Monday, May 15, 2006

Can't keep a good American down

Every culture has certain rules, codes of conduct. We Americans are very good at ignoring these codes everywhere we go. Wanting everyone to speak in English. Loudly talking on the bus. Demanding Ranch dressing on your food (please understand that Ranch dressing is a strictly American phenomenon). Wanting turkeys a month earlier than normal in order to celebrate a stupid holiday that no-one else in the world celebrates.

I was this American when I lived in Okinawa, incredibly obnoxious. I can now understand why Okinawans are protesting mightily to get those damned gaijin off their lovely island. I've made a concerted effort to not be as ignorant and indifferent to my surrounding culture this time around. One, because I'm married to a Brit and it would embarrass him terribly. Two, and more importantly, because I realise how much I missed. I lived in Okinawa for almost ten years, but I might has well have been in California or Michigan. I lived only around other Americans, ate mostly American food from American fast food places and shopped at American shops on the American base. Occasionally, I heard someone speaking in Japanese, but I didn't understand a word they say and didn't care to. All those years of living there and I experienced so little by hardly integrating into the culture. Really, I was cheating. Well, this time, I'm learning Scottish!

That being said, it's damned hard to integrate into a foreign culture, and in some ways I feel like I'm losing myself. It feels like its harder for an American. You are really only accepted when you're ashamed of being from the States. Considering what the hell is going on in the world, most of the time I am, so that works. I'm a baby, learning how to speak, walk and understand this new, Scottish world around me. I'm like the kid in school who keeps getting in trouble because I don't know what is going on. The teacher keeps yelling at me and I don't know what I did wrong. But I have picked up some rules:
  • don't speak until spoken to;
  • the only acceptable topic of conversation to have with a stranger (usually an elderly person) is a discussion of weather changes;
  • never introduce yourself to others (what, are you assuming that you will be someone that they will want to even bother knowing? How foolish of you);
  • don't talk about too many personal things -- this list includes, but is not limited to:
    • your recent divorce
    • your recent colonic irrigation and any praises of the procedure
    • how amazing your children are
    • how terrible your children are
    • what your therapist thinks
So it was a breath of fresh air when my friend Bee came for a 21-hour visit from the US. To Bee, most people are "Super!", including that girl at the till, who is "the best!" Enthusiastic, most people would say -- a girl who loves life. Very American, I said. At times when I was with her, I was cringing and hiding behind my hands. We just don't do that here, I wanted to say. But everyone here ate it up! She made friends with two drunk women missing their hen party -- she has photos of the night that she'll need to email them. She joined the conversation of two random guys, ingratiating herself so well that when we all got off the bus, they invited us to a party. Despite initially feeling a bit wary and over our heads when we set off with "Dave" and "Scott" (as this was Scotland, we did not introduce ourselves), we ended up meeting a lot of interesting people. One included a poet, a fellow American, who performed all of her limited aikido repertoire on a mildly impressed Boy.

The poet had a story similar to mine: fell in love with a Brit and ended up over here. She also had a funny pseudo-British accent (despite being from Noo Joisey), slightly better than mine. After my day with Bee, I wanted to tell her to drop it. Maybe by trying to be so British, we're holding ourselves back. And not really enjoying our time here. I guess the whole thing is about balance -- being respectful of others' culture , but still loving your own. Now if we can just get that message out to the President.


Anonymous Amah said...

I was disheartened at your not wanting to acknowledge your Americanism. I'm sure God sent Bee to awaken you to your conclusion of respecting others and loving your own. We are who we chose to be. We can learn from and teach others what we know or hide who we are. Yes some Americans are arrogant clods, but some are caring, giving, helping, sharing, loving, etc--as is all other races. Enough preaching.

Sounds like Bee is someone I'd love to meet. Sounds like you all had a nice time at the party.

We did go off base to eat and shop, tho not at frequently as other. You did tutor those Okinawan kids your last year there. Plus you when to a school off-base. You integrated as much as you were allowed, considering the constaints in which you were given by the carbon-based parental unit.

Side Notes: Sed left a voice message on Mothers' Day. Wow!! Aunt Dot's son David, and Isaac in Hawaii, graduate from hi-school. Cuz Tiambi got her bacc degree in teaching--middle school. Already had a job in Albany, GA. Cuz Jakena expecting in Aug/Sep.

Tuesday, 16 May 2006 at 22:55:00 BST  
Blogger svetlana said...

autumn... i'm sitting here with tears. good entry.

the flipside ending was unexpected and yet... so true of the process we go through. we can't get to that ultimate realisation of just 'being ourselves' without first having to go through the fear of being who we are and making major efforts to shut out our original identity. it's what this country does to us. we can't help it. but until we've been there, done that, hurt ourselves, damaged our character a bit, become boxed out, angry and helpless... THEN we see how we just might be able to get away with flaunting our non-british ways in public.

my first commitment (subconsciously done...) to this was coming back in january this year no longer caring if i ever say trousers again. pants it is. and if they don't like it, they can just deal with it. i'm american, get used to it.

Wednesday, 17 May 2006 at 11:22:00 BST  
Blogger Autumn said...

Svety, you say pants if you wanna girl! You'll get giggles, but you say it anyway!

Wednesday, 17 May 2006 at 17:09:00 BST  
Blogger Autumn said...

Also, I'm not ash-med of being American. I just mindful that not everyone thinks that it's amazing.

Wednesday, 17 May 2006 at 17:10:00 BST  
Anonymous a.t.w. said...

Ah, ah. The accent thing. Sometimes you just can't help it. It's not all conscious. I mean, I start talking southern around v. southern folks, I cain't help it. I talk different with my 95-year-old neighbor. I lost my American accent in 96-97 in the absence of Americans. I was accused by old friends phoning of sounding like a different person. It wasn't purposeful, but rather, utilitarian, I'm sure. You want people to understand you. But I have it back, so hey. But teaching phonics is something different altogether. Can we say IRONY???

And p.s., as I always say, I am forever in debt to you for retaining as much Americanness as you did in high school. You were a breath of fresh air and looking back, you helped me realize it was okay to rebel against some of the cultural norms I'd come to accept even though I was having to squish myself to do so. Remember, even Chrissy accused us of being "loud feminists." Love it, just love it.

Friday, 19 May 2006 at 02:32:00 BST  
Blogger Autumn said...

For Chrissy, those two words could never be separated: loud and feminist.

Friday, 19 May 2006 at 07:27:00 BST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL! My very own entry - I feel so special! I had a great time visiting you - it's been so long since I've had an adventure! Thanks for helping create one with me!

Monday, 22 May 2006 at 03:06:00 BST  

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