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Cultural Differences

Oh Captain My Captain;

I rent a room in a house with a pretty nice family, and for the most part it’s pretty cool. They’re very friendly and open, their eldest son and I share a lot of interests, and they aren’t really judgmental, though they are very vocal about their political views and beliefs, they know I don’t get involved in that sort of stuff and seem to respect my space as far as that’s concerned.

The problem is respecting space as far as everything else – I do my part around the house, cleaning bathrooms, mopping, vacuuming, doing dishes, laundry, helping care for their 19 year old cat and doing pretty much anything I can to make myself useful. My landlords, a married couple, also have two of their adult children living with them because finances suck for everyone except the elderly rich, which we are not among. Their kids, even though they are adults, are still very close to their parents and depend on them for a lot, and basically come off as young teens in a lot of ways. The main problem seems to stem from the fact that, although I am not one of their kids, because I’m younger than their kids they seem to feel the need to parent me.

Whenever I get anything in the mail, they want to know what it is, who it’s from, if it’s a package they want to hover over me and see what it is, who I ordered it from, how much did it cost, was it made in the USA? They have come in my room without permission several times, always ask me when I will be at work, how many hours I’m getting, what I’m paid, if I go out somewhere that isn’t work related where did I go, did I buy anything there? I can’t bring home so much as a single shopping bag without being interrogated or having it pawed through and my purchases commented on, along with how I dress, where I work, basically everything I do. They do it more to me than they do it to their own children!

I’m a very private person, and I hate discussing money with anyone, particularly when it’s really none of their business, and I really don’t want my every purchase judged and pawed through. I am one of those people that doesn’t want to talk about my day, I don’t want to talk about what happened at work or if I got a raise or if I bought lunch or something. I don’t like talking to people in general, but I try my best to at least be nice. It’s started creeping me out a lot that I can’t walk anywhere near the door with my keys without getting an interrogation on where I’m going, who I’m going with if anyone, what I’m buying, et cetera. If they had to drive me places, yeah, fine, I could understand them needing to know my work schedule or if I needed to go buy stuff or something, but I have my own car and drive myself everywhere so there is no reason they need to know any of this stuff. They also try to include me in their family events, even big holiday stuff like Christmas or Thanksgiving, even when they’re super loud and generally not the kind of thing I’d go within a hundred miles of if I didn’t live here, but when I live in the same house it’s kind of hard to avoid without it being painfully obvious that I’m avoiding it, particularly since I’m not social and generally don’t go anywhere other than work.

They seem to have semi-adopted me as one of their own kids, which is kind of problematic on it’s own, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Do you have a way for me to politely tell them to back off and stop questioning me about everything I do? I intend to move out soon, so I’ll have my privacy again eventually, but until then I’d like to get back at least a bit of privacy while I live here, without making things tense or possibly making them angry. They are a very close-knit, openly affectionate, rather loud kind of family, so I’m not sure they can even understand that no, I don’t really want to take part in all the loud, boisterous family stuff they do because I’m just not that kind of person. I like my quiet and privacy, and I would like to get some of that back.

Any ideas?

Thanks!

Not Their Kid

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The Bachelor group shot

“One of you lucky ladies is going to get tenure!”

Hi Captain (& friends),

I have been dating an awesome guy for a little over a year now. It’s not really my style to gush over a romantic partner, but this is possibly the happiest and most comfortable I’ve ever been with someone. However, we have one big difference: I’m a graduate student getting my PhD in a science field, and he never completed his bachelor’s and is currently working in the service industry. He’s taking online classes and collaborating on a startup, but doesn’t plan to finish his degree.

This doesn’t bother me, or adversely affect the relationship. He is extremely intelligent and genuinely interested in my research work, and I like hearing wild stories from the club he works at. He challenges my ideas and experiments in ways that are interesting and helpful, since they’re not coming from within the academic culture. And besides, we have a lot of shared interests, like programming, caving, and gaming, where we are at similar levels of accomplishment and feel like we can challenge each other.

But this doesn’t stop me from getting anxious about the education discrepancy. When I first met Boyfriend, my out-of-town friends told me I needed to be aiming higher. All my in-town friends are grad students / PhDs, and they’re all dating other grad students / PhDs. They spend date nights writing new theorems; I spend date nights playing Starcraft. It can make parties a little weird: “Oh, your partner developed an entirely new model of fish ecology? That’s awesome! Mine couldn’t come because he’s still washing tables.”

I already have a lot of anxiety about my career. Thanks to ever-present imposter syndrome, my brain loves telling me that I’m my department’s pity hire, I actually don’t know anything about science, and I will crash and burn horribly. So now I’m afraid that I’m somehow sabotaging myself and my career with this non-academic relationship. Is it going to turn me into a lesser scientist? Am I wasting time? Are my priorities all out of whack? I feel awful for making this all about me and my flawed, academia-instilled value system, but my brain won’t shut up about it. For what it’s worth, Boyfriend knows about this anxiety and tries to help (like, by scheduling Thesis / Startup Work “Dates”, to help with my fear that I’m spending too much time with him and not enough time in the lab).

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Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter movies

I’m sure she put smiley-faces on all of her o-mails.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My younger sister, let’s call her Bee, works as an executive assistant in a large, urban, corporate environment. Bee’s manager has recently mentioned, twice, that she is “coaching” my sister on developing better professional communication skills. In particular, she has expressed concerns that Bee is not “nice” enough in her emails to co-workers. She has mentioned that my sister does not use “smileys” and doesn’t start emails out with praising statements before doing something like asking for information. There has been no actual professional coaching, only these hints that my sister should be “sweeter” in her emails.

Here’s where I come in. When I say my sister is “nice,” that doesn’t quite get at the root of the matter. She is really, really nice. Doormat sweet. Works like a dog. Seriously. Rave performance reviews. Hours of overtime. Her superiors notice this–she is often singled out for extra projects, work, trips, etc. For example, she recently has been given some account management tasks and was also recently asked to attend a conference in Europe (where she literally worked so many hours a day she didn’t even go outside, but hey). I am 99.999999% sure there is no professionalism issue with my sister’s email communications.

Can you give us some scripts or ideas on how to talk about this with her manager?

My sister is not comfortable with direct confrontation and doesn’t always have a lot of self-confidence when talking about herself, but she is an amazing and hard-working woman. The thing is, I feel like this is a feminist issue. Strike that. This is a humanist issue. I believe that my sister is being penalized because she appears to be striving “above” her “place.” The suggestions her manager has made are not ones that will make my sister appear more professional–they are items that will make her seem more subservient, sweet/cute, passive, etc. I do not believe that these “suggestions” are being made in earnest, or with the intent to actually help my sister move forward in her career.

My sister doesn’t know much about Captain Awkward, but I’m a faithful reader. We would love some advice!

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Movie Poster Art from The Wise KidsDear Captain,

Last Fall, I began dating an awesome guy. He’s nerdy, a real feminist, and is just as much in love with me as I am with him. Things have been great and we both know how to use our words to make things even better. As it stands, we’re both in this for the long haul and have discussed plans of moving in together when I graduate from college and eventually of getting married. I am so excited about life with this guy.

My problem is that I come from a super conservative Christian sub-culture and my boyfriend is an atheist. While I’m super cool with his personal views on religion (and he is of mine as well, yay!) most of my friends, family, and people I interact with at church have made it their business to go out of their way to tell me to end things with him. Everyone sees my relationship as something wrong and offensive to God. In their eyes, they’re just helping me “do what’s right” but it’s emotionally exhausting and always makes me upset with the people.

As it stands, there’s literally nothing these people could say to me that would actually make me break up with him. But I’m tired of having to act nice when people tell me off for dating someone who isn’t a Christian. Since you are the master of awesome shut-down scripts, I was wondering if you might have anything up your sleeve for people trying to get me “out of my sinful relationship” when this (super hurtful) behavior is considered acceptable (and encouraged) within the sub-culture I am in.

(On a side note, I’m planning on joining a much more awesome denomination/church when I graduate from college, but as I am going to a college funded by this denomination, I’m stuck in place for a year.)

Thanks for your help,

Happily Dating

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Hi there Captain!

I’m a 36 year-old mom of two adorable boys (6 and 2). I also have no friends. I’m not entirely OK with not having friends, but I’ve gotten used to it over the past 30 years or so of not-having-friends-ness. What I’m less OK with is that my Big Guy seems to be following in my footsteps, and it’s making me worry.

A bit of background:

I grew up being *that kid*, the one who is always picked on, outcast, and very lonely (but not bullied, really). Elementary school was *really* tough. By the time I got to high school, I had a regular table I could sit at for lunch, Science Team and Quiz Bowl competitions I could attend and do well in (with said lunch-mates), and excessively high grades and test scores. Still couldn’t really call them “friends”. *They* all hung out and did the usual social stuff that high school nerds do outside of high school. I was just never included.

Those high grades? Came about because of my parents, who prioritized high grades above EVERYTHING ELSE. Including a social life. I mean, I’m sure they were concerned about my social life, but it was always “Studies first, (dance second), and anything that can distract from your studies can come afterwards”. So I complied, because my father’s commitment to making sure I succeeded academically was *really* intense.

As an adult, (as in, many, many years after the fact), I figured out that I had/have ADHD-inattentive type, which led to me not being able to finish my homework/keep track of all my crap. And also makes it hard for me to follow a conversation without spacing out in the middle of someone else’s sentence. And then have a hard time knowing what to say next. So: schoolwork not getting done, leads to me “not having time” for a social life. And in school, my fellow nerds were nice and friendly and let me sit at the lunch table, but I still felt like an outsider, because I was always ten steps behind them conversationally.

College was worse than high school, because my family uprooted their entire lives and moved three whole states so I could live at home in a three bedroom apartment and commute to school. They would make sure I didn’t flunk out (see above re: intense commitment to my academic achievement). And since I was at the most competitive, intense university in the world, you can fill in the blanks about how much of a social life I was able to manage.

So I never had a chance to navigate friendships and relationships as a kid and teenager (and young adult). I got married because Arranged Marriage is a common thing in my culture and I was completely OK with it. My husband is a bit of an introvert who doesn’t feel the need to have many friends, and likes his peace and quiet and political blogs and weird YouTubes of politicians from our country screaming at each other.

So how does this affect my kid? I don’t know how to make mom-friends. I was supposed to “join a playgroup” and “set up playdates” and then socialize with each other while our babies did their baby-stuff. But I didn’t know how to get from “Hi, nice to see you at our monthly breastfeeding support group” to “Hey there friend! Wanna get together for (whatever it is that friends *do* together. Seriously, WHAT?!)”. And now that he’s in Kindergarten, I STILL don’t know. All the other moms somehow know each other already. Their kids go on playdates with each other. They all stand around in their little circles on the blacktop before afternoon pickup and talk about whatever it is they talk about (Seriously, WHAT?!?!?). Big Guy gets the occasional birthday party invitation, but even there, the other moms know each other better than they know me, so I’m the odd one out again. (WHAT DO THEY TALK ABOUT IN THEIR LITTLE CIRCLES? I edged into a circle once, and one of the moms was asking the other where she got her hair done. I get my hair done at Supercuts.)

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Dear Captain and Crew,

I am transgender, FtM, or at least that’s what I came out as several years ago. Since then, I have become increasingly isolated due to work, debt, and extremely debilitating mental illness. I’m doing my best to sort those things out (moving to a place where friends are, looking for a new therapist), but I don’t really know anyone who gets the trans stuff – I always have to be the teacher. So it’s hard for me to talk about my confusion, and my very pronounced internalized transphobia. 

I feel like a monster. Like even without all the mental illness, debt, and isolation, there is no way anyone could ever love me, because I’m trans. My family has been pretty good (and by good I mean awful) about reinforcing that trope.

I’ve spent a lot of time alone the last few years, and now, I’m not even sure if I am trans. Or maybe it’s just that the social cost of being trans outweighs the benefits of feeling more comfortable in my body. Does it matter what your gender is when you never leave the house? The impact of looking for housing while trans, applying for social assistance while trans… even just using public washrooms – I feel like it’s worn me down so much. So I can’t tell anymore if I’m not trans (and was wrong before…?) or if I just am so damn tired of how it feels to be trans in this world. 

I don’t know how to stop hating myself, and how to stop thinking of myself as unlovable when everything in this world seems to tell me that my name and my body and any discrepancies between them make me a freak who can’t function in the system. How can I imagine a future for myself? 

So I guess my question is – how can I tell what my gender is, when 99% of how I think of my gender and how I perform it, is centered around other people – around my safety and ability to navigate the world? How can I know what’s truly there underneath? (And does it even really matter?) And do you have any recommendations for dealing with internalized transphobia? I’m trying to read positive, feminist FtM stuff, but it mostly just makes me angry, because I don’t understand how they can all seem so happy. 

Thank you,
Trans?Phobic

Dear Trans?Tired,

Hey there, it’s Lt. Trans aka A. Raymond Johnson. I did something terrible and changed your name without permission, which isn’t cool since as trans people, we have to deal with being misgendered and misnamed all the time, so I apologize for that. But I needed to right away confirm and validate your feelings of being tired of being trans. That isht is indeed exhausting. And you seem to be in a particularly bad run of it right now.

I wore the HELL out of this record as a kid. This explains some things.

I wore the HELL out of this record as a kid. This explains some things.

I totally get feeling like a monster. Read More

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m sure there there have been similar questions, but I feel mine has an added complication. It is, I shiver to say, an “unwanted advances” issue that I’m having.

Background: I am a female in my lower twenties who recently graduated from a university, and I’m living in a small two-story apartment building in a larger complex of similar buildings in a small US city. I am sharing this apartment with my mom and stepdad for economic reasons.

Problem: A few weeks back our building was having the plumbing redone and from about 9am to 5pm the crew was in our apartment tearing up walls and such. I waited outside on the steps one of these days for 30 minutes or so until the crew had left. An older man with a heavy foreign accent came out of his upstairs room and talked to me. I’m not sure why, but I tend to have rather automatic sympathy for the more obviously foreign-born people living in the US. Maybe it’s racism, and maybe it’s because I treat everyone in that situation like a foreign exchange student. As it turns out, this guy is Pakistani and he lives in an apartment upstairs, apparently alone. That’s the entirety of the things he said that I understood… More specifically, I didn’t understand what this guy was saying to me partly due to his accent, and partly due to the fact that the ideas he was throwing out did not seem to connect. He was asking me if I wanted to be his “friend” and
at the same time he was saying “My wife is in Pakistan.” Confused, I kept saying him things like, “Oh, is your wife moving here eventually?” Just as it was dawning on me that he probably meant for me to be his mistress or fling or whatever while his poor wife is back at home, he left, before I could express my horror in any way.

Now it gets weird. I have not spoken to him since then- perhaps a mistake. But, I did start noticing he follows me.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve had a problem for a while that has always been an issue with me, but is now beginning to affect my work and professional standing: I have a hard time understanding people strong foreign accents, and I don’t know how to address the issue without making it super awkward.

So here I am!

About me: I’m a 26-year-old software developer, US citizen living in the US, male and white. I feel blessed that I get to speak my native language at work and out in the city, but having lived in a foreign country, learning the language as I went, I understand how frustrating not being a native speaker can be (and not really, since I was an exchange student, and most people would assume at worst that I was a dumb tourist rather than “xenophobic enemy of the moment”).

But I can’t help that I have trouble understanding thick foreign accents speaking English, and recently, it’s been a problem for me at work.

My boss is Indian. She’s very intelligent and knowledgeable, but sometimes I have a hard time understanding her English due to her thick accent and sometimes quirky sentence structure. The reason this is becoming an issue is that I sometimes don’t understand my work assignments. Asking over and over for clarification clearly frustrates her, and makes me look stupid. “I don’t understand what the problem is, this isn’t hard to understand!”. Only it is!

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I appreciated your advice regarding being open to the possibility that two siblings can grow up in the same home but have completely different experiences and interpretations of the environment.

As I was reading I found myself identifying with the sister, whom the question-asker describes as still being stuck in the abusive situation but not seeing it as so.  Last year our small and close-knit church community went through a very painful split, with a handful of people leaving with claims that the head pastor was spiritually abusing them.  It’s a very (VERY) long and complicated ordeal, but I found myself wondering what sort of advice you might give to the “sister” who is still connected to the parents (or in my case, authority figure/pastor) whom other people have experienced as abusive.  In my personal interactions with this pastor I’ve actually felt very well cared for and respected.  He did our premarital counseling and has provided a great deal of encouragement, mentoring and advice to my husband and I in the first 4 years of our marriage.

Because my experience of him has been so different than theirs, I find myself really struggling to know how to connect with them in a healthy and productive way.  The feeling I get from these friends who’ve left is that the only version of reality they accept is their own, and any other possible explanation is just a symptom of the abuse.  In their eyes I am a naive automaton, enabling an abusive and evil man.  It’s really quite insulting and saddening.

Any advice for the other side of this question?

The Other Sister

Dear Other Sister,

Intern Paul and I have been Googling spiritual abuse, and it’s taken us to a dark and scary part of the Internet.  Can you help us define the concept and be a little more detailed about what your friends say happened?

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Until you guys write me letters, I’m just going to keep posting about weird social interactions, okay?

I grew up on the East Coast, but have lived in the Midwest (Chicago) for the last 10 years, and there are some distinct cultural differences.   Once I went out on the world’s most boring first date, and we discussed some of these.

Him: “I went to Massachusetts once.  They called it ‘soda’ instead of ‘pop.'”

Me: “Yes.  And we call water fountains ‘bubblers.'”

Him: “Wow, that’s so weird.”

Sadly I did not have a ninja smoke bomb handy to make my escape, so there was like 90 more minutes of this crap while we dutifully masticated our Thai food and agreed blandly that we should totally do this again sometime.

Anyway, what I want to talk about here is the Midwestern practice of offering other people the thing you really want before you’ll let yourself have it  Anyone who lives here and who has been to any kind of baby shower or other LadyParty has watched Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox enacted on a plate of brownies knows what I’m talking about.  “Do you want the last one?”  “No, you take it.”  “Let’s cut it in half.”

When I moved out here, I didn’t know about this.

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