up sweetly with "Oh, yes. What led you to [blank] church?" You'd be surprised (well, maybe not) that many "faith choices" in Charlotte are more about status and drive time than faith. Then say, "well, bless your heart." This will assure the interrogator that you do indeed fit in, even if you don't "go to church."

Then change the subject. :)

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The negative culture shocks seem to be caused by people having the expectation that every place should be just like where they previously lived.

Those same people who only see rednecks and churches everywhere would probably be making comments about the Caribbean influence in south Florida or the Asian influence in some west coast cities. I'd guess if they moved to Hawaii - a real paradise - then they'd be complaining about the number of Japanese who live there. (By the way, Hawaii has a very active evangelical movement, so you probably should avoid it.) God forbid (pun intended) that this type of person move to Salt Lake City. They'd probably be surprised that there are a few Mormons around town.

My other theory is that many of these people didn't know that Charlotte is the center of the NASCAR industry. To most people who negatively use the term redneck, NASCAR is just a synonym for that.

My suggestion is that people do a little more research before they make a life decision like moving to a new city.

A quick google search of Charlotte would reveal that Billy Graham was born here and the city has the nickname "The City of Churches".

Anyone who is surprised by these things after they move, they are the ones showing their ignorance.

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So that doesn't make The Question offensive, Rick?

How about just some simple common courtesy to not ask a COMPLETE STRANGER about their religion?

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I moved here from Hartford, CT. If you have ever driven up through downtown Hartford, you will notice something that is about 500 ft tall with scavengers flying around it. Yes, the city of Hartford has placed its landfill right beside the CT river in downtown Hartford. It looks like a mountain from a distance, however you becoming quickly grossed out as you approach and notice that it is a moutain of trash. UGH UGH UGH. Most of the city limits of Hartford is now on public assistance, while the suburbs are wealthy. I like that in dowtown Charlotte and the close in neighborhoods that there is a good balance of income levels.

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well anon,

That is exactly correct.

Being offended by The Question, as you call it, says much more about the person who is offended than the person asking the question. (Especially in a city named The City of Churches - my original point.)

If your belief (or non-belief) system is that shaky, maybe you should reevaluate it.

Oh, and back to my original point about knowing where you are moving before you move somewhere...

I'm a 3 year transplant after a decade in Arlington, VA and DC. Prior to moving here I called this place Redneck Mecca based on my few visits. I still moved.

Of course I grew up in Kentucky and drive a pickup, so it wasn't that big of an adjustment. Also, when I say redneck, I do it without the dripping disdain that many on these Observer forums do.

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rick, is it really that difficult to understand that asking someone about their religion is rude? I don't care how many churches are here. What if I give that person the answer they don't want? Knowing those kinds of people, they will judge me based on my answer. The same can be said about politics. To most people, both of these things are personal. It is just not something you ask a COMPLETE STRANGER.

I look at it like this: What you believe in or consider yourself as isn't that important. If you don't go to church that shouldn't matter either. IT IS HOW YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE.

10:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rick, that is why I'm glad the influx of new people in town is diluting some of the provincial auspices of this town. Any true city embraces people from all parts of the country and world, along with their faiths and ideaologies. Charlotte is indeed the home of NASCAR and Billy Graham, and both should be embraced by the city. Contrary to popular belief, NASCAR and Graham have a strong presence outside the south just as they do here. I met more NASCAR and country music fans in the northeast then I ever knew here. That was very surreal to me in the beginning. Bottom line, while newcomers need to realize that there are some subtle differences when they move down here, some people here need to realize that Charlotte is not the midsize southern town (like Lubbock or Spartanburg) that they seem to think we are. The more we are like Atlanta, DC, or even some progressive cities in Kentucky, the better.

10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Progressive cities in Kentucky?

Have you ever been there?

Bardstown Road in Louisville does not a progressive city make. You might want to run your progressive theories by those at the Southern Baptist Seminary on Lexington Rd before you mark anywhere in Kentucky as progressive. Liberal, maybe. Progressive, no.

In my opinion, those who call themselves progressives give actual liberals a bad name.

But this is not political forum so I won't go off on a tangent.

Remember, the point of this thread was "why is there culture shock for newcomers". The whole point of my premise is not whether The Question (your fixation, not mine) is right or wrong, the point is that The Question is part of this environment. If you can't deal with the environment that you freely chose to make your new home, then you really have no basis for complaining.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlotte native again:

It's the assumptive nature of "The Question." In other words, it assumes that surely you must go to church (and when I learn where that is, I will automatically know a lot of important things about you.)

It's rude. People don't mean it to be rude, they really want to know if you fit in, but if you think about it, asking questions to determine whether someone fits in is rude, too and unbelievably small-town. (650,000 in the city and 2.2 million in the media market is not a small town.) It's sort of like that disdainful question of Southern aristocracy, "who are your people, dear?"

I believe it's better to ask someone, "how do you like Charlotte?" and let them start talking about their new city. People always like to talk about themselves. I think you'll make more friends that way.

10:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not intend the word progressive to mean 'extreme liberal' as some in those circles do, but in the non-political sense that progressive means, forward thinking. It seems to me you have a one track mind on certain semantics.

As for Charlotte and newcomers, the people of this town should have gone beyond some of the insular nuances years ago. Heck, places like Raleigh, Greensboro and Asheville seem to embrace different types of people and they are smaller than here. Why?

Indeed, people moving here expecting it to be like home are in for a shock, just like those who thought they were going to move to a simpler, Mayberry way of life. Sorry, charlotte is not that either.

11:24 PM  
Blogger Leigh said...

Rick and your anon correspondents: Thank you for keeping your comments thoughtful. They've inspired me to explore writing something more in-depth about "The Question" for the Observer. If any of you are willing to be interviewed for an article, please e-mail me at Thanks!

6:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was the 4:27 that Rick responded to.

Let me just say to some of the others thanks for the support.

Rick, I don't have a problem with my choices on religion. I don't have a problem with yours (or anyone else's for that matter). My overall point is that religion is a personal choice and is not something that should be asked about within the first few minutes of meeting someone. I'm sorry, but I can't see how it is not a very rude thing to ask.

As for our family, we are very happy here and don't have any real complaints. Mild winters, very affordable housing, super-low taxes, and there are enough things to do to keep us busy. Although I'd still love a professional baseball team to relocate here and some more shopping uptown. ;)

8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Charlotte native, and while I am a Christian, I do not ask people I meet where they go to church, because I do not attend church myself and personally don't care if they do or not. Don't be offended if someone asks you this; it is completely normal here for natives to ask this question. It is not intended to be rude; it has always been asked because most everyone who has lived here all their lives went to church, it was just what you did. You should consider it a compliment; it is part of Southern social protocol to ask what church you go to, how many kids you have, etc., even though I don't ask these questions myself, as I'm more of a progressive Southerner rather than an old-fashioned one. They are trying to be nice and welcome you. If you are an athiest or don't attend church, just tell them the truth or tell them it's a private matter.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...come to think of it, none of my friends in charlotte go to church.

...i also suspect that 'the question' is more about class/social status than theology. in cincinnati, where i grew up, our version of 'the question' is "where did you go to high school". this was a not-so-thinly-veiled attempt to suss out if you were from the east (wealthy) or west (working class) side of town.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlotte has been my home my entire life. I have lived in other cities and visited even more and I can't say I ever felt at "home" anywhere else.

However, the "culture shock" is not shocking only the newcomers. Charlotte is growing at such a rapid rate and is being influenced more and more by "transplants"; it is changing. Things that were "socially acceptable" are becoming taboo. Like "the question".

When I was growing up, a stranger in line at a grocery store striking up a conversation and asking me things like, "What church do you go to?" or "How many children do you have?" only because they see the box of Lucky Charms in your basket was totally acceptable. You never felt offended, you felt like you were making a new friend. (And you usually did) That's just how things were here.

Now, if you show a genuine intrest in a stranger they become immediately offended and call you a meddlesom hick.

Charlotte now has so many new people from so many walks of life the "southern tradition" is fading away.

Why do people move to Charlotte? Is it for a job? Is it for a spouse? Is it because they felt like a change and opened up a map, shut their eyes and pointed here? Or, maybe it's because some of them wanted a change. Something different from what they were use to. Maybe they had heard that there was something special about this place. It has the southern charm and was becoming a metropolitan city. (Two of the reasons I stay)

I realize we have new people coming in every day to live here and I appreciate that they will bring some of there culture, mannerisms, and ideas. I just hope that they can appreciate some of ours.

As for the roads. I apologize. I still lost : )

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't had anyone ask me where I attend church since I moved back home, to Charlotte, over a year ago. That certainly would not offend me, though. Who cares? If you don't go, you shouldn't feel bad saying so. They are strangers who are often just looking for a commonality with a fellow stranger. Many people do it everyday when meeting new people. Your preferences in life shouldn't make you uncomfortable. Going to church is normal here, or is the mentality of many people who have lived here for many, many years. As I grew up in Charlotte, I knew very few people who did not attend. I rarely go now, and I certainly don't pose that question to the people I meet. I guess some stereotypes die hard?

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Asking "The Question" as someone called it would only be rude in a society where it is not the norm. You have to get used to different customs when you are in a new environment. Actually its something thats fading pretty quickly, I find it hard to believe anyone has been asked more than once or twice.

Its no different than swearing in a public place. To people here, that is rude. Yet transplants do it all the time. There ya go. Different strokes.

Point is, if you're offended by it, you can either ignore it or say something about it. Then get over it.

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, as the last few posters seem to confirm, being asked The Question should not be seen as a big deal.

For the record, I don't remember ever being asked The Question, and I know for a fact that I've never asked The Question of someone out of the blue. I do remember one conversation where that was the subject, but I actually walked into that conversion when it was already being discussed. Other than that, I don't remember it being on the tip of anyone's tongue.

I'll say it again. Getting bent out of shape over a simple question that is based on a cultural norm in a given location says a lot more about the person who is offended than the person who asked The Question.

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I moved here 4 years ago from Charleston, SC. It was not a huge change for me, religion is part of the southern culture. Charleston is in fact known as the holy city. If someone here asked me my church of choice I would not think twice about it. I agree with people who say that if you are offended by the question, get over it. Moving to the south has some baggage, I suppose your religion is part of that baggage. As far as the original question... I hate the medians and I love the homes and beautiful yards that dot the city. I am also a huge fan of the glittering city I can look out on anytime I wish.

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If someone asks you "The Question", it tells you a lot about the asker, doesn't it? You immediately know something about that person's background, culture, assumptions, and etiquette... and their willingness to find out about you.

Newcomers, note this: In traditional Southern culture, the rudest thing you can do is deny conversation to someone. This only happens to pariahs and outcasts (make an old Southern lady angry and you'll see what I mean). Of course, ignoring someone is the standard of interaction in other parts of the country; you need to be aware that "The Question" is a means of acceptance, not of denial. If you were being excluded, you'd get no questions at all.

7:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Question" is merely Charlotte's manifestation of the human desire to connect with one another. As Socrates said "Speak, in order that I may know thee," so do Charlotteans when they inquire about one's church, one's people, or anything other aspect of one's life that was once considered to be fair game in polite conversation. Whereas the response would have once relayed all sorts of socio-economic, political, and moral information, the reality is that it means very little these days. As a result, quite a few natives have stopped asking "the question," because they no longer care to hear the answer.

Alas, Charlotte has changed drastically from the days of my youth. While I no longer live in Charlotte, I realize that good & decent & talented people are moving there daily, transforming Charlotte into their own city. The ease of assimilation is key to everyone's happiness & to the success of the Queen City. So, my suggestion is not to worry too much about this. If history is an indicator, Charlotte will drop this tradition as quickly as the rest.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've lived my entire life in this area and traveled all over the country. People outside the South seem to be a lot more closed-mouthed about themselves than anyone around here.

I think the asking of "the question" is just one of MANY questions that Southern people ask (such as, "do you have children", "what do you do for a living", etc.), questions that could be construed as nosy by some. People are more open's just the culture, and the point of asking the questions in the first place is not to pass judgement, it's just a conversation starter to find out what the asker and the subject of the questions have in common. Small talk. If someone asks me those questions, I have no problems with answering them and personally don't care what they think about my answers. My life, my business, right?

My parents taught me that it was rude to ignore someone and not be friendly to them. Apparently in other parts of the country, it is considered ruder to smile and pay attention to a stranger.

Yes, I do attend church reguarly but someone else's choice of churches (or lack thereof) does not have a bearing on my opinion of them as a person (if it comes up in conversation, I don't really ask that question).

I find it funny when someone gets bent out of shape at the mere mention of religion; apparently I have less of an issue with their choices than they do with mine.

A note to the easily offended: it's not rude to simply tell someone that you would rather not talk about something, or talk at all, as long as you do so politely.

I must echo the ideas of others here who have said that when you move here, you should not expect it to be just like where you came from. I bristle every time I hear someone talk about how much better something was where they came from. Say that about a few things, fine....but if you have excessive issues with the way things are here, then please do all of us a favor and go back to where you came from if it's so great there.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anyone who moves somewhere new (to Charlotte or anywhere else) and complains about how much better life was in his/her previous location, a well-placed "Delta is ready when you are," usually conveys the right sentiment back towards him/her.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband and I moved here about a month ago but have been visiting Charlotte for approximately 7 1/2 yrs since our daughter attend UNCC. We are originally from Northeast Pennsylvania on the Delaware River bordering New York State(very rural). As some of your bloggers commented that things are far you should have lived where we did, going to the supermarket was a 20 mi. trip one way or going to the mall was an hour and half one way. I also want to comment on the people that find things wrong with the area. Anywhere that you go to live you will find things you don't like so I recommend that you look at the positives instead of the negatives and you will enjoy your stay much more.

You have the power to make your experience a pleasant and enjoyable one so stop complaining and start having some fun. Charlotte is full of things to do if you pay attention and do research. Remember there must be something good here since we northerners are flocking to it!!!!!!

I also would like you to post some clubs for married couples in their mid 50's to meet people.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rick is still an ass as usual.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There use to be a great NY deli (the real deal - all Boars Head and the long refidgerated cases filled with pastas and salads, chicken cutlets, etc. It was over in Carmel Commons back in the late 80's. At that same time there was a NY Italian bakery in the McMullen Creek shopping center.
BOTH went out of bisiness within a year. Reason: the owners told me people complained and saif they could go to the BiLo deli or BiLo bakery and ay a lot less.
FOR WHAT !?!?!? Crisco, lard, hydrogenated oils ?

That';s why Charlotte is laking in any high quality bakeries and delis. The tight asses wont pay for quality. At least they wouldn't back then. But with more and more people moving into the area I am slowly seeing a change. Pizza is the # 1 change for the better in recent years. But we still don't have the great deli's or bakeries yet.

Pasta and Provisions on Providence in Myers Park has tons of imported foods from Italy as well as Boars Head and fresh pasta made on site. They even get weekly shipments of riccotta cheese flown in from a small mom/pop operation in Jersey. INCREDIBLE.

Bakeries (they aren't so great but we don't have anything to choose from):

Marguerite's French Bakery: NoDa

Jersy Girl: Ballantyne,Blakeny and Mathews

Nova: Central/Plaza

Edible Art (custom pure butter cakes): Selwyn Rd. Myers Park

Now Asheville is a different story. They have great bakeries.

8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^ sorry for the typos.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a southerner, and my family always told me to avoid talking about "controversial" topics such as; race, politics, religion and money with aquitances. Those topics were to only be discussed with relatives people you knew well.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Julie Kelly said...

Great topic! I moved here from Georgia, so I don't have SSS (Southern Shock Syndrome), in fact I knew in advance to just turn up the accent and start with "I'm new to the area..." when I need information.

However, accents here (at least on the North side)are different. A little more twangy and less sugary. I also have not been into town yet, but I've noticed not many people recycle here, and it's difficult to find organic food. I think this is a much different story on the South side.

I still have to think really hard when I ask for directions and just get an exit number.

11:23 AM  

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