Culture Shock

I remember the first time I went to Spain. I had just turned 18 and I flew from Atlanta to Frankfurt to change airlines and get to Madrid for my vacation. I had taken three years of Spanish in high school, so I was really excited to get off the Delta jet in Germany and say to the attendants waiting to help those of us with connecting flights — in Spanish — which airline and flight I was headed toward.

The eager attendants leaned in as each of us deplaned to see who would need what kind of help, and when I spoke Spanish, one of the attendants answered me in English. I was so disappointed! I wanted to speak Spanish, and here was this German guy — capable of speaking probably ten different languages — clearly aware I’m American, so let’s speak English, right?

When I got on the Lufthansa plane for the last leg, I said to the flight attendant — who also spoke ten languages — how bummed I was that I didn’t get to practice my Spanish just then. He consoled me by explaining that Europeans grow up differently than Americans. “We can travel a very short distance and need to speak several different languages as we travel from country to country. You go the same number of miles and never have to speak anything but English. We learned to speak several languages because we had to. You never did.”

Cut to my recent travels. By this time not only have I had those three years of Spanish in high school but also a year of French and a year of Russian in college, plus a few months of ASL with a class of my SMFA ninjas a decade ago. And pretty much ZERO time practicing any of it. I have just enough fluency to understand a word here or there… and that’s embarrassing, simply because I’m so dang used to being so self-sufficient and capable as I move about my daily life.

And now I’m plopped into situation after situation after situation these five weeks of travel in which I feel woefully ashamed about how little I’ve done to work the muscles of any of these languages I’ve learned in my life.

As I snacked at a gorgeous little tapas bar in Barcelona, people-watching and eavesdropping and journaling about all I’ve been experiencing on this journey so far, I wrote about the frustration that comes with feeling as though you SHOULD be able to navigate a space with confidence, but instead finding yourself lacking in not only knowledge about the language of a place but also its culture — a culture that would of course make more sense were the language better understood.

Anyone in that tapas bar who was people-watching *me* probably saw a lightbulb go off over my head as I journaled this next part:

“Here I am, #BigOl5 all day long and then you plop me in Barcelona. My enoughness can’t take not being up on the culture of a space *and* not being able to speak the language. Ooh, holy shit. That’s our SMFA work! We make sure people know the lay of the land, the players, and the language. And even so, until you’re living among it, you may choose the safe, generic haunts vs. the authentic experiences. There is massive drain on the enoughness just needing to CONFIRM the cultural norm, not to mention not having fluency in the language.”

So, when you’re first diving in with Self-Management for Actors, you may have some sense of how the whole Hollywood thing works. You may suspect the industry players in your market all behave a certain kind of way. You’ve probably heard from fellow actors about the set of rules that exist where you are.

But then you do some of our free training. Maybe you check out all the glorious vids on YouTube or all the podcast episodes at iTunes. You start reading the archives and keep clicking, and clicking, and clicking.

And as you’re learning more and more about the culture of showbiz, you’re getting more confident about moving amongst its inhabitants. You’re getting surer that you can walk around feeling like “I belong here.”

It’s at this point you get a next-tier audition. Or a producer callback in which there are all sorts of folks in suits you weren’t expecting. Maybe you get that meeting with the hell-yes rep you always dreamed of. You get to set… and you look around at all those series regulars and wonder, “Do I belong here?”

You’re not alone. Watch:

What I know for sure is this: As with *every* muscle, if we don’t use it regularly, if we don’t mindfully take steps to keep it toned, it WILL atrophy. We WILL end up in a situation that demonstrates we’re out of shape.

And the most important gift we can give ourselves in those moments is a reminder that this is just evidence of temporary low enoughness. This is just a sign we’ve not worked that particular muscle lately. This is NO time to spiral out into an even lower spot, letting impostor syndrome shift the whole POV into one where your best self has *no* footing.

Instead, get your best self on your side. Do a little lurk then lead action — study up on the culture and the language of the new space you’re in — trusting you’re gonna be able to move through that space with higher enoughness once you’ve fortified what you’re learning with a few more workouts.

Have you experienced this sort of culture shock? I’d love to hear how you navigated it! Comments are open just below. Share!

LA creatives! We have a spot left in our Saturday intensive! Snatch that spot here if you’re game for joining us at this last SMFA Retreat of 2018. Let’s jam!

So glad to be home! Planning big things for the rest of the year… but first, some catching up on love and kisses and snuggles with the hubs. Five weeks is TOO LONG to be away!

XO


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

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4 Comments

  1. Karen Boles November 13, 2018 at 6:04 am

    Such a timely message! I just returned from a Women’s Conference in Haiti where I kept thinking that my skill set as an actor felt so irrelevant as I looked around at the doctors, nurses, teachers, and others who brought *actual* useful things to the table. Do I belong here? What did I have that could possibly be helpful? But over and over I heard messages regarding the importance of fellowship, community, and a heart that was willing to serve – and I could do ALL of those things. We let doubt whisper to us far too often about our abilities. Thanks for the reminder that wherever we are in our journey, at that moment it is ENOUGH, we are ENOUGH.

    Reply
    1. Ninja Erin November 13, 2018 at 1:08 pm

      This is fantastic!

      Reply
  2. Heather Alexander November 13, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    When I moved to Germany, I taught myself some German. When I got there, they all spoke German to me. I would speak in German to them, and they would answer me in English I did this for 5 years. I tried to get them to speak German to me but they all said that their English was much better and they loved to speak it so they prefer to speak English. I was very disappointed but figured if it doesn’t bother them then it doesn’t bother me. It took a long time for me to stop beating myself up for living in another country and not speaking the language proficiently. But once I realized it wasn’t an issue for them it wasn’t an issue for me.

    Reply
  3. Paula Leew Micallef December 8, 2018 at 9:51 am

    I began traveling with my family on a journey that would take us around the world when I was ten years old. We had a journey through Asia and eventually landed in Karachi, Pakistan. Talk about culture shock. I thought it would look like colonial India. The country was not remotely what I had expected. My father said to me, “You find good things to do in unexpected places.” I took that advice and have used it all my life. Pakistan was extremely different but it was in that country I learned that acting was my calling and no matter where we lived it was my way of fitting in and making friends. My father and mother had both had experienced performing and supported my efforts. I am grateful to this day for my acceptance of different cultures and the world around me.

    Reply

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