Culture shock, part un

Nothing shocks me these days. With a million miles under my peripatetic feet, I feel more wonder than shock. But, that one day on Main Street, Newark, almost three decades ago I was nonplussed for just an instance. My first, and perhaps, the only instance of “culture shock”. Mind you, and I have had many more examples of “reverse culture shocks” as I now am spending extended amounts of time in the old country. But that’s another story, movie at 10.

Now back to Newark, Delaware in the fall of 1990. I had just arrived in the US for my Ph.D. at a ripe old age of 24 with only two suitcases, one carry-on, $400, and big dreams, my sole possessions. Wait, you want that movie? Waiting for George Clooney to sign up to play me.

I was young and arrogant. I still am. Yes, young — I recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of my turning 25.

I read a lot, like a lot-lot, watched many movies, saw many US TV series, that I felt equally home in Banani or Brooklyn, Shukrabad or the Soho, Mohammedpur or Manhattan, … You get the drift, right?

Nothing fazed me. I took in and handled everything with aplomb and equanimity.

I have always wanted to write a book about culture shock and adjusting to life in the USA, targeting poor graduate students like me. I never got started, but I did have the best title for the book. Why do I bring this up? Let’s get back to my story.

There I was, lunchtime. Main Street runs by the campus, and after my morning classes, I decided to treat myself to some real food instead of the stir-fried 25c ramen and hot dogs I was cooking up in my apartment.

The prospect of real food was tantalizing. I had saved up a few dollars from my budget and so sauntered up to the counter at Roy Rogers. If you have not heard of Roy Rogers, this fine dining establishment is a fast-food chain found mostly in the Mid Atlantic region.

I ordered a burger. Yes, I was able to handle the inevitable “do you want fries with that?” with ease.

And then the young lady at the counter asked me the title of my book. And I was stymied. Just for an instance. A nanosecond perhaps. The gears in my head had to churn a tad bit faster to give the desired response, which I did.

What had she asked of me?

“For here or to go?”

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Technologist/Entrepreneur — Natural Language Processing, ML, and AI. Proud husband and father. Unapologetically arrogant and liberal. CTO at Infolytx.

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Dr. Zunaid Kazi

Dr. Zunaid Kazi

Technologist/Entrepreneur — Natural Language Processing, ML, and AI. Proud husband and father. Unapologetically arrogant and liberal. CTO at Infolytx.

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