It felt bizarre when I met my officemates for the first time. Fresh out of college and into my first job, I had the uncomfortable feeling that, somehow, I already knew them.
It wasn’t a mystical intuition. It was not the chilling insight of déjà vu, no; I didn’t have the supernatural insight that I have met them before in a previous life. But over trainings, meetings, and lunches, I was surprised that I found nothing surprising about them. I felt like they’ve already shared with me their intimate beliefs, when they haven’t; I felt like I could already describe what their friends were like, when I really couldn’t. And even at a gathering over abundant alcohol, when I most expected to see the unexpected from them, I saw and heard nothing of note.
Is it possible that I have met enough people in my life that I’ve come to know all the varieties of personality traits that there are? Are all my new and future acquaintances merely amalgamations, mixtures in different proportions, of all the habits and manners and human characteristics that there are, and of which I’ve already seen everything?
Maybe, but unlikely. Probably, it’s just that I found myself in a new place that, in a way, isn’t so new after all. I may not know these new people around me, but we all arrived here by way of parallel paths. To be analytical about it, these people came from socioeconomic backgrounds similar to mine, and we all studied in similar schools and universities. We follow similar traditions, play similar roles, and are alike across practically every sociological dimension one could come up with.
Strange as it may sound, the bizarre sensation I felt can be described then as a kind of culture anti-shock. Instead of being caught off-guard by differences, I felt uncomfortable with the exact opposite: it was my social subconscious wondering, why are they familiar? Is culture really this powerful in shaping individual identities?
How much smaller the world feels, when the ways of people are all just borrowed from the stock of culture.