Before I came to Lithuania, I expected I would encounter some sort of culture shock. I didn’t expect anything in particular, I just expected some sort of abstract, yet cognizable, difference. But that didn’t really happen and I was neither upset nor elated.
Globalization is a funny sort of thing and I understand that post 1990’s Lithuania got a big dose of it in short order. But after spending enough time here, the subtle cultural differences I used to have to squint to see are now more or less out in the open. So I though, as my internship comes to a close, it might be fun to outline and discuss some of those differences. Of course, I should remind everyone that I am neither an expert on Lithuanian nor American culture.
The largest differences originate from a culture that is generally more reserved. Talking to strangers is uncommon, although the natural language barriers make this a non-issue. Remember there was no custom of waving to cars after they graciously decided not to take your life in a crosswalk took me a little more time to figure out, and will probably take a little thought to pick back up in the states. Cat calling is, thankfully, not practiced by any Lithuanians, as far as I’ve observed.
Then there are the little differences that don’t fall into any category. The smaller homes and modest yards. The complete disregard for decent pizza, but the insistence on placing a pizza shop on every corner (perhaps that is more of a similarity, especially when compared with Boston). And I hate to sound superficial, but the attention to detail in clothing and appearance does make me feel like a stereotypical american slob.
Of course, there are also the cultural differences that are so foreign to me I can’t help but find them endearing. Like the way most women wear nylon socks under every shoe, including sandals, but not always covering all of their legs. Or the way teenaged Lithuanians prefer breakdancing to Nirvana over any hip hop song. And of course, there is the endless obsession with beets, curd, cabbage, and meat-stuffed everything.
I don’t mean to point out these differences as a way of highlighting my distaste for the culture-- quite the contrary. I simply point out these differences because they exist and I’ve been living them all summer-- something I am grateful to have experienced and appreciated. I love this country and the people. There is a bittersweet feeling as my return flight inches closer-- one of great sadness to be leaving, but great joy to have discovered all of this in the first place.