Ways to keep up with the culture when you are far from it


Culture affects everyone. There are lots of people who try to claim they aren’t affected. “I don’t listen to commercials.” “I don’t watch TV.” “I don’t follow sports.” “I don’t really like music.”

The truth is, you live in a world where other people are around you all the time. And because they are affected, because they change, because they evolve — you change, too. You are unaware of all the ways that marketing, music, books, politics, and culture affects you. And yet, you and I and everyone, everywhere, are cultural animals — constantly moving, pushing, and chasing others, while constantly being moved, changed, and chased ourselves.

And yet, it is possible to move to another culture and miss out on the things that we once took so much for granted. After a while outside our home culture, we can come to a place where we miss our roots, and it can become appealing to look for a way to plug in — even if from afar — and reconnect with the places and cultures that shaped us into the people we are today.

So here are some things that I have started to rely on to stay aware of what’s going on in the US.

News: PBS News Hour

This one is just me — I grew up with my parents watching the News Hour every night. So, I subscribe to the podcast, which you can find here. It’s not practical to watch American news on TV, but at least I can listen to the podcast in the morning, and hear the news from the night before. The News Hour tends to be middle-of-the-road, and then every once in a while you might get to hear David Brooks.

Sports: Sports Talk Podcasts

I never realized how much we men (and some women) take sports on TV for granted until I had been gone from the US for a couple of years. So, as a substitute, I listen to sports podcasts quite a bit. It isn’t the same, but it does give a little bit of the commentary and news that I used to get just from existing in the states every day. I listen to Colin Cowherd just about every morning (even though he hates Atlanta); Atlanta sportswriter Jeff Schultz has a decent podcast (when he decides to record episodes); and Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe have a great show called Undisputed.

Books: Amazon / Kindle

Maybe it’s a good thing, you can’t go into a bookstore and end up buying books that look good on the shelves. But then again, maybe you Americans don’t do that anymore either. And then again, again, it is a whole lot easier to go on Amazon and fill up your Kindle by clicking on books that have nicely designed little cover pictures next to their titles. So, when I read books, it’s because they’ve been recommended to my wife on Amazon.

Side note: if you want to keep up with culture, be married.

My wife and son are avoiding this nice selfie.

Movies and TV: Netflix

Movies are a hard one, because when you’re out of your cultural “zone”, you don’t watch the TV shows and channels that everyone else in town watches (because you’re a foreigner), and you lose out on that thing where you see the same commercials and marketing that everyone else in your neighborhood sees. So, if a new, big movie is coming to theatres here, you miss out usually, because you haven’t been exposed to the movie trailer every time commercials come on during Lud,zbunjen i normalan.

CATCH THE IRONY THERE? I miss out on elements of my culture (movies in the cinema) because I don’t participate in elements of the culture where I live…

For this, I really have to depend on the marketing inside of Netflix and Hulu. When we watch TV, that’s what we watch, and we tend to watch things that are recommended within the apps, or things we read about online. So, that’s an area that we really tend to miss out on. Oh well…

What to buy: Amazon

This is an area that you really would not expect or really understand until you experience it yourself. Eventually, if you stay outside your home culture long enough, you lose all concept of what people are buying or interested in. Hmmm, how can I explain this better?

Remember that whole Yetti thing? The $40 thermoses that everyone carries around (or complains about)? I missed it completely. Began to hear about it a couple of years after it became a thing, and by that time it had already gone.

And Bulletproof Coffee. I remember learning about that a couple of years ago, and trying to make it in the blender, after it’s time in the spotlight was just about done.

WOW… I just found a list of the “hottest” products of 2017 — the ones that all of you are supposedly buying… And it’s… disappointing. Just let me list most of them here with my reaction:

  1. Amazon Echo. $149.
    Never heard of it.
  2. Amazon Echo Dot. $49.
    What’s that? And why would you buy the other one instead of this one?
  3. Instant Pot 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker…
    Are we really buying these things again?
  4. Something to mount your phone to your car dash.
    Yipee!
  5. Fire HD Tablets.
    Are people still buying those?
  6. Sony Wireless Headphones. $150.
    They better be… more than headphones. Are people crazy?
  7. Roomba. $375.
    Weren’t those a thing last decade? Is that how much those cost?
  8. Some other headphones.
    Is sweat a problem with headphones? Do you sweat out of your ears?
  9. Kindle Paperwhite.
    Isn’t that old? And I thought Kindles were supposed to be cheap.
  10. Oral-B Pro 7000 SmartSeries Electric Toothbrush with Bluetooth Connectivity. $109.
    What??? Bluetooth? In your mouth? Is that supposed to be a joke?
  11. TaoTronics Dimmable LED Desk Lamp with USB Charging Port and 5 Color Temperatures and Brightness Levels.
    I should take a picture of my reaction, but I’m not going to. Is it a thing that desk lights are dimmable?
  12. 23andMe DNA Test. $199.
    I have no words. Are people buying this? What is this exactly?

So, you can see, especially when Christmas rolls around and I try to send my family gifts, or when I try occasionally to buy real, physical things from Amazon (not books), I am completely clueless as to what is in style, or cool, or whatever. So I rely on Amazon to tell me what people want, and I buy that, and hope for the best. And if it doesn’t fit or work, I hope the merchant will accept returns.

So there you have it, 5 ways that I try (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep up with culture in America. Really, I’m just creating my own thing here. It’s pretty good.

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