Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Crush Course to Reduce Culture Shock in North America (1991)

My first business trip to Canada was in early 90's. It was for a new order in Eregli Iron & Steel plant for BFG firing high steam output capacity steam boiler contract at home. My Canadian host company Babcock &Wilcox of Canada, reserved a hotel room in Cambridge Holiday Inn, and rental car reservation for transportation. They told me that I would have an easy time. Easy, for a Canadian national, Maybe !

I would go directly to the rent-a-car company Hertz desk, introduce myself, show my local driving license, sign documents, get the car, drive to Cambridge, Ontario, and the Hotel, then I get a good- long good night's sleep, and feel fresh refreshed for my meetings on the next day.

What could go wrong? Since I was All fixed, reserved, prepared.

I landed at Toronto International around midnight. I cleared customs, and then headed for Hertz. Nearly an hour passed for clearing customs before I could head over to the Hertz Rent-a-Car.

The lady behind the counter approved my passport and local driving license.
Then she asked what type of car I would prefer.

Here were the reasonable choices and the most expensive one. I accepted the latter since I was traveling on my company's expense account.

Everything seemed to me normal, and reasonable. She said, the brand new Ford
Taurus was full accessory/fully accessorized, insuranced, and had a full
tank of gas. and gave me the car key and a directional map from Toronto international to the Holiday Inn in Cambridge. Everything seemed so easy.

--Good build up. We just know that nothing is going to be easy for a newcomer.

A company driver took me to my rental car in a big parking lot next to the airport. The biggest car lot I have ever seen in my life. Bigger than our soccer stadium at home.

All cars, no human. I was left with a big car, Ford Taurus latest, zero mileage, full accessory, air-conditioning, and full car radio set. However I was looking at the car desperately, thinking how to run. At 2 AM the lot was deserted. I was left in front of a brand new Ford Taurus. I had assumed that the car would have stick shift but when I climb in behind the steering wheel, I realized that it was an automatic. It was my first experience with such a car.

How am I going to drive this car, 100 miles or more to my hotel? I looked for someone to help me. At last, I saw a teenager at the other end of the car park, washing the returned cars.

I walked over and asked him to teach me how to drive an automatic car. He first had some difficulty in understanding my foreign accent, then looked at me and said "Easy", /EASY!" without any humiliation in his voice. I appreciated him very much for his attitude. His attitude was helpful and I did not feel humiliated.

In my car, he briefly instructed me on the gas, brakes and the sticks "drive" position. Then he said "Good luck" and departed.

Feeling the effects of jet lag after a 12-hour flight over the Atlantic, I test drove the Taurus fives times around the parking lot and still not totally sure of my ability to drive, I headed for Cambridge, Ontario.

Luckily there wasn't much traffic - but so many traffic lights and directional signs at the airport junction that I was confused and forgot what I'd read on the map..

At home it is easy. You just stop at a gas station and ask directions. Here, I couldn't find one. On the big 4-5-lane highway, I chose a direction, and luckily I made a correct decision.

On the road, I discovered North American country music. At first I thought I was listening to the same song being played over and over, later on I became a fan.

The next culture shock also was due to the discovery of air conditioning, at home we open a window and all our small roads we don't need cruise control either. By 5 AM, I arrived in Cambridge and found the Holiday Inn.

Traffic, wide roads, automatic transmission, powerful radio, music yes country music, as if it was non-stop same tune at first. The first time listened to country music and it was as if a non-stop same music. Then I loved and became fan of it.

What is air-conditioning?? At home you open up the windows that is it.
Car was almost double of my own car. I felt like a redneck truck driver.

What is cruise control? All non-sense for me.
We do not have that long highway that time.

You could imagine my dilemma at 0100hrs. but imagine the drama if it had been six hours later. If it was snowing. Anyhow I succeeded in my mission, so I could congratulate with myself for showing the same pioneer spirit as those first intrepid North Americans when they coaxed their covered wagons westwards. I admire any person from a different culture who ventures into the mad, mad arena of the other civilizations. Perhaps, one day, I should sit down and write a travel book on ways to make life easier for new arrivals to an alien environment.

Anyhow sometime early AM hours are good for learning how to drive a automatic car, how to learn Canadian traffic signs, how to find correct direction, start how to enjoy North American country music. Today here in my home country, we have similar highways. My latest car has cruise control, air condition plus CD playing capability. Time changes fast.

Ankara, 13 May, 2015


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