Mooification: in which I rename a syndrome
When I first arrived in the US, it didn’t take long for me to start suffering from “mooification”. It wasn’t a terrible case, but it was persistent, and it still has a habit of flaring up. The smallest thing can trigger it: hearing an unusual pronunciation, restaurants that call their main courses “entrées”,* knowing when to tip and when not to tip, the popularity of light beers, the addition of sales tax at the point of purchase.
Okay, “mooification” isn’t anything terminal; in fact, it’s nothing more than a bad protologism. And yes, there’s plenty of acceptable terms that I could use in its place, “culture shock” being the most obvious, but there’s something about that phrase that just doesn’t sit right with my experience. Too clinical. Too forceful, perhaps. Sounds almost incapacitating rather than conveying that confused immersion that occurs in those first months someone tries to make another country their home. And besides, saying you have “mooification” sounds a hell of a lot more exciting than saying you have “culture shock”.**
Also, if I’m entirely honest, and at the risk of sounding ridiculous, some days I do feel like a cow that has been penned up with the wrong herd. A few years ago, on what I can only assume was a slow news day, the BBC ran a piece suggesting that cows have regional accents. Mooing-wise, a cow from Somerset will sound different to a cow from Northumberland. I’ve no idea how true or not this is, but something about it chimed with me when I first moved here. When I was badly navigating New York or Philadelphia, I felt like a cow with the wrong moo. Oh, how the other cows looked at me oddly, the bovine bastards.
Also, at around the time I moved, I was reading Fury by Salman Rushdie. Now it’s by no means Rushdie on good form. I found it a slog to get through and can barely remember who the characters were or what happened to them. But there was one passage, where the main character who has recently moved to New York struggles with the city, that really stuck with me and distilled what I was thinking. In a sense, I had a greater connection with this then any other piece of writing Rushdie has written, even though this is my least favourite of his novels that I’ve read. Yes, I know terming this feeling “mooification” isn’t elegant, along with being a rather blatant riff on Rushdie’s “chutnification of history” from Midnight’s Children, but that was the word that formed in my head when I read this passage. Oh, I can relate to all that, I thought, it’s “mooification”.
“When he left the apartment nowadays he felt like an ancient sleeper, rising. Outside, in America, everything was too bright, too loud, too strange. The city had come out in a rash of painfully punning cows. At Lincoln Center Solanka ran into Moozart and Moodama Butterfly. Outside the Beacon Theatre a trio of horned and uddered divas had taken up residence: Whitney Mooston, Mooriah Carey and Bette Midler (the Bovine Miss M). Bewildered by this infestation of paronomasticating livestock, Proffesor Solanka suddenly felt like a visitor from Lilliput-Blefuscu or the moon, or to be straightforward, London. He was alienated, too, by the postage stamps, by the monthly, rather than quarterly, payment of gas, electricity and telephone bills, by the unknown brands of candy in the stores (Twinkies, Ho Hos, Ring Pops), by the words “candy” and “stores”, by the armed policemen on the streets, by the anonymous faces in magazines, faces that all Americans somehow recognized at once, by the indecipherable words of popular songs which American ears could make out without strain, by the end-loaded pronunciation of names like Farrar, Harrell, Candell, by the broadly spoken e’s that turned expression into axpression, I’ll get to the check into I’ll gat that chack; by, in short, the sheer immensity of his ignorance of the engulfing melee of ordinary American life.”
Salman Rushdie, Fury (2001)
* In the UK an entrée is an appetizer; in the US an entrée is a main course.
**Keep in mind that if, like me, you’re a Brit in the US, people may mistake your self-diagnosed “mooification” for Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. Believe me, this is not a good thing for them to think.