Thursday, March 24, 2011

Culture Clash On The Highway

Waterfall in Venezuela

One of my friends at work was telling me a story today about something that happened shortly after she moved to the U.S. from Venezuela. The company had given her a cultural introduction course and she learned things about fitting into our culture like not automatically hugging or kissing everyone when you meet them, and not thinking that everyone would be her friend. (Made me want to move to Venezuela!) One other tidbit of information they'd provided was that the police were not to be approached like they were free to do back home. But she had to learn a little more about dealing with the police the hard way: she got pulled over for speeding.

When she first pulled over to the side of the road she got her first lesson. She started to get out of the car and greet the officer, but he told her to remain seated and keep her hands where he could see them. He approached her window and asked for her license and registration. She had a rental car and still had her license from Venezuela, which didn't include a picture of her or information like height and weight. The rest of the run-in went something like this:

Officer: Do you know why I pulled you over?
Venezuelan Friend (VF): No, I have no idea.
Officer: Do you know how fast you were going?
VF: No.
Officer: Do you know what the speed limit is?
VF: I don't know what a speed limit is.
Officer: The speed limit is 55 mph. I clocked you going 70 mph.
VF: I only know kilometers.
Officer (writing up a ticket, but missing information that he'd normally pull from a driver's license):  Can you tell me how tall you are?
VF: 1.5 meters
Officer: How tall is that in feet?
VF: I don't know the conversion.
Officer: Approximately.
VF: I don't know how big a foot is.
Officer: What's your weight?
VF: I only know it in stones.
Officer: How many pounds?
VF: I don't know.

It went on like that for a little while and he let her go with a warning. We both got a kick out of the story and realized how many times we do the same thing throughout the day, but I never realized she couldn't visualize what I was talking about at all when I said things like "a small filing cabinet, about 2 feet high." She has no idea what I mean. And even though I had to learn metric units in school, if I couldn't see her standing in front of me, I would have no idea that 1.5 meters means she is roughly 5' tall.

Different worlds...


  1. LOL that's hilarious! I don't know the exact conversions either, but after you spend some time in another country that uses the other system, you learn to approximate.

    I can only imagine that Officer's thoughts, hahaha!

  2. :) So funny. I had to learn all of that stuff the other way around in England. litres instead of gallons of petrol (gas), km, stone, etc. In honour of the Oxford English Dictionary's inclusion of the phrase: I heart this post.