Trash Talkin - Culture Shock USA
By: Nicole MorganPacking boxes, saying goodbyes, buying books, so much familiar territory in recent years. But the one that made the biggest impact was the one with just two people, moving across the world for a fresh beginning. We arrived in our new country early Summer of 1994 to a city teeming with people from all over the world. Born in Europe and raised in Africa, Washington DC was a veritable melting pot of the nations and I immediately fell in love with the hustle, and diversity. In the first month or two of this part of the world becoming our home, we were hotel bound. We rented a house only hours after our arrival, but it was not yet available. Our three felines had remained at a cat hotel in South Africa. Yes, an actual hotel where they had beds, a dresser to hide their litter box, a porch, even little hammocks to help them adjust to the sudden abandonment issues the quirky owner assured us would follow. My angst at leaving them was soon far from my mind with the realisation that I was about to enjoy a spell of not vacuuming cat hair, having someone else bring fresh sheets and a stranger to make the bed everyday.
May brought a crushing heatwave to the city, schools were closed, and builders worked from 5am til 3pm. The news flashes reminded people to stay indoors as much as possible which seemed a strange announcement for someone who had just moved from Africa. A haze lifted from the steamy sidewalks, and storm drains were most noticeable with an overpowering stench. We were literally disappearing in a mist of sweaty heat and often cloudy skies.
So what does a girl do in a foreign country when she doesn't know a soul?
She puts on her pj's and opens the mini bar.
Then settles in for several afternoons of American television.
And what a sight those shows were to behold.
Like nothing I had ever seen before.
My jaw dropped every minute.
My brain was ready to implode.
With my nerves rattled, my confidence in my new home shattered, I picked up the phone.
Like ET I had a need to call home.
I feared for my future.
I called. The Mothership answered.
I will never make friends in this country ... what is wrong with these people? I cried, I wailed ...
If you slept with your sister's husband's brothers father once removed and were now having a baby or two altho you had given one up for adoption after your cheating, lying stepmom threw you out of the house for stealing her purse and making out with her new boyfriends uncle ... did you really want the whole country to know about it on National Television? Apparently the answer was a resounding yes. There were just so many who felt the need to air their 'dirty, filthy, did they really do that laundry' for all to see but simply hid it under the guise of TalkTV.
Geraldo made one cringe with the theatrics, and even had his nose broken in what quickly became known as the beginning of Trash TV. Maury seemed a kindly uncle in spite of all those paternity tests. There was Leeza who flashed her sympathetic smile and Sally Jesse Raphael who had a way about her that sort of patted you on the head and said, now, now dear ... it will be alright. But I feared after several episodes of Ricki Lake (before she made herself over and went all social media hip) that these were now my peers. There was Montell who couldn't decide if he was a feel good kind of show, or who had been feeling who kind of show. Jerry Springer at the time had a tagline of 'an hour of your life you'll never get back', while TV Guide voted it Worst TV show ever. Let us not forget Jenny Jones and her surprise who is your crush guest which led to a murder and a multimillion $$$ payout.
(You know, ... insert stage whisper ... even Oprah erred a little on the side on skanky in the 90's.)
I was crushed. This was the enlightened America I had heard so much about? These awful people who were being pulled apart on stage, behaving like animals and screaming at eachother?
How could this be? How would I fit in?
What would I do?
A few days later, I mentioned this frightening phenomenon to a friend of the family. She was at med school, recorded her fav tv shows and laughed at my concerns. She assured me that those people were out there but that the true beauty of American Television was to be found in soaps. Shows that had run for years and years, as American as apple pie.
But what was this thing of which she spoke?
So the next day I found them and I watched.
I soon learned that I could leave the country on a two week trip and someone would be possessed by the devil and then brought back from the dead. In fact, people were often brought back from the dead. They were beautiful people in spite of their backstabbing ways, living in gorgeous homes and driving dream cars. Characters still slept with their sister's husband's brothers father once removed, but they had coiffed hair, perfect teeth and wore designer clothes - so it made it all okay. I was hooked.
Now, there are days that I feel as tho I live in a soap opera of my own.
Sadly no one calls make up, or brings me smoothies, or rubs my feet.
You know, now that I am over the shock.
And as always,
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Contest Comments » There are 20 comments
I never understood why my parents were so restrictive with TV (I was in junior high/high school in the 90's)...and now I have kiddos and I COMPLETELY understand. :)
Very funny Nicole! I love a friend from England explained this amazing lunch, "It was on a piece of paper. They added a hot dog, then put chili on it! It was like a chili and a dog." Ha ha - hadn't had a chili dog before? Great read my friend!
What an introduction to the country! I can't watch either of those types of programs. Lol Too funny, Nicole! Jen :)
So funny!! My dad was apparently mesmerized by Jerry Springer type shows when they first moved over here too! Somehow I never got into them, but I did have a small/huge obsession with the sitcom Wings when I first moved here and was amazed at how many times a day it was on the USA channel! I can't imagine how many hours of my life were lost to Wings. I regale my kids with how "in South Africa TV only came on at 5 PM and was only on until 10pm or so... AND was only English every other day!" they always look at me with a mixture of disbelief and horror over these tales of media deprivation. I think about how lucky we were as kids.
LOL Nicole - I can't imagine the Jerry Springer type shows from the eyes of a foreigner (I can't stand them with my own eyes). I agree... Soap operas are a much better waste of time! xx
As an Italian "transplanted" to South Africa at the tender age of 8, I remember being VERY confused by S.A. TV in the late 70s. At the time there were (only) 2 official languages (English and Afrikaans ... and I didn't know either)! Someone thought it would be "fair" to start the programs on one day in Afrikaans and the next day in English ... talk about confusion!! It took me a year just to tell that 2 languages apart!!! :)
ROTFL!!! Girl, you are freakin' hilarious and I always love reading your stories!!!
bwahaha and now there is reality tv to laugh at. Like real soaps and more trashy.
Fabulous, Nicole! I've never thought about trash tv through the eyes of a foreigner. Wow, we sure do seem like an unseemly lot thanks to Jerry Springer and his kind. And these days, it's not much better with the invention of reality TV. Honey Boo Boo heralded the official demise of American culture. Or maybe it was the Kardashians and their penchant for oversharing. Thank goodness you stumbled upon us in the 90's. These days, you might have taken one look at Mama June and gone running, screaming home. And America and the blog world would not be the same without our lovely Nicole.
Growing up TV was my only friend and comfort. I could leave reality. Now I know why I am so screwed up!
Too funny. I can relate to a certain extent. I actually "learned" English by watching soaps. When we first moved here, it was close to midterms at the school so the administration said to wait until the second semester starts... So, for about a month all I did was watch soaps and try to understand!
You're so funny, Nicole! Yeah, sometimes life is like a soap, but here's wishing there are smoother, less dramatic and happy days ahead.
Hahaha, iI can honestly say I know how it feels looking at "American" tv too--and I grew up with it. These days, I am so restrictive with the TV in my home because O can literally see brain cells dying when looking at it. Hopefully the kids will understand later.
The thought of people watching trashy 90s talk shows to learn about the US is both hilarious and upsetting. Good move, switching to soap operas!
Nice post. One of my first US experiences was seeing a homeless man get shot by police in front of the White House back in 1994 (he had a knife) - this was on the TV news and had me a little unsettled.
Too funny! I guess that's why many Americans are now watching British television....Downton Abbey, Doctor Who, Sherlock, and lets not leave out the Big Fat Quiz of the Year! Love you, keep entertaining us with your writing!
Oh Nicole! Hilarious! What a shock that must have been! So funny that that was your introduction to America! Not that the side you saw doesn't exist! Oh, for sure reality is stranger than fiction here sometimes, but rather that there are so many different possible realities to find in America, on all sorts of scale. Here is to finding the right and happy one for each of us! (and then knowing the rest is not OUR reality even if others choose it for themselves)
Too funny...called the Mothershio...haha! I'm glad it didn't call you home, but rather followed you to bring calm & order. Sorry such a poor introduction...but to find Erica Cane I'm sure was good for comic relief (AMC fan for so many years!). And now so many friends! xoxo
Yes, I would imagine seeing all that on TV would be a culture shock...but when you move from Idaho to Florida and immediately attend UF like I did, you see REAL LIFE "I cannot believe this is happening" shocking events so I get it and I only moved across the same country, not clear across the world. Yet we survive and trive! Funny.
Judge not, lest ye too will be inspired to join a telereality show. ;-) Loved this one!