Tag Archive | culture

Cultural differences

What’s sometimes really hard to remember is that people don’t do things the same in all parts of the world. I have two separate posts related to things that are different from South Dakota versus the East Cost America. That’s just in one country. (I also hope to maybe someday write a story about those differences. I know, it’s been done in many movies, but all from people in Hollywood, and I think it’ll be really funny.)

One of these examples is that the ten children my teacher went to kindergarten with were also in his graduating class.

Anyway, that being said, my sociology  professor likes mentioning similarities between other cultures. I’m not sure how much I trust him on this. I don’t like him for a number of reasons that I don’t want to go into at the moment. However. I’m going to post these here with the idea that it can help the creative juices flowing on what you can change in your world.

• In North America, if you raise your eyebrows, it indicates doubt. However in Peru, it means you should pay me. In the pacific, it merely means yes.

• Movies from America aren’t shown in the Middle East because they are too sexie.

• There is no internet in Cuba. (Rather reminds me of the situation last I heard in Egypt.)

• In Saudi Arabia, it is a sign that the agreement has been settled and both parties are content when you hold hands, even if both parties are represented by men.

• In Europe, both men and women greet each other by kissing on the cheek.

• Here’s a strange one and I’ll actually tell you a story to illustrate it. Someone from my school went to visit Asia. He went to the bathroom and started doing his business. As he stood in front of the urinal, someone came up from behind and began to massage his shoulders. (CREEPY!) It turned out there are some places that pay men to stand in restrooms and massage people’s shoulders in order so they relax while they go.

• I had one more note here that caused me to search the internet. And I found this on Answer.com (which, I know, not very reputable but they are supposedly quoting oxford dictionary.)

The quintessential British offensive gesture for most of the 20th century, formed by holding up a hand with the middle and index finger upright in a V shape, the thumb and other two fingers curled into the palm; the palm facing towards the gesturer. If asked, most people would gloss the meaning as ‘F—you’ or something similar, and it was certainly a very potent offensive gesture until recent years when it seems to be losing its ability to offend.

• Especially in the midwest of America, adulthood is obtained when someone turns 21 and can drink. (Supposedly.)

Now, if I have any of these wrong, please tell me, because I don’t like being wrong and I do question my source. (I really don’t like this teacher.) Do you know any other differences between other countries as far as gestures and the like?

Some random possibilities.

I’m just throwing out some random things that you may find useful when writing.

Excessive yawning can be a symptom of a brain tumor.

A side effect of hypothyroidism in babies is they become very small and mentally retarded. (I’m not sure why I thought that to be of note, but I wrote it down when I heard it.)

When a plant exploded, what happened was that the water erupted from wherever it was stored, flash-vaporized into steam, and then reacted with the metal to cause the whole building to come down.

People with Aspergers have problems with overstimulation.

People’s short term memory lasts about thirty seconds. After that, it goes into the long term memory. We don’t always remember it because some memories become little deer trails in words and others become superhighways, based on how often we’ve accessed the information. But, theoretically, if someone could speed up their short term memory, could they then have a better memory?

Cultural crossovers almost always start with food. And therefore, food is the backbone of cultural diversity.

Calcium is the means by which all muscles in the body contract, from the finger muscles for typing to the heart. So if someone removes all calcium from a body, or inhibits all the calcium, that person dies. (I know, morbid. Sorry.)

Bus Travel 101

The rare new Greyhound buses offer wifi, electrical sockets, and smoother seats, but at the cost of large metal things in the middle of them.

Due to the increased cost in tickets this year (up to almost $500 a seat), my mother, sister and myself decided to take the bus instead of plane to New Jersey from South Dakota. (We couldn’t drive because none of us have the visional capabilities to drive.)

For starters, anywhere much beyond a certain point will cost you only $184, including over the Canadian boarder. (I looked.) If you take a more common route, it’ll cost you less and you’ll have more options on times, obviously.

Many of the preconceptions about bus travel are wrong. For starters, let’s discuss the people.


The picture that most people have about those who travel by bus is that they are people trying to avoid this law. I don’t think this is anywhere near the truth.  Maybe a few of them do, but the vast majority of people are just people trying to get from point A to point B cheaply.

The only place worth getting priority boarding was Chicago, since they had a special area set up, complete with chairs.

The vast diversity of people traveling by bus astonished me. We had everything from a single woman who was pregnant at four months, to an elderly Amish couple. The ethnicity varied as well. Pretty much anyone imaginable traveled. My sister suspects we even had a muslim couple on board with their baby.

So long as you stayed out of the east coast, people were generally friendly and talkative. We talked to all sorts of people. The Amish couple previously mentioned, a woman who had to get back home and stay put until she had a baby, another woman who was going out to stay with a friend who was having surgery, a guy heading to Seattle, a girl heading to Portland who wanted so badly to see the Bad Lands (which I’m pretty sure she did.) An Asian woman who smiled at our conversations (mine and my sisters) but who struggled with English, a truck driver who was just about to start his first job and some seasoned truck drivers giving him advice.

I don’t think I ever saw anyone who i did not trust. I saw no drugs, no questionable people. Nothing of the kind.

One thing I must note however is that in New York City, besides the terminal being HUGE, no one talked there. Maybe no one trusted anyone else, but I did not trust that station.

But people are only half of what makes the trip.


Sioux Falls, SD only had one three lines for people to fill, but they brought in the luggage for you, and made certain the luggage was yours. Right now, no one is really there.

Stations can be anything imaginable, from a gas station’s bench to a large, open building quite a bit like a small plane terminal. Very small plane terminal. The stations I visited and went inside were Sioux Falls, Omaha, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh,  Newark, and New York City and I’ll describe some of those in detail later.

Let’s start with the basics. You walk into a bus station and tell them you’re going to take a bus. They ask for your tickets, which you provide, unless you are just buying them now. They’ll then have you put a label on your baggage, check the weight, put their own label on it, and hand it back to you. You are responsible for your baggage at any moment that it is not under the bus.

Once you get checked in and get your baggage, you wait. If your bus won’t be showing up soon, you can sit in the chairs, sometimes charge your electronics, or whatever you want to do. If you are very trusting, you can place your luggage in the line to save your place. This does work and is respected as saving your place in line.

If your bus is coming in “soon”, and based on the line, you want to get in line now. If you don’t get in line, you don’t get your pick on the seats. Seats are first come, first served method. So getting first in line is very important. If you don’t really care, well, then you can keep doing whatever you’re doing until they start loading.

The line for one bus stretched all the way from the door to halfway across the station. I learned later that line wasn't bad. At least everyone got on the bus.

However, you probably need to know where to stand. In Sioux Falls, there are only three rows really, and they are nicely labeled, same as Cleveland and Chicago (I think) to some extent. NYC had labels in some of them. That’s about all. These labels will tell you that this bus is going to these towns. If you can’t figure out where to go for whatever reason,  the best bet is to ask someone. Surprisingly, although the little bus riders know nothing, almost everyone who works there can tell you which line to stand in.

Side note: Chicago terminal nine is for long distance. So if the bus is going beyond so many miles (Say, to NYC), you go to number nine.

About the buses, they don’t run on time. The bus in NYC was on time; I think the bus in Newwark to NYC was on time. That was all. Sometimes they ran thirty minutes late. Sometimes they ran two hours late. Yes, we were waiting for the bus for over two hours because it just didn’t come. Twice we did that actually.

Actually, I think I must really discuss this lateness factor. Buses can run late for a variety of reasons. The bus driver may not be there yet. The bus may have encountered traffic. The bus may have had something break that they had to fix. But the bus may also be waiting for another bus to come in (that is also late),  so passengers on that  bus coming in can transfer to the bus that is waiting. I have had all of those previously mentioned reasons happened, and I benefited from the transferring one too. Otherwise, I would have missed the bus to home and have to wait a bunch of hours.

We had an 11 hour layover/wait in Chicago, but that was expected, so we went exploring in the Chicago cultural center.

So, now you can climb on board.

You bring your luggage and your carry ons with you, and hand your ticket to the driver. The driver collects all the tickets. If you are going to need to stop at another bus station for service, the driver will give you a small slip of paper for a rebounding pass. You then go out the door to where the bus is parked and running, bring your luggage to the side of the bus and either leave it there if the baggage loader isn’t there, or hand it off to the baggage loader if he is. You climb on board and find a seat.

Now, all buses are basically set up the same way. You’ll have two seats per row, and then about fifteen rows. The overhead racks are available like a plane, but they are smaller than a plane. On Greyhound, they used budgie cord across the place instead of doors.  You can also store your carryon under your seat. Although the website says you’re only allowed two carryons, I constantly had three (purse, computer, carry on) and people climb on with backpacks, pillows, blankets, pretty much anything imaginable.

Other features of the buses vary drastically. The footrests that you may hear about are merely metal things to put your feet on if you are short, that spring up if unused. Some buses may have a cloth cup holder on the seat in front of you. Some buses may have a TV, although I never saw the bus play anything. Some buses may have a radio built into the seat in front of you. Some buses may have wifi. If you are traveling through the Midwest, however, the wifi is sketchy. If the bus has wifi, it has power outlets. On one bus, those were located in the front row, middle row, back row. On another bus, they were located seemingly randomly. I only got mine by chance.

Soon after your loaded, you’ll start. This isn’t like a plane where you may be waiting for an hour before takeoff. The bus driver will announce  the rules and they are pretty basic. Don’t make a lot of excessive noise, courtesy to other passengers, we have wifi, no smoking or drinking. Our next stop is this place. Greyhound drivers won’t allow you to approach them, whereas say, Jefferson Lines (which work mainly in the Midwest again) will allow it.

Which means that I should probably clear up something about the buses. Just because I bought my tickets from Greyhound does not mean that I took a Greyhound bus the whole way. There are many different buses and bus companies. JUst to get to Chicago, I took a Jefferson LInes bus to Omaha, and then a Trailways to Chicago. After that, I transfered to Greyhound. If you’re wanting to write about someone taking a bus, go pretend to buy a ticket. You can see your whole schedule, including what bus company you would use, in the itinerary.

Compared to Chicago and Cleveland, Omaha NE had a very small station and did not have a charging station like the former two. However, the few plugs it did have were not constantly used.


Traveling can be rather boring, so bring things to do. But don’t bring THAT much. Keep in mind that half of your trip will be in the dark/at night, when you’ll probably be sleeping. Many of the buses don’t allow passengers to turn on overhead lights during the wee hours of the morning, so don’t plan on reading through the night either unless you bring your own light. (And I mean you are physical unable to turn on the lights, not that it is just a rule.) Since sleeping really isn’t that great, you’ll probably be sleeping some through the day as well. I probably spent half the trip sleeping, literally.

You are able to get up and use the bathroom during your trip. I cannot comment on that, however, as I did not. However, once, when we were in bumper to bumper traffic, the bus driver parked the bus, got up, went the bathroom, and came back.

Breaks vary, partly based on the driver, and partly based on how behind the driver is. Some drivers will announce when we leave the stop, “We’ll be stopping in Jackson for a meal break at 10:10.” Some other bus drivers will merely say, “Our next stop is Jackson for a fifteen minute meal break.” The best chance you have for meals is to get it to go, and eat it on the bus. you don’t have time either. Also, some bus drivers will say, ” We’re only having a fifteen minute meal break. You are to be back on the bus at 5:45.” While others will say, “We’ll have about a fifteen minute meal break.” Breaks can be as long as an hour. Again, look at your schedule but don’t expect it to be followed exactly. Drivers will cut down on breaks depending on how behind they are. All breaks are fast food places. When the ticket says meals available, it means that the driver is suppose to make a stop at that general time or in that general area for you to buy food at a fast food place.

There are also bathroom breaks, but they aren’t as common. They will happen though. My guess is that the bus driver is only allowed to drive so long straight through, so if they get stuck in traffic, they’ll need to take a break anyway.

Sioux Falls only had a little refreshment stand. Unfortunately, I never had time to take a picture of the "real" restaurants.

One final note about breaks. Sometimes, you have to eat in the terminal. Many of the more major terminals have a small restaurant on the inside. Yes, they serve fast food, but surprisingly, the prices are rather reasonable and the food is good. Even the coffee I thought was pretty good. Drinks from vending machines, however, are $2 a bottle. Except for vending machine prices, though, they don’t try to gouge you like airports do.

When you get to the place where you either stop traveling, or transfer, you get out, get your luggage from the side of the bus, and go back into the terminal. then, if you are transferring, you start it all over again.

The biggest complaint I have is that the bathrooms were pretty much all dirty. Not so dirty that you fear what will come out of them, but they smelled. And, if you are taking a two day trip, expect to be icky at the end. All I wanted to do when I got to New Jersey was shower.

Starting at the beginning of the line in Chicago.

I’d do some things different. LIke, instead of having my computer and my other carry on, I’d have two separate carry on. Things that I’ll probably want soon, and things that I can live without for a couple hours. You can get up, so just because you put something in the overhead bin does not mean that is it gone forever. Also, bring a water bottle. Water is rare and expensive, so if you can fill up your bottle in the terminal, that’ll help save money.

Pretty much, I plan on doing it again. I don’t like the fact that it’ll take me two days to get to pretty much anywhere, but I can handle it. People aren’t trying to get you, they don’t try to steal your things, and so far as cheap travel goes, this makes sense.

So, I hope I gave you a realistic idea of what it is like to travel by bus. If you have any questions, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer. I wrote this in part because I know that information on this is scarce, and  if you’re like me, you have loads of questions. And hopefully, this’ll start you on your way towards a cheaper way of travel.

building religions

All across the world, one of the basic building books of a culture is actually one of the touchiest ones as well: religion. Fact is too that I know a bit about all of the major ones, more than your typically American at least. As my dad often says, I know just enough to make me dangerous.

One thing that I find with many religions  is that they have some similarities. So if one is to build a realistic religion, one needs to at least have mind some of the basic principals of religion.  Understand that I am assuming there to be a creation of a religion, and not using a current religion, although some of these can be applicable for near-future stories as well.

1) Someone is always a freak. That isn’t very politically correct, then again, I’m not very politically correct, but fact is that there is always a group that is considered, well, freakish. This can be either the true religion  or it can be a break-off sect of the real religion. It doesn’t matter.

2) Sects typically get some of it right. Generally, whenever a sect is involved, they have some principals of the true religion correct, and then twist other parts of the religion for their own gain or because they can. Another possible reason to twist the belief is that a person sees a problem with the current religion and is trying to fix it.

3) Conflicting religions have some consistent threads. This can be seen by mere observation. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all believe in one god.  All religions believe in doing good. Islam and Hinduism  both, at least at one point, have had social classes. Most religions believe in a life after death, either through reincarnation (Buddhism and Hinduism) or heaven (Islam, Judaism (I think.) Christianity.) And I can continue. However, and most interestingly:  Almost all people in one religion believes that all the other religions get to this life after death through doing good works, while theirs is by faith.

4) Religion invades society. Many people will say in America that they are atheists. However, many people will also uphold a moral standing that comes from, among other places, religions influences. Also, societies thoughts about a topic can be traced back to a religious belief.

On a side note, I used this one in a story of mine. I took the general idea of striving for perfection that is actually found in many religions and had that be the driving force behind why a society began doing genetic modifications in an effort to build a more “perfect” being.

5) There is no such thing as a perfect religion. There is no church, or meeting house, or any other religions meeting house where everyone acts perfectly.  There is learner’s curve of belief, stubbornness, and corruptness of man all to fight against this perfect church. Plus, everyone has their people who come for just the major holidays and nothing else. (Christmas and Easter Christians are a good example.)

6) Holidays add culture. I have seen Christian holidays and I’ve seen Jewish holidays. The holidays are high points, and are used as a chance to celebrate, because in all honesty, how many people don’t want to celebrate something?

7) Holidays are related back to a significant event in the religion. I cannot give many examples here, but we can take a look at two. Christianity: We have Christmas, which is when Jesus was born. And we have Easter, which is when Jesus rose from the dead. Judaism: Although not instituted by the Jews themselves, Passover is to celebrate the leaving of Egypt. The two they did institute, Chanukah and Purim, are from major events. Chanukah is to celebrate a miracle of rededicating the temple. Purim is to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews from almost certain death. And if you asked anyone who practiced a religions holiday, they should be able to tell you why they are celebrating it.

strange lands

Today, for some reason, almost all of the trees were covered with white snow, just a slight dusting so that way it made the trees look all way. EAch and every little branch was covered. Then, of course, the ground was all covered with feet of snow and since it just got above freezing today for the first time in weeks, so the sidewalks were pretty much white trampled paths of snow.

To top it off, since we were sub zero all week last week, even 26º F seemed nice and warm to me as I walked across the school campus today. I only wore light gloves, a fleece jacket and maybe a scarf. (Scarf is because I have trouble breathing in the cold.)

It was a beautiful day and I thought, why don’t I set this up as a place somewhere?  A place with a generally cold climate that somehow looks beautiful all the time, with white trees and white world and a beautiful blue sky.

As a note, that is another thing to know in your writing. One week of cold weather (I’m talking under 0º F) and you’ll think 15 º F is warm and beautiful.

cultural differences

We all think about cultural differences when writing a book that takes place in a foreign country. What we fail to realize, especially if we live in one general location for much of our life, is that even in America there are huge cultural differences that you may not even realize between the midwest and the east coast.

As a result, I shall share some of them with you, and probably post more as I think about it. (I can probably post a whole post about farming, as a note, so I will probably leave most of that out of this one.)

To make this easier, I will say that I have lived in three small towns in the midwest, one in Minnesota, one in South Dakota, and one in Illinois. MN town size was about 2500 in the southwest corner, SD town size about 14,000, and IL town size about 100 in central IL. I will probably refer to these towns in my examples. (HOwever, as a note, the town in SD is in the top 10 largest towns.)  By MN, I do not mean the twin city area.

– First of all, there might not be a local walmart in town. In MN and IL, we had to drive an hour to go to Walmart. There might be a Pamida, a cheapo walmart without food, about 10 miles away, depending on the location of the town and the nearby towns, but just as well might not.

– There are no malls in small towns. None. General rule of thumb, if the town is on a radar map, it has a mall. If not, no mall. Even the town in SD,

– Also, there are no real bookstores, like Barns and Noble or Borders. If you want a book, you can either buy it used from a second hand store, such as goodwill or salvation army or even a locally owned one. Sometimes, the library sells book as well.

– In SD, (At least in Mitchell), they charge a dollar for interlibrary loans. However, in MN, you can get a book from anywhere in state, so long as the library will send it to you.

– When buying a (used) car, one can borrow the car from the place for a day, after they copy your license. With that, you can test drive it and see what everyone else things. (This was at least true in MN and I’m pretty sure SD.)

– Everyone goes to church pretty much. This is getting a little less common with younger people but everyone does pretty much go to church on Sunday. It’s not a case of whether or not your a Christian. It’s a family thing.

– In MN, they knew who we were, knew who our dog was, but we hardly knew them. (They called once to tell us to catch our dog or they’ll call the police.)

– The police in MN caught dogs and would bring them to the vet in the next town for holding.

– People in SD do not use outhouses.  We have indoor plumbing just like everyone else.

– (applies to SD and MN) Snow isn’t that bad, in all honestly. We will leave the house and do things when there is snow, even if they are saying six inches. The snow plows just go out and start working. However, the problem comes when the wind picks up, or there is ice. Blowing snow makes driving difficult and ice, although not that common as part of a storm, makes a normal snow storm bad.

– There is nothing but fields between towns. Fields and maybe a few houses but generally just fields.

– There are no streetlights on the interstate. It’s all dark. And there isn’t always cars either that you can see, so it might just be you and only you in both directions.

– People in small towns are not as friendly as it always looks. It takes about three years for them to accept that you are going to stay I’ve heard.  However, that doesn’t mean people don’t know; it just means that it’s not like people in the movies where everyone knows, and talks to, everyone.

– Towns usually have their own fireworks display somewhere near town.  (IL did not, but a larger town (about 12,000 I think) did.

– Fall doesn’t really happen up north in SD and MN. There’s about two weeks where all the trees change colors (boring colors at that) and that is all.)

– The wind can be a real killer, especially in winter but sometimes in summer. We do get 30 some mph normal winds. This can be difficult to ride a bike into, or even walk. MOreover, one time a bad wind came and we had a layer of dust on the table we normal ate at. However,  a 15 to 20 mph wind isn’t that bad. 20 to 25 is when we start to worry. (We also almost never have no wind, either in SD or in MN.)

More shall come later, as I think about them, including a special one on farming as I know it. (Oh, and just so that you realize I can say this, I’ve lived in southern CAlifornia for some time, Knoxville, TN, and visit my grandmother often in northern New Jersey.)