Although I knew what I had just seen, I was actually unsure if I could explain it. The image that was crystal clear in my mind clashed with everything that I had grown up believing to be true about the American South. I had just arrived in Asheville, NC, a few weeks earlier to study at Montreat College. I knew that the South had its own sub-culture; however, I was completely unprepared for how many things that I considered weird and different would soon be part of my normal.
Culture shock happens to most people as they move between cultures, whether it is within the same country or half-way across the world. This culture clash or shock is really a moment of beauty because we are forced to deal with overwhelming emotions about what is considered normal. Food, language, belief systems, and hobbies are just a few of the ways (and quite frankly, only the tip of the iceberg) in which each culture expresses itself.
The image referenced above was of an African-American dressed in full Confederate military uniform, holding a Confederate flag, and standing to attention. Although I was in shock at the moment, I now know that I would be in shock for a few years, as I tried to wrap my head around culture in North Carolina. Since moving to NC, I have learned how to shoot, understand the meaning of good BBQ, and know it is important to differentiate the color blue: is it Carolina blue or Duke blue?
Now that I have settled in to life here in Asheville, it continues to surprise me what little things I am starting to consider normal that once took a little getting used to. Sweet tea is a perfect example; I can now drink it and enjoy it on occasion…although the first time I tried it, it felt like a liquid dessert. I can understand the basketball rivalries between Duke and Carolina and know enough to frustrate either side!
At the end of the day, the most important aspect of this experience has been the continued moments of complete awkwardness or embarrassment that come from doing or saying something that goes against the established culture. It is a great reminder of the differences that surround us, and that the word normal is impossible to define.