Culture Shock

BY Barbara Lucas

I moved to Fond du Lac after living seven years in Washington DC. It was only a short hop, distance wise, between the Reagan and Mitchell airports but seemed at that time light years apart in cultural life, pace of daily living, crime rate, and political climate. My first culture shock came when a brief column in the Fond du Lac Action Advertiser caught my attention.

PARKING-METERIt was titled Crime of the Week and was a piece featuring the theft of a tool box from a garage as the “crime of the week.” This was really something I thought.

I’d been used to reading a four full-page spread every Thursday in the Washington Post that listed all the crimes committed during the previous week. Each quadrant of the city, NW, NE, SE, and SW had its own page and each page’s listing began with the week’s murders then, in descending order of seriousness, the assaults, rapes, burglaries, robberies, car-jackings, muggings, and thefts. In Washington reporting a stolen tool box to the police would have been a complete waste of everybody’s time; just this one short article told me a lot about life in my new community.

I soon learned something else that was different from life in the nation’s capital, and that was that I could estimate pretty accurately just how long it would take me to get anywhere in Fond du Lac, that it would probably be an uneventful drive, and that I would find a free parking space when I got there! Trying to estimate travel times in Washington was a near impossibility given the likelihood of traffic jams, road works, national parades, demonstrations of one sort and another, presidential motorcades, or a measly quarter inch of snow which was always guaranteed to cause complete and utter chaos. As for parking you might be lucky enough to find a spot on the street but then again you might not, and if you had to pay for parking, even when buying groceries, it was likely to cost you an arm and a leg.

The place I’d been living in DC had no off street parking and was just off a major traffic circle downtown at the intersection of Connecticut and Massachusetts avenues. If you were a resident of the neighborhood and didn’t want to have to move your vehicle every couple of hours around the clock, you could buy an annual sticker from the city for a couple of hundred dollars. It would let you park on the street with no time limits provided you could actually find an unmetered spot. I used to consider myself lucky if, on a Sunday evening, I could find a space within a two or three block radius of my building, and then leave my car there until I absolutely had to move it during the following week.

As an illustration of the unpredictability of even a short drive in the nation’s capital, I offer the example of the fine spring morning when, within the space of about forty five minutes, I witnessed all of the following: The tarp draped body of what was either a suicide or murder victim surrounded by police and yellow crime scene tape, lying alongside the road running under a bridge in Rock Creek Park; several fire engines with sirens blaring, racing down Connecticut Avenue on their way to a fire, and a number of EMTs trying to revive a heart attack victim right there in my local grocery store parking lot. Imagine all that excitement during just one short trip to buy groceries!

Even though traffic in Fond du Lac has increased substantially it’s still easy to take uneventful trips across town and to estimate travel times fairly accurately unless, of course, you get held up at one of the railroad crossings by a seemingly miles long freight train; and it’s still easy to find accessible free, or low-cost parking. The most noticeable changes I’ve observed of late are the “scary” (to some people) roundabouts, and the fact that the sounds of police sirens are now heard more often than they once were.

CRIME-SCENEYet another culture shock came on my first visit to a local F-d-L video store. I went in and asked for the foreign film section only to be told by the clerk that there wasn’t one as “Nobody likes foreign films.” “But I like foreign films!” I protested to no avail. The store manager offered to order films for me to buy, but flatly refused to stock any to rent. I hadn’t expected to find a cinema actually showing foreign language films, such as the ones I’d enjoyed in Washington, but I had expected to at least be able to rent them. Now, most of the video stores seem to have disappeared and we have much wider access to all kinds of films online, through the library or Netflix, and through the film evenings at THELMA where I have seen several films not likely to come to Fond du Lac on general release.

After the relative anonymity of the big city it was another “culture shock” (though a pleasant one) to be greeted by name and a cheerful smile from the friendly bank tellers at the bank where I opened an account. In Washington, after doing business with the same bank every week for over two years, I’d still been required to produce an ID at each visit before withdrawing any money or cashing any checks, a process I found somewhat disconcerting. When I finally remarked that surely the bank knew who I was after two years-worth of regular transactions, I was met only with the statement “It’s for your own protection.” I understood that, but it seemed to me that the bank, by not requiring its tellers to learn the names of its regular customers, had no real interest in them as individual people, which has certainly not been my experience in F-d-L. The fact that my bank actually knows who I am and is familiar with the pattern of my transactions, gives me confidence that “attention will paid” and that if anything “unusual” occurs they will be right on it.

It really doesn’t seem that long since my move to Fond du Lac, but around 2007 I realized, much to my surprise, that I’ve now lived in Wisconsin longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere (at last count twenty two different “moves” to eleven cities and towns in three different countries.) I’m over my “culture shock.” I think I’ll stay!

Barbara Lukas is a freelance writer, and member of the Fond du Lac Writer’s Club

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