Ten Years A Citizen:

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.



Ten Years A Citizen:
I have been a citizen of this country for ten years now, and with the Fourth of July coming up tomorrow, I started thinking about when I first came to the US in 1989. Despite having traveled extensively around the world before that, there were still some serious cultural barriers to understand. Here are ten entertaining cultural lessons I learned in my first years in the States:

1. “What’s up?” i s not, despite how it sounds, a question – it’s just a way to say hello. It is also acceptable to just echo the sentiment right back at the asker – resulting in two questions, neither of which actually require nor expect an answer. In fact, actually proceeding to tell the asker all that was indeed “up” provokes great awkwardness and confusion.

2. A “party” does not always entail the usual things you find at parties such as music, food, and entertainment. Among younger people, “party” just means there’s cheap liquor and a stale joint or two. I was frequently disappointed the first few times I was invited to “party” only to show up and find seven guys crushing beer cans on their foreheads.

3. Never ask a woman out to dinner, because suggesting dinner basically says “I intend to marry you within the following week or two.” A lunch or coffee, however, is just fine. The lesson here is that the seriousness of your intentions are dictated by the time of day you request meeting.

4. Despite what you see in many movies, only White people seem to high-five one another.

5. Related to the previous: you should never actually ask for a high-five because that removes the coolness quotient and makes you look odd. Standing there with your open palm in the air and an expectant grin on your face while waiting for someone to execute the second half of the high-five, however, doesn’t look odd at all, apparently.

6. I used to think that it must be plainly obvious that I wasn’t born and raised in this country because people always asked me, “Where are you from?” Then I learned that almost anyone who isn’t white is asked that question. The best comeback I ever heard to a bigoted “Go the hell back to where you came from!” statement -- aimed at my 3rd generation Vietnamese-American friend -- was his hilarious response: “But, dude, I hate Jersey!”

7. Just because two people are “roommates,” it doesn’t mean that they actually share a single room. People who share a house but have their own bedrooms and bathrooms are still called “roommates.” For the longest time, I thought the majority of single Americans lived with other single Americans in one-bedroom places.

8. On hot days, people – mostly women – like to put on bathing suits and go lie down by a swimming pool. Despite the fact that they are wearing swimwear, it’s hot, and they strategically placed themselves next to water, they will never actually enter the pool. They just need to be in proximity of it. I had never before experienced a scenario where a pool would be crowded with people around the outside but with barely anyone actually in the pool.

9. Though Americans get a lot of flack for generalizing people of other geographical areas and being ignorant of various cultural and political borders, most people outside of the US do the same thing to Americans. Americans are generalized as a single population who all share a common culture, but the truth is that there are subcontinents divided by oceans that share more common values than Americans in different parts of the nation.

10. No matter how well they know or don’t know you, if you do not have a place to go on Thanksgiving Day, countless friends, acquaintances, and even people you don’t know too well will invite you into their homes where you will meet all those odd relatives and family members they told you they never wanted you to meet. And they will feed you until bursting; also sending you home with enough food for a week. It’s an unspoken rule: no one spends Thanksgiving alone if you can help it.