20 July 2004


Whenever I think of culture shock, I think of this disconcerting passage from Samuel R. Delaney's science fiction masterpiece Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, in which the narrator tells a story about being an interstellar diplomat.

I never go into a butcher outlet anywhere on Velm, or anywhere else for that matter, no matter the geosector, without recalling the first time, during my fifth trip offworld, that I was dining with my employer1 and her spouses for my third job1. (The feathers on everything; the very unsubtle music.) I was charmed when they served the meal on narrow plates, about three inches wide, curved around in a circle. You worked your way along from portion to portion — cunning I thought — eating with your fingers; though getting the tastes and smells so confused with one another would never go at home. There was the meat; and I began to tell them about the butcher outlets on Velm, and just what the cloned longpig I'd been raised on was, realizing as I spoke they were a little shocked. I picked up my own bit of roast, bit down — something hard was in it ...

Then I realized: Bone!

This had once been walking around with a skeleton inside. Although I didn't, many times when I've told the story, I've said I left the table.

Different things shock different people.

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