Ask a Third Culture Kid, “Where are you from?” and in response you might get a deep sigh or a quizzical look . . . or a quick, simple answer that staves off more questions. There are other ways to ask for the same information. There’s “Where’s home?” A better question might be “Where have you lived?” Or if you’re a fan of quizzical looks, you could ask, “Where do you hail from?” Hmmmmm. What does that even mean?
Ask no more. (I’m referring to the question, “What does that even mean?” not “Where are you from?”)
According to Douglas Harper of the Online Etymology Dictionary, hail is a
salutation in greeting, c. 1200, from Old Norse heill “health, prosperity, good luck,” or a similar Scandinavian source, and in part from Old English shortening of wæs hæil “be healthy.”
The dictionary goes on to say that around the same time the verb heilen appeared, meaning “to call from a distance.” Then it tackles to hail from, referencing The Dictionary of Americanisms, which, in 1848, called it “a phrase probably originating with seamen or boatmen . . . meaning to come from, to belong to.”
The same entry gives the date of origin for to hail from as 1841. But I did some searching of my own, using Google Books, and found an occurrence (same wording, same meaning) from March 27, 1832. It was spoken by US representative Franklin E. Plummer of Mississippi, during a House debate on a bill concerning the sale of public lands:
Who are the citizens of the old States, that they should be envious of the growing prosperity of their younger sister States? Are we not from the same common stock and origin; and ought not our interests and feelings to be the same? We participated equally with the present population of the old States in the battles of the revolution. It is not the gentleman from New York, nor his constituents, to whom we are indebted for the achievement of those glorious victories of which he so loudly boasts, and of which we all have reason to be proud. It was not the gentleman on my right, [Mr. Briggs,] who hails from the ancient commonwealth, and represents my native district, that fought those battles which secured to us that independence and that liberty which we all in common enjoy; but it was his grandsire and mine, who fought, side by side, at the memorable battles of Lexington and Bunker’s Hill.
The 1841 date comes from the Oxford English Dictionary, which is one of Harper’s sources. Does that mean I’ve scooped the OED? Is a Netflix movie with the title The Publisher and the Blog Guy in my future?
I doubt you’ll get the reference, so let me explain. I’m thinking about the 2019 film The Professor and the Madman, starring Mel Gibson and Sean Penn. The story, based on true events, goes like this: In the late 1800s, James Murray (the “professor”) became the editor of a work that would in time grow into the OED. In order to tackle the massive project, he enlisted volunteers to scour English literature to find the oldest usages of words. One of those volunteers was an American, William Chester Minor (the “madman”). Minor had been a surgeon in the Union army during the Civil war, moved to England, and, suffering from mental illness, shot and killed a man. He was deemed insane and placed in an asylum, and it was there, surrounded by his collection of books, that he became one of the OED‘s major contributors. He was befriended by Murray, and their story became the subject of Simon Winchester’s 1998 novel The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness, and the Love ofWords, later published as The Professor and the Madman.
I’m thinking that Steven Spielberg could direct my biopic, highlighting my new efforts in updating the OED. And Tom Hanks would probably do a decent job portraying me. My story wouldn’t be as dramatic as Minor’s, but who knows what Spielberg and Hanks could do with some poetic license. Yes, I can almost smell the popcorn. . . .
Well, maybe not. It’s awfully hard to imagine floating among the cinematic stars when others keep pulling you down to earth. There’s Douglas Harper, for one. I found an interview he did with the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education, in which he says “I can go trace modern words and usages (post-1700) using digital archives.” Hey, that’s what I did! And then he puts me in my place with “I can back-date the OED 5 times in 10 minutes.”
OK, OK, he’s got me beat . . . by a long shot. I guess I’ll humbly step aside and let Harper be the subject of the next blockbuster movie on word etymologies. But I still went ahead and sent in my finding to the OED, using their online submission form. And for that I received the following message:
Thank you for submitting your word or evidence!
Yes, it was in red. And, yes, it ended with an exclamation mark.
If that isn’t encouraging, then I don’t know what is. I’m not giving up yet. I hail from a long line of dreamers, after all.
During debriefing after leaving the field as a cross-cultural worker, I had questions: How can we deal with the guilt of turning away from a God-given opportunity? How can we walk away from an open door?
I found comfort in learning that open doors aren’t the same thing as commands from God. In fact, Paul, himself, at least once didn’t take advantage of an opportunity that God had laid out before him.
Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia. (2 Corinthians 2:12,13, NIV)
And nothing in the verses that follow shows that God was displeased.
While at debriefing I was also reminded, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.”
I can’t say for sure if the door for ministry in Taiwan was still standing open for us, or if it had been closed, but what I could say for sure is that, either way, I and my family had already moved back to the States.
Hmmmmm. With the help of Trotter’s biographer, Miriam Rockness, I had earlier traced “Don’t forget in the darkness what you have learned in the light” to Trotter’s “Believe in the darkness what you have seen in the light.” So I contacted Rockness again for more information on the door/window phrase, and she wrote that Trotter penned her version on May 6, 1904.
So was Trotter the first to come up with the idea (though not exactly the same wording)? Simply put, no. In fact, she’s is far downstream from the source on this one.
One of the first clues that I found for its earlier existence comes from Edward Tyas Cook, writing in 1907 about the artist and author Francesca Alexander. Because of failing eyesight, Alexander had turned from drawing illustrations to collecting and converting old Tuscan stories into rhyme. Of her change in focus, she writes that
it must be that when the Lord took from me one faculty He gave me another; which is in no way impossible. And I think of the beautiful Italian proverb: “When God shuts a door He opens a window.”
There are other references to this phrase being from Italy, but what I find most interesting about this one is its appearance in the introduction to The Works of John Ruskin. Ruskin was Alexander’s editor, and, as is shown in Many Beautiful Things, was also Trotter’s artistic mentor.
Expanding my search to phrases that replace a window with another (as in “When God shuts a door, he opens another”), yielded several examples predating 1900. One comes from The National Sunday School Teacher, where, in 1877, M. C. Hazard applies the saying to Paul’s missionary endeavors recorded in Acts 16:
Paul’s earnest words found a lodgment in the heart of one Lydia, of Thyatira. Thyatira was a city of Asia, where Paul was forbidden to preach. The fact is suggestive. When God closes a door it is not always that one may not enter, but that another and better way may be opened. The best way to preach the gospel in Asia may be to begin in Macedonia.
From over 150 years earlier, I found evidence of the phrase’s Italian roots in Prattica per Confortare i Condannati a Morte (or Practice to Comfort Those Sentenced to Death), written by the Reverend D. Ignazio Sorrentino in 1712. Below is the relevant passage in Italian and English. (Please forgive any errors in my Google-aided attempt at translation):
Conf. Sentite, N. si fuol dire , che quando Dio chiude una porta, n’apre un’altra ; mà alle vostre figlie ne aprirà cento ; poiche se la vostra morte le priva dell’industria delle vostre poche fatiche, colle quali s’aveano d’alimentarsi, ed accomularfi te misere doticelle , Iddio Benedetto toccherà il cuore di più persone caritative à fomminiftrarli , e pe’l vitto , e per le doti .
Comf[orter]. Listen, N., it is said, that when God closes one door, he opens another; but to your daughters he will open a hundred; since if your death deprives them of the industry of your few labors, with which they had to feed themselves, and accumulate miserable gifts, Blessed God will touch the hearts of more charitable persons to provide for them, with food, and with gifts.
Looking back even further, my search came up with the following in the writings of the British Nonconformist minister Oliver Heywood, dated 1673:
on munday October 13 73 we had a private fast at John Stancliffs house, but it was not such a good day to me as ordinary I haue had : I begun the day, and my heart begun to be affected, but afterwards in the same duty I struggled and tugged, but found much deadnes, distractions, and could not get the work forward, wch wn I perceived I cut short : the Lord humble me for it, and shew me the cause, he is infinitly wise and righteous :
friday octob 24 at a private fast in my house god graciously helpt—and several other times in secret—the day after,—being alone, and munday being alone, oh wt melting seasons had I in my study : and on wednesday octob 28, in Warley god wonderfully helped both in praying and preaching—Blessed by my god :
I cannot but take notice and exceedingly admire gods providence that wn one door is shut up, god opens another for service and employment : by an observable call I was brought to one Mrs Brookes at New-house, to keep a fast upon a special occasion, Nov 18 73 and indeed I haue very seldome found such inlargemts and meetings of spirit, it may be god hath some design of good in that very ignorant place, the old woman was carnal, I fear, her daughters civil, Mr Gill the young gentleman that marryed the one keeps a Kennel of hounds, yet much affected, al of them very thankfull, gratifyed me—oh wt a mercy if god would work!—
And lastly, I came across one more instance of note: In 1868, Adalut Khan translated, from Persian into English, portions of Sa’di Shirazi’s book of poetry The Bostan (or, as Khan renders it in English, The Pleasure-Garden). One of the poems tells of a rich man who refuses to help a beggar, berating him and telling his slave to chase him away. Over time, the rich man becomes poor, and the poor man becomes rich, even taking the cruel man’s slave into his household. When their paths cross again, the newly rich man tells his slave to help the one who earlier showed him no kindness, saying,
I am he whom he drove that day from (his door), but the revolution of the world placed him in my days (place). Heaven again looked towards me, and washed off the dust of grief from my face. Though God with His wisdom shut a door, yet with His mercy and kindness He opens another. Many poor and needy became contented, and oftentimes the business of the rich became topsy-turvy.
If this is a literal translation, it would date the proverb, at least in Persian, to the 1200s, when Sa’di was living. Or maybe Khan used poetic license in translating Sa’di’s poetry, paraphrasing the idea of the line into something more familiar to his readers. Whatever the case, it is clear that the thought behind the adage has been around for a long, long time.
With all that longevity behind it, is “When God closes a door, he opens a window” true? I guess that depends on how one sees the world. In my opinion, it’s perhaps proverbially true but not absolutely true. I prefer Trotter’s usage, making a statement about what she has experienced in the past, not predicting what is sure to occur in the future.
Sometimes God closes windows and doors. Sometimes he opens them. Sometimes the two are even matched together . . . but, I think, not always.
To all that I say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (And I know where that comes from.)
A friend of mine once joked that if you listen to prayer requests in church long enough, you’ll come to the conclusion that traveling is the most dangerous endeavor known to Christians. Whether it’s for a drive across the state or a plane ride to another country (with an occasional cruise thrown in), we long for God’s blessing of safety, or, as it’s often phrased, “travel mercies.”
Where does that come from? Not the desire for safety. I get that, though I don’t understand why a four-hour trip to St. Louis seems so risky. Maybe it’s a testament to just how safe we are otherwise in our daily lives.
No, I’m referring to the phrase travel mercies itself. A quick Google search shows that some link it back to Southern Baptists, but a more thorough search shows that it (or a similar phrase) predates the establishment of that group. Others tie it to early Protestant missionaries, but it predates them as well.
The first usage I can find for travel mercies is from 1914, in John Faris’s Book of Answered Prayer (published by Hodder & Stoughton). Actually, what I found was an ad in The Herald & Presbyter, stating that in the book (sold by the Presbyterian Board of Publication for $1) the author “gives simply and without argument seventy striking instances of answers. These have been gathered from both home and foreign sources.” “Travel Mercies” is listed as one of the book’s ten chapter headings.
Some twenty years earlier, the similar phrase traveling mercies appeared in the Minutes of the Second Biennial Convention of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. In their meeting on the morning of October 17, 1893, the group held a memorial service for Mary Allen West, their former “round-the-world missionary to Japan,” who had died in Japan there promoting temperance. Chika Sakurai spoke during the service, saying,
My Dear Sisters: You cannot tell with what joy I meet you this morning, and as I look upon you I feel that we are friends and not foreigners. (This is my first journey from my native land, and it is no easy matter for one to leave the scene of her childhood days, and the many friends and loved ones. But one always feels that leaving home, friends and beloved ones to work for God is no loss). I feel thankful to God for his goodness and mercy to me. He has blessed me with traveling mercies and allowed me to come here to try to do something for him. I trust my efforts will be blessed by God.
And before that? Well, we’ll need to expand the search to include travelling, with two Ls, the way the British spell it. That led me to a result from 1770, when British philanthropist and prison reformer John Howard wrote it in his journal, while en route from Holland to Paris:
I would acknowledge it is thro’ the goodness of God alone that I enjoy so many travelling Mercies, such comfortable degrees of health and strength with such an easy calm flow of spirits.—
Howard knew something of the need for God’s help during travels. In 1756, while sailing to Portugal, he was captured as a prisoner of war by a French privateer.
Today, I’m not sure which is more popular in the lexicon of prayer groups, travel mercies or traveling mercies (with either spelling), though travel mercies is what I hear more often in my part of the world. But traveling mercies might have a PR advantage, as it’s the title of a memoir by the best-selling author Anne Lamott. As the book’s full title suggests —Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith—the journey that Lamott recounts is not a road trip but a spiritual pilgrimage as she works out her belief in God (with a capital G). She writes that she started out as an unbelieving daughter of an unbelieving missionary kid:
My father’s folks had been Presbyterian missionaries who raised their kids in Tokyo, and my father despised Christianity. He called Presbyterians “God’s frozen people.” My mother went to midnight mass on Christmas eve at the Episcopal church in town, but no one in our family believed in God—it was like we’d all signed some sort of loyalty oath early on, agreeing not to believe in God in deference to the pain of my father’s cold Christian childhood. I went to church with my grandparents sometimes and I loved it. It slaked my thirst. But I pretended to think it was foolish, because that pleased my father. I lived for him. He was my first god.
Fast forwarding to Lamott as an adult attending St. Andrew Presbyterian, we come to the place where she shares what became the inspiration for her book’s title, writing about a time when the church’s preacher went on a vacation:
“Traveling Mercies,” the old people at our church said to her when she left. This is what they always say when one of us goes off for a while. Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound.
So for whatever trek you are on, I leave you with the following benediction, a combining of the old and the new:
May you have “such comfortable degrees of health and strength with such an easy calm flow of spirits.”
“Love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound.”
In Part 1 of my discussion of culture shock, I examined the genesis of the phrase. In this follow-up post, I’d like to take a look at what seems to be Kalervo Oberg’s extreme dependence on Cora Du Bois for his views on adapting to a new culture.
A copy of Oberg’s “Culture Shock,” spoken to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro in 1954, was uploaded to The Pennsylvania State University’s CiteSeerx in 2004. It closes with the following simple notation:
Reference: DuBois, Cora, Culture Shock. This talk was present [sic] as part of a panel discussion at the first Midwest regional meeting of the Institute of International Education in Chicago, November 28, 1951.
And yet, if you read Oberg’s and Du Bois’ presentations back to back, you will no doubt notice the similarities, and, in fact, the nearly word-for-word passages. My purpose in pointing this out is not to cast aspersions on Oberg (maybe I don’t have all the facts or maybe notions of summarizing or crediting sources have changed since the 50s). Rather, I want to give Du Bois the credit she is due for her original thoughts and insights. My hope is that those who would quote Oberg’s “Culture Shock” in the future would find this post and continue tracing the origins of the observations, when necessary, back to Du Bois.
With that said, here are the related passages, arranged for comparison.
Du Bois: Please do not consider me too irrelevant if I begin talking about an occupational disease among anthropologists. Some twenty years ago I remember first chatting with colleagues about the peculiar emotional status we anthropologists developed when we were working in the field with strange people cut off from our familiar daily surroundings. We all wanted to do field work. We loved it—but we realized that things happened to us when we did. We began calling this peculiar syndrome “culture shock.”
We anthropologists flattered ourselves when we thought culture shock was an occupational disease. It is a malady that seems to affect most transplanted people.
Oberg: We might almost call culture shock an occupational disease of people who have been suddenly transplanted abroad.
Du Bois: The genesis of the malady is really very simple. It is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all your familiar cues.
Oberg: Culture shock is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse. These signs or cues include the thousand and one ways in which we orient ourselves to the situations of daily life.
Du Bois: All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of cues, most of which we do not even carry on a level of conscious awareness. These cues are acquired in the course of growing up and are as much part of our cultural heritage as the language we speak. They have become so habitual that they have been forgotten as part of our conscious cultural equipment.
Oberg: All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of these cues, most of which we do not carry on the level of conscious awareness.
Du Bois: Now suddenly remove all, or most, of these cues—and you have a case of culture shock. No matter how tolerant or broad-minded or full of empathy you may be—a series of props have been knocked out from under you, and more or less acute frustrations are likely to result.
Oberg: Now when an individual enters a strange culture, all or most of these familiar cues are removed. He or she is like a fish out of water. No matter how broad-minded or full of good will you may be, a series of props have been knocked from under you, followed by a feeling of frustration and anxiety.
Du Bois: People the world over react to frustrations in fairly comparable ways. First they reject, with repressed or expressed aggression, the environment that causes them discomfort.
Oberg: People react to the frustration in much the same way. First they reject the environment which causes the discomfort: “the ways of the host country are bad because they make us feel bad.”
Du Bois: Second they regress with irrational fervor to the familiar and comforting.
Oberg: Another phase of culture shock is regression. The home environment suddenly assumes a tremendous importance. To an American everything American becomes irrationally glorified. All the difficulties and problems are forgotten and only the good things back home are remembered.
Du Bois: If you observe a group of Americans—or any other group of nationals—in the throes of culture shock the symptoms are startlingly similar. The slightest inefficiency or delay—particularly variations from our own obsessional time sense—provoke disproportionate anger. All things American acquire new and a sometimes irrational importance. You have all experienced how easy it is to shift from being a “live-and-let-live” patriot to being a chauvinist when you are abroad. You have all observed the tendency of American tourists to cluster together even though they may be spending only a few weeks of their hard-earned vacation to see the English in England or the French in France.
Oberg: You become aggressive, you band together with your fellow countrymen and criticize the host country, its ways, and its people. But this criticism is not an objective appraisal but a derogatory one. Instead of trying to account for conditions as they are through an honest analysis of the actual conditions and the historical circumstances which have created them, you talk as if the difficulties you experience are more or less created by the people of the host country for your special discomfort.
Du Bois: There are other manifestations—the sitting around together in favorite clubs or hotels and grousing about the host country. When you begin hearing broad, and usually derogatory, comments like—the Burmese are lazy; the Indians are ignorant; the French are grasping; the Americans are materialistic, or naive or shallow—then you can be fairly sure the speaker is suffering culture shock.
Oberg: When Americans or other foreigners in a strange land get together to grouse about the host country and its people—you can be sure they are suffering from culture shock.
Oberg: You take refuge in the colony of your countrymen and its cocktail circuit which often becomes the fountainhead of emotionally charged labels known as stereotypes. This is a peculiar kind of invidious shorthand which caricatures the host country and its people in a negative manner. The “dollar grasping American” and the “indolent Latin American” are samples of mild forms of stereotypes.
(Cora Du Bois, “Culture Shock,” To Strengthen World Freedom, Institute of International Education Special Publications Series, No. 1, New York, 1951; and Kalervo Oberg, “Culture Shock,” presented to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 3, 1954)
While planning my previous post, “Reverse Culture Shock: Repatriating Back to Post-COVID ‘Normal’ in the Church,” I figured somewhere near the beginning I’d include a definition of culture shock, preferably from as far back as I could find one. Pretty quickly I came to the words of the Finnish-Canadian anthropologist Kalervo Oberg, spoken in 1954 to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro:
Culture shock is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse. These signs or cues include the thousand and one ways in which we orient ourselves to the situations of daily life: when to shake hands and what to say when we meet people, when and how to give tips, how to give orders to servants, how to make purchases, when to accept and when to refuse invitations, when to take statements seriously and when not. Now these cues which may be words, gestures, facial expressions, customs, or norms are acquired by all of us in the course of growing up and are as much a part of our culture as the language we speak or the beliefs we accept. All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of these cues, most of which we do not carry on the level of conscious awareness.
Now when an individual enters a strange culture, all or most of these familiar cues are removed.
His is a well-known, often lauded description, and many cite Oberg as the originator of the term culture shock. But not blindly trusting the combined wisdom of the many, I wanted to see for myself it that were true. It didn’t take me long to find evidence to the contrary, and my search led me to Cora Du Bois’ earlier (1951) explanation of the term, which I used for my post. It comes from a talk that she gave, referenced by Oberg, as being “part of a panel discussion at the first Midwest regional meeting of the Institute of International Education in Chicago, November 28, 1951.” Here is some of what Du Bois had to say:
Please do not consider me too irrelevant if I begin talking about an occupational disease among anthropologists. Some twenty years ago I remember first chatting with colleagues about the peculiar emotional status we anthropologists developed when we were working in the field with strange people cut off from our familiar daily surroundings. We all wanted to do field work. We loved it—but we realized that things happened to us when we did. We began calling this peculiar syndrome “culture shock.”
. . . .
We anthropologists flattered ourselves when we thought culture shock was an occupational disease. It is a malady that seems to affect most transplanted people.
The genesis of the malady is really very simple. It is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all your familiar cues. . . . All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of cues, most of which we do not even carry on a level of conscious awareness. These cues are acquired in the course of growing up and are as much part of our cultural heritage as the language we speak. They have become so habitual that they have been forgotten as part of our conscious cultural equipment.
Now suddenly remove all, or most, of these cues—and you have a case of culture shock. No matter how tolerant or broad-minded or full of empathy you may be—a series of props have been knocked out from under you, and more or less acute frustrations are likely to result. (22)
(Cora Du Bois, “Culture Shock,” To Strengthen World Freedom, Institute of International Education Special Publications Series, No. 1, New York, 1951, 22-24 [a reprint can be found in Guidelines for Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Training, Part III, Supplementary Readings, Center for Research and Education, Peace Corps, Estes Park, March 1970])
While Du Bois’ presentation preceded Oberg’s, she doesn’t claim to have coined the term herself. Rather, she points to someone else as its creator, but we’ll circle back to that later. First, let’s go back to the 1920s.
In 1929, Mexican anthropologist Manuel Gamio wrote about immigrants from Mexico adjusting to life in the US, using the term cultural shock:
The civilization of the larger part of the immigrants is originally of native or mixed type and consequently different in form and background from that of the American people, all of which, together with the climatic differences between both countries, make the cultural shock sharp and the biological adaptation for the newly arrived Mexican painful. From this situation a selection results; some individuals go back to Mexico not to return to the United States while others gradually become adjusted to the new environment. (468-469)
H. Ian Hogbin, the next year, used the same words in his discussion of decreasing populations among South Pacific tribes brought on by the arrival of Europeans.
I think we may now conclude that the causes of an increase in the death-rate are, firstly, the introduction of new disease purely and simply, and secondly the break-up of the old culture. This latter has undermined the mental balance of the native and makes him die more quickly from both his own and the new diseases. That is why epidemic diseases have a lasting effect. European society had received no shock at the time bubonic plague was ravaging it, and so it soon recovered. Ongtong Java had been dealt a heavy blow already when influenza reached it, and therefore society there did not recover. (57)
And as he considers that the deaths of the older men leave no one to pass on traditional ceremonies, he writes,
If these ceremonies, or the useful ones, had remained, they might have roused the members of society and in their hours of leisure given them something to occupy their minds, instead of letting them face and acquiesce in despair. That, I think, explains why epidemics in societies which have sustained no cultural shock have no appreciable effect in the long run. All the customs have still a function and so are kept up. The prospect of extinction never occurs to people, because they are too occupied, or possibly too stupid even to think about it unless it is obvious. Therefore they do not become extinct. (64)
Eventually, cultural shock was largely replaced by culture shock, though sporadic usage of the former has continued, as demonstrated in several references in this post.
It was two years later, in 1931, that sociologist and Episcopal minister Niles Carpenter used culture-shock in his book The Sociology of City Life. It appears in the context of the “shock effect” of people moving to American cities, either as migrants from rural areas in the US or as immigrants from other countries. He postulates that “the heavy incidence of mental disease” among this second group comes from the “general culture-shock” of relocating to a new country and “the special sort of culture-shock involved in the initial acquaintance with the city and it’s ways of life.” (335)
While I can’t say definitively that Carpenter coined the term culture shock (with our without the hyphen), there seems to be evidence to support that conclusion: First of all, from what I have found, this is the earliest occurrence of the exact phrase in print. Also, when Carpenter first uses the term in his book, it’s in the context of “a process that might be termed culture-shock.” Carpenter often uses this passive-voice construction (“might be termed,” “may be remarked,” “may be said,” and “might be said”) to introduce ideas in The Sociology of City Life, and in this case it is followed by “That is to say . . .” with an explanation of the phrase. Also, as shown below, Carpenter lays out the groundwork for culture shock by pointing out its similarities to the “shell-shock” experienced during wartime.
Here are several passages from Carpenter:
One authority, moreover, asserts, “Many of the neuroses of the inhabitants of big cities may be regarded as analogous to the shell-shock that followed deafening bombardments during the war. . . .” (208)
The shock-effect of the city may be carried into the second or even the third generation of migrants. Many conditioning influences are imbedded in traditional folkways. Others are passed on from one generation to another, by conscious precept or by imitation, particularly when the migrating group is also an immigrant group, as is often the case in the cities of the United States. That is to say, there may be reverberations for two or more generations of the shock-effect attendant upon country-to-city migration. (218)
[T]he rural migrant to the city together with his children is undergoing a process that might be termed culture-shock. That is to say, he is transferred suddenly from one sort of culture to another one, and the experience imposes a serious strain upon him, especially as regards the habituations in thought and attitude which he has derived from his rural heritage. This process of culture-shock is well recognized in the case of the immigrant. In its most marked manifestation, it involves personality disorganization, and even mental breakdown. A less spectacular and more common reaction is a sort of interlude of confusion, in which Old-World folkways are dropped while New-World ones are assimilated incompletely, if at all. This process is to be observed in connection with the immigrants family life, his intellectual life, his economic life, and his religious life. The immigrant and more particularly his son or daughter cease to be Germans or Poles, or Italians, without yet becoming in any vital sense Americans. (272)
The urban resident must be, in other words, somewhat more readily inclined to respond to inducements towards crime than the rural-dweller. One of those influences is suggested by the material that has been presented. It is that of culture-shock. (316)
In this connection, it may be remarked that the war neuroses (commonly called shell-shock), seem to be somewhat analogous to the type of shock-effect involved in the transition from a rural to an urban environment. The change was more complete, and the new environment was infinitely more trying. Nevertheless, the general process of sudden change from relative certainty and security to a life of intense mobility, insecurity, and the stress would seem to be essentially similar. Certain of those who gave way would probably have done so in any circumstances, but in a large number of cases it seems that no breakdown would have occurred if the individuals affected had been able to continue in their accustomed round of activities. Moreover, it is noteworthy that, according to Conklin, an essential feature of the war neurosis is the contrast between the mental patterns of the sufferer’s previous way of living and his present situation: “The man is left with only his old reactions, totally unsuited to the demands made up him.
May this shock-effect be continued for more than the migrant generation? Schlapp and Smith believe that it can be continued at least into the second generation, through embryonic and fœtal injuries following upon maternal glandular disturbances. And where ideational conflicts are involved, as in contrasting notions of parental authority, familial solidarity, sexual behavior, religious belief, and the like, such personality-disintegrating influences might be continued for two or three generations, before there would take place what might be termed compete psychic urbanization. (337)
The next year, H. Reynard included culture-shock (without quotation marks or italics) in her review of The Sociology of City Life, and social scientist Walter Greenwood Beach quoted Carpenter in his book Social Aims in a Changing World, writing,
In the conflict of ways it is no wonder that there is a “culture-shock”1 followed by a possible increase of crime or other indications of social maladjustment. (153)
The reference number in this excerpt points to The Sociology of City Life.
In 1935, a team of sociologists and educators, made up of Mabel Agnes Elliott, Charles Omega Wright, Dorothy Grauerholz Wright, and Francis Ellsworth Merrill, published the high-school textbook Our Dynamic Society, which included explanations for the terms migration and disorganization, culture conflict, the marginal man, and culture shock:
Culture Shock. Such a drastic change in folkways, mores, and traditions may result in what is termed “culture shock.” The immigrant’s former security is exchanged for bewilderment and change. Crises appear which bring difficult new decisions. The shock may follow a severing of old family ties, the loss of old associates, or the facing of a new complex life in a strange city. As a result of culture shock, the immigrant may become highly disorganized and display his disorganization in conduct that runs counter to social values. He may desert his family, drown his disappointment in liquor, or commit suicide. Such disorganization results from his failure to redefine the situation in satisfactory terms. (100)
The authors describe “the marginal man” as one “who appears at the border-line where two cultures meet,” using a term coined/popularized by sociologist Robert E. Park in “Human Migration and the Marginal Man (American Journal of Sociology, vol. 33, May, 1928). They write that this person
may be said to pass through three states of disorganization. (1) The preliminary stage is that of early contact with a new group, during which he is unaware of his marginal problems. (2) The crisis stage appears when he is painfully conscious of his strangeness and his difficult situation. (3) The third stage is that of either adjustment or disorganization. If he meets the crisis in a satisfactory fashion, he becomes adjusted. If he fails, he becomes a disorganized man. (101)
Later in the book, the authors use the term cultural shock when discussing high rates of suicide among immigrants.
(Mabel Agnes Elliott, Charles Omega Wright, Dorothy Grauerholz Wright, and Francis Ellsworth Merrill, Our Dynamic Society, Harper, 1935)
Now, we’ll jump forward to Cora Du Bois, and back to the passage above, where she says, “Some twenty years ago, I remember first chatting with colleagues about the peculiar emotional state we anthropologists developed when we were working in the field.” As the quotation comes from 1951, “some twenty years ago” would put the conversations circa 1931, the same year as Carpenter’s usage of culture-shock.
In Women in the Field: Anthropological Experiences, anthropologist Peggy Golde writes that in “private communication,” Du Bois “credits” culture shock to Ruth Benedict, who was Du Bois’ anthropology teacher at Barnard College. Golde states that “by 1940, [the term] was so well accepted by social scientists that it needed no citation.” (11)
Golde’s 1940 reference is to John B. Holt, of the United States Department of Agriculture:
Regarding the possible connection between the rapid rate of urbanization and social maladjustment in the Southeast, Odum observes, “The South, more than the other regions, fitted by habit and tradition to a life closely attuned to natural processes, finds rapid shift to artificial industrialism beyond its power for quick absorption and effective adaptation.” The administrator of a farm program in Kentucky is reported to have said, “The physical ‘bends’ of deep-sea divers exposed too rapidly to lighter atmospheric pressure is nothing compared to the psychological or spiritual bends produced in our mountain communities when subjected too rapidly to urban standards and ways of doing thing.”
All these citations suggest the “culture shock” arising from the precipitation of a rural person or group into an urban situation characterized by a loosening of mores from a strict social control, a liberation of the individual from his group, an increasing impersonalism as against the personal character of the rural environment, an increasing mobility as contrasted with the old stability and isolation, and on top of these changes, a blasting disruption of personal and occupational habits and status. (744)
Other instances of culture shock in the 1940s include
It is probable that the middle class attitude of sacrifice of family (though not of marriage itself) in order to climb the economic ladder may characterize the college students’ culture more than that of the university students. Some such “culture shock” explanation would seem at least tenable in the light of the religious compulsions, almost certainly more impelling in the college than in the university group, that would presumably operate in the direction of more offspring. (514)
The concept is most strikingly illustrated by the position of the foreigner who is bridging the Old World culture and the New in the necessary process of assimilation that every foreigner meets. Each individual in this position experiences a certain amount of culture shock. . . . (121)
The white man’s alcohol and the seizure of native lands also contributed to the population decline; and along with all these specific causes there was the general disorganization of native life and customs under the impact of foreign civilization. Bewildered, diseased, abused, exploited, the Pacific peoples in many instances seemed almost to lose the will to live. They were the victims of what might be called extreme culture shock. (29)
Individual personality disorganization also usually results, until a new institutional unity has been established by all, usually requiring a period of several generations. The individual’s life organization is bound up most intimately with the social organization which conditioned him and of which he has been a part. The rural-urban, interregional, or international migrant is transferred from one sort of culture and social organization to which he has had life-long adjustment to another one which is radically different. This new environment by virtue of the presence of himself and other in-wanderers usually is even more complex and confused. Immigrants and their children, country-to-city migrants, even those who have moved from one social level to another, encounter such new and unfamiliar experiences that the change is almost certain to produce great disturbance. This has been well called “culture shock” by Carpenter and others. (286)
It is recognized that the approaching similarity of rural and urban experience, especially in areas where consolidated schools have developed and where farm youths have considerable contact with town and city, has undoubtedly had an important influence in reducing culture shock of those who go to the city. (220)
It is interesting to note that leading up to 1951, the writings about culture shock applied largely to immigrants and others facing a transition to the often perilous culture of urban America, or to those in their own countries overwhelmed by the negative influences brought by Western outsiders, and discussions of culture shock in these circumstances included its long-term effects on society, looking at such issues as suicide rates, crime, alcoholism, declining populations, and even fetal development. It was into this context that Du Bois made her presentation in Chicago, not only shifting the focus to international students and to anthropologists working overseas but, in so doing, kickstarting a widespread application of the concept to the larger expat community. It also marked a change in tone, with what she characterizes as her “semi-facetious remarks” about the topic.
So, to sum up, did culture shock originate with Oberg—in 1954 or 1960? No. What I have found leads me to join others who credit Carpenter with creating the phrase, but I also realize that Oberg will probably continue to get a large share of the attention, as many trace our current usage of culture shock back to him. And he does deserve credit for helping bring the term into the common vocabulary of expats and international travelers and for exploring and promoting the idea that culture shock has a series of stages leading to adjustment.
I do think, though, that there’s more to be discovered about Oberg’s influence on the culture-shock discussion—or maybe I should say there’s more to be discovered about Du Bois’ influence on Oberg. Let’s take a look at that in Part 2.
I never knew Miriam Beard. I never had any conversations with her, nor do I have any personal anecdotes about her to tell. So last onth when I discussed her writing and her well-known travel quotation, I was limited to using what I could find in Google searches.
How happy I was then, when after I published my post, I received an email saying, “I really appreciate you bringing the work of my grandmother, Miriam Beard, to the attention of a broader audience.”
No, I never knew Miriam Beard, but now, thanks to Karen Vagts, I’m getting to know her better. And Karen has graciously allowed me to invite you into our conversation, so that you can get to know her grandmother better, too. Thank you, Karen, for sharing this with us:
“My grandmother was a person of immense talents but often under the shadow of her parents, the historians/activists Mary Ritter and Charles Beard, and her husband, the military historian Alfred Vagts; managing their literary output consumed more than her fair share of her time. But she was an immensely talented writer (one of the first women to attend the Columbia School of Journalism and wrote a wonderful series of stories for The New York Times, including an insightful article about the status of women in 1920s Japan) and published a two-volume History of Business. She was however very modest about her achievements, which is why her obit was sketchy.
“As an American born in England, Miriam perhaps was already predisposed to be a global traveler but her interest in travel was probably sparked by her travels to Asia in the 1920s, when her father was asked by the government of Tokyo to consult about the rebuilding of the city following a major earthquake. The Beards traveled throughout Asia during a very critical time—when the political tremors that would lead to WW2 were starting to vibrate—and that greatly impressed Miriam—I recall that she was particularly fascinated by Shanghai. After she married, she and her husband lived in Hamburg until the Nazis came along and then thereafter she travelled with friends and family wherever she could. She passed along her love to travel to her son and her granddaughters.
“My grandmother sent my father—in between high school and college—to the Experiment in International Living program in Germany. This was in the late 1940s and Dad had the task of sorting bricks from bombed out buildings in Munich for re-use; he then got to wander around Europe for a couple of weeks, a real eye-opener. Ironically, wherever he went in Europe, he was warned about thieves and pickpockets because the post-war situation in Europe was still so dire. But it was not until he landed back in New York Port Authority that his knapsack got stolen!”
“She also funded my sister and my first independent trip to Europe, took us on excursions, and gave us a subscription to National Geographic. She also assumed that being multi-lingual was an innate characteristic. The world might be rather different if everyone had such a cosmopolitan, well-travelled grandparent!
“Much appreciation and I look forward to the time—hopefully in the not-to-distant future when we can all feel comfortable traveling to view the world.”
[photos: “Family of Charles A. Beard,” The DePauw University Archives Documents and Photographs; Miriam Beard, courtesy of Karen Vagts]
I’ve often wondered how a single phrase finds its way from being buried in a memoir or novel to being plucked out as a stand-on-its-own “quotation.” Of course, the creator of the thought is important, but so is the one who finds it and decides it’s worthy of display on its own.
“Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it,” writes Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Many will read the book before one thinks of quoting a passage. As soon as he has done this, that line will be quoted east and west.”
When Miriam Beard, the daughter of the American historians, Charles and Mary Beard, wrote Realism in Romantic Japan in 1930, I’m sure more than a few people read it. (In 1961, the Department of State’s Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs called it “the most popular book of the day on Japan.”) But I doubt that many stumble across it today. In fact, it didn’t warrant mention in her New York Timesobituary in 1983. That honor went to her History of the Business Man, which she published in 1937. But even that work isn’t what she’s best known for now. Google her name and what rises to the top is a single sentence from her work about Japan:
Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.
Who knows who originally brought this quotation to the attention of the masses? I’ll probably never find out, but I’d like to think that that person recognized Beard’s insight in the surrounding text. The passage comes in a chapter titled “First Timers,” in which Beard discusses how multiple experiences in a new culture bring about a growth in impressions, ultimately leading to the ability to “sympathize” (though not necessarily in the way you might think). Here is how she describes the three phrases of this progression:
If, at each repetition of a bowing, a chopstick meal, a song or a garden, my impressions were different—”how” I asked myself, “am I ever to know what I think of these things”? Should I live a hundred years before I have the right to speak my mind on any thing? If I shudder at a song the first time, and love it the last—at which stage have I the right to describe my sensations? What are impressions? Are they worth anything?
Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. History is handled no longer as a mere chronicle of dates but as a progression from one stage to a succeeding. So travel is no mere heaping up of episodes but an evolution. It is of constant development and not of fixed judgment that I dare to write: of the steady submersion of the ego in a stream of life.
There are phases in this process. The earliest is a sense of bewilderment in the number and variety of scenes, gorgeous, comical, or amazing, that the East presents. It seems that two weeks in Tokyo are like a ten-minute trip through an overcrowded museum. You must rush, staring and crying out, through rooms and corridors, without a pause. The feet grow heavy as basalt rocks; the optic nerves, bruised by a thousand images, refuse to register; and the mind seeking in vain some balance in all the maze, turns round and round on itself like a kaleidoscope or a pin-wheel.
. . . . .
The sensation of living on a new planet—that is the second stage. “Home,” “America,” recede from the mind, seem farther and farther away. Nearer and nearer draw the problems and the drama of all Asia: Siam, Ceylon, Borneo, Turkestan, Afghanistan, Korea, China, and Russia the Colossus.
. . . . .
All at once a third period breaks. It becomes suddenly possible to be, not merely a spectator at a strange show, but a participant. Oriental life catches up the visitor in its swift current; and he finds that, after all, it is possible to feel at ease behind the closed gates.
. . . . .
People as well as buildings ceased to seem curiosities, as I learned to know their hobbies, families, careers, unhappiness and hope. No, I was not so perpetually startled now—far more absorbed. perhaps had ceased to observe, so clearly and directly; but then I had unexpectedly begun to sympathize.
I like this idea that the final goal of travel is to arrive at sympathy—not in the sense of pity, or even compassion. Rather it’s the true “feeling together” that the word means. This kind of sympathy is a destination not easily reached, but, as Beard writes, it’s an “evolution,” a “steady submersion of the ego in a stream of life” that is well worth the time and effort that it takes to get there.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letters and Social Aims, Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. 8, Houghton Mifflin, 1876; Walter Moonaughy, “American Image of Japan,” address given to the Japan-American Society of Washington at the National Press Club, October 2, 1961; Miriam Beard, Realism in Romantic Japan, MacMillan, 1930)
While practicing physical distancing and social friendliness in our front yard, I found out that one of our neighbors has her own travel blog. Small world, huh?
Kate’s blog is All Kids Can Travel, and in it she shares how to make the most of trips with little ones (she and her husband have four) and how to learn about the world from the comfort of your home. A few years ago, when they had three children in diapers, they decided to forego the plane rides and created their own “home travel adventures.”
After selecting a country, the trip began. “The kids had a blast packing their roller carry-ons with their favorite things,” Kate writes. “While that country’s music played in the background, we would pretend to be border agents,” speaking with foreign accents and inspecting pretend passports. Later, as their children grew older, their in-home treks developed into real-life excursions, in-state, out-of-state, and abroad.
It will be a while before families will be able to get out and about, so until then, you might want to download some activity packets and pages from All Kids Can Travel. Or if you’d like to dream about your next outing, how about taking a look at Kate’s “Do’s and Don’ts of Walt Disney World“?
Just imagine your crew in a newly reopened Disney park climbing into an It’s-a-Small-World boat with the It’s-a-Small-World tune working its way into your subconscious . . . on repeat.
It’s a small world, after all
It’s a small world, after all
It’s a small world, after all
It’s a small world, after all
It’s a small world, after all
Oops, got carried away there.
It’s a small, small world
So where did this catchy song, and the catchy phrase behind it, come from?
First, let’s look at the song.
When Walt Disney was tasked with creating an attraction for the Pepsi/UNICEF pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, he in turn tasked brothers Robert and Richard Sherman to create a theme song. Disney wanted a simple song that could be translated into multiple languages and sung in overlapping rounds. What he got was “It’s a Small World.” The boat ride, with its music, debuted at Disneyland two years later.
But Disney’s musical rendition wasn’t the first “It’s a Small World” . . . after all. No, that would be 1920’s “It’s a Small World after All,” with words by Andrew Sterling and music by Harry Von Tilzer. Sterling had earlier written the lyrics for “Meet Me in St. Louis” (for the 1904 World’s Fair), and Von Tilzer was the composer of 1911’s “I Want a Girl (Just like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad).”
Did you give it a listen? It’s not quite as catchy, but somewhat memorable in it’s own way.
To find the ancestry of the phrase It’s a small world, we’ll have to go back even further.
In 1882, Walter Bicknell put the words in the mouth of Iphigenia, servant of the eccentric Edgar Chatterton, in “The Player’s Child.” Chatterton finds Iphigenia looking at one of his books by Shakespeare:
“Have I not told you never to touch those sacred tomes, girl?” said her master, picking up thebook himself and touching with some care of manner.
“Well, I’m sure! I never went for to touch it! But there’s more dust in them nasty tombs—”
“Hence, Maiden, hence! I blush for the man or woman who applies the epithet ‘nasty’ to anything pertaining to the Bard of Stratford, Nature’s child.”
Iphigenia paused in silent reflection for a moment, and then said with a triumphant air:
“Out Stratford way, sir? Lor, then my mother must have known Mrs. Nature and them little Natures. She took in washing at Bow, and had a long circulation of shirts and handkerchiefs out by Stratford. It’s a small world, sir”
Iphigenia uses the phrase as we often do today, as in “Who would have thought that we’d know the same people?”
In 1875, Samuel James’ usage, though, has him talking about the physical size of the planet:
God cares about earth, and does not bound His love by the boundary line of heaven. Some people say, He is too great and glorious to care for such a little world as this of ours. It is, indeed, a small world compared with some of those twinkling star which we see in the midnight sky. But it is, for all that, an important world.
And in 1873, British author and army general George Chesney wrote A True Reformer, from the viewpoint of the character Mr. West. West and his wife, Eva, are traveling to Leatherwood to visit her aunts, and a Mr. Patterson sees them off:
“This is a small world we live in,” said the old gentleman, as he bid us good-bye. “Only think that Mrs West should have been brought up at Leatherby, a place I know so well. The fact is that one of the members, Mr Sheepshanks, is a very old friend. A most truly excellent man he is, indeed, and owns half the town. I wish you could know him. I would send an introduction and ask him to call and see you, but that I know it would be of no use. He never visits anywhere.”
That brings us back to today’s meaning, if not the exact wording, and it’s the oldest such phrase that I, and others around the internet, have found.
For Iphigenia and Mr. Patterson, it’s enough to refer to the residents of nearby towns to show how small the world is. But today, our internet-linked world is even smaller, as we can find connections to people all over the globe, with, in theory, no more than six degrees of separation between any two of us.
We may be isolating ourselves at home right now, but some of us are out walking more and having more conversations with our neighbors. And social distancing is increasing our penchant for social networking online, which, in turn, is diminishing the gaps in our world, which truly is becoming
Smaller, after all
Walter Bicknell, “The Player’s Child,” The Theatre: A Monthly Review of the Drama, Music, and the Fine Arts, January to June, Clement Scott, ed., Charles Dickens and Evans, 1882; Samuel James, “Church Proverbs,” The Headington Magazine, vol. 7, Oxford, 1875; George Chesney, A True Reformer, vol. 1, William Blackwood and Sons, 1873