I was chatting to a talkative and intelligent Ethiopian in a cab. I asked him about the cultural shock associated with arriving in the United States. This is part of his reply:
I lived for several years in Milan, so I thought I had a good idea of Western culture. My friends took me to a restaurant shortly after I arrived in Washington. It was like visiting a public library. First there was this stern person, who looked like a librarian, wanting to know if we had a reservation. He made a big production out of finding us a table. Once we sat down, the place was like a cemetery. Everyone looked as if he was attending a lecture on cervical cancer. No one else smiled or talked above a whisper. In Addis and Milan, when you go to a restaurant, you arrive in a good mood, expecting to have fun. You have a conversation with the waiter. You lean over and chat to the people at the next table. You laugh. You joke. You tease the restaurant manager about the contents of the soup. You drink a lot. You drink too much. It is a special occasion, an occasion to enjoy yourself. It can be noisy. There can be toasts, singing. People can fall over.
In a Washington restaurant you keep a respectful silence. You are stared at if you raise your voice. The restaurant manager never comes near you. The waiter is too busy to joke. If you talk to someone at the next table they look at you as if you are (a) mad, (b) an intrusive jerk, or (c) a potential sex maniac. Nobody knows how to dance, even if it was encouraged. Drinking a bit too much is serious faux pas. Nobody smiles. Nobody lets his hair down. Everyone leaves after a so-so meal looking as glum as the moment they arrived. People don?t know how to have relax here. I’ve been in England. They are always laughing and joking there. I don’t know why. It’s so expensive there.?