You often hear the term “culture shock” when immigrants and native Mainers meet. It is one of my favorite topics, provoking bittersweet memories of my arrival in Maine and how I adapted.

Merriam-Webster defines culture shock as “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.”

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth and can be contacted at

What could prepare a guy from Mogadishu, Somalia  – who grew up eating goat liver and bread for breakfast in the year-round heat and sunshine, amidst the constant noise and crowds of Mogadishu and Nairobi, where mini buses (matatus) and tuk-tuk taxis are always bustling – to life in Maine?

Yarmouth, when I arrived on an August night in 2014, was to me eerily quiet, almost spooky. Culture shock was immediate. I felt visibly out of place as I walked around town. And I walked a lot. There was a Dunkin’ Donuts on Main Street at that time and doughnuts had become my new favorite treat. Getting them involved a two-mile walk from Sligo Road to Main Street. For weeks, I did not see a single Black person. It was truly anxiety-inducing and shocking. Before moving here, I thought every town in America had some Black population. Being new to the country, I wasn’t sure how to behave or react to being the only Black guy walking around town with a hot cup of coffee and a couple of doughnuts. I also remember those many times when I felt extremely nervous for not knowing when the right time was to cross the road. I had to wait until some runner did it and so I followed.

The weather was clearly the biggest culture shock. I remember feeling disoriented as fog settled in just a few days after I arrived. It was so dense that I couldn’t see the ground in front of me. I walked into it just to see where I would end up. I thought I had seen enough of Maine’s strange weather phenomena until the trees dropped all their leaves, and then snow transformed the place I was getting to know into an alien world.

Culture shocks vary depending on where people come from. Someone from England moving to Maine might not be shocked by fog but might be taken aback by a heavy snowstorm. But for someone from Somalia, like me, anything and everything can be a shocking experience. Grocery shopping, for instance. I grew up with limited resources, and I was used to small markets where meat came in one form, vegetables were often fresh and in small amounts, and everything was sold without refrigerators. So walking through all the aisles of Hannaford, with so many options to choose from left me entirely unsure of what to do.

The smiles and each random “hi” from Mainers were also surprising. I grew up in densely populated areas where you don’t get smiles from strangers on the street. As Mainers walked their dogs and I explored my new town, people smiled, said “hi,” and often stopped to chat about the weather. “Such a nice day, huh?” was a common greeting. I had not yet experienced Maine’s brutal winters, having arrived in summer, and in all my years in Somalia and Kenya no one had ever said, “nice weather, huh?”

These culture shocks are now things of the past that I feel grateful for. I embrace the experiences, even if they were sometimes embarrassing and filled with anxiety and loneliness.

As we enter June and enjoy these beautiful early summer days, my go-to opening line when I see you on the road is, “What a nice day, huh!” – even if it’s raining.

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