Breathing Lessons: Culture Shock

I just finished reading Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler. My daughter recommended Tyler because she writes with Washington DC, Baltimore, and the general East coast as settings. I thought it might help me, in a way, get to know the general culture of this area. I’m not sure this was a succesful read in that respect. I bought it at the thrift store so it’s an older publication, first printed in 1988. We follow Maggie and her family through some of their history and through lots and lots of bickering. I’ve never read a book that uses bickering to tell a story. It hit a bit too close to home and more, made me squirm.

I had started with a Nora Robert’s book, Sea Swept, book one in her Chesapeake Bay series.  I’d never read any of her books before. I didn’t realize she might be considered a romance writer so it makes sense I guess for bedroom scenes to take up a lot of pages. I didn’t enjoy the way the men were written, as if angry and a bit stupid, and really, aside from references to water there wasn’t much culture specific to the area included.

Culture for me includes generally accepted ways of doing things, ways of speaking (tomato/tomahto), and includes customs, foods, and other specialties, and of course which arts are favored, etc. These things knit together to be the culture of the area. We have experienced several culture shocks so reading has become a way to hopefully, help shortcut more potential disasters.

When we moved from straight laced high work ethic Southeast Wisconsin to laid back Southern California we had our first culture shock. Then we moved to the heart of Texas, a melting pot of Southern stubborness and fortitude.

The first week we lived in Texas we noticed lizards living under the kitchen sink. My daughter and I aren’t that squeamish but still, lizards under the sink? They obviously had to go. We tried our best to kill, transport, remove the lizards, which turned into a morning noon and night chore. One day standing in line at the bank, I was behind two women discussing their pest control companies. I remarked about our lizard problem and one of the women said, “Honey, if I were you I’d be grateful. Leave the geckos alone, they eat the things you really don’t want in your kitchen.” See the culture there?

Now we’ve moved to, not just Virginia, Northern Virginia, and I’m feeling clueless amidst the old money grace and beauty, and the historical and the folklorical.

I have a need to fit in and not offend anyone, probably most people do. I didn’t feel very successful at the job I moved to Virginia for. I had professional expectations for a level of professionalism that didn’t exist, despite being in such an established area. So work culture is different too.

I guess the lesson learned from the main character in Breathing Lessons, is to just stop. Step back. Breathe, observe, and learn. My grandfather said, “I never learned anything when I was talking.”


Have you had any culture issues? Do you stand back and observe, or plow right in?

Want to know more about the geckos we had in Texas? Click here


About Robin Arnold

Reader, writer, gardener, geek, maker of homes in several states, now settled in Virginia with husband Bob, and Hazel and Wilson the tabby cats.
This entry was posted in Books. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Breathing Lessons: Culture Shock

  1. Glynn says:

    I read Breathing Lessons when it was first published. I was 4.

  2. Robin Arnold says:

    You sir, are a stinker. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. i haven't read breathing lessons. and i have never been 4, i skipped that year. (saving it for later)

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