Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Welcome Back - What to Expect

(This is the first in a 2-part series for TCKs returning to the USA. Some of this is gleaned from first-hand experience. Other adult TCKs who have reintegrated, feel free to add in the comments section. I will incorporate it into the post with credit given.)

So, you're returning to the grand old US of A? I feel you. I was there four years ago. Heck, I'm still there, but I can promise that it gets easier and I want to give you some of my experiences to help prepare you a little bit.

Things to Expect:

Positive military presence (I know this may sound strange to TCKs from Central Africa, South America, or Southeast Asia, but it's true. America's military is mostly celebrated and thanked. It's amazing)

The Stars and Bars. If you're anywhere in the South, you'll see this baby flying proudly on belt buckles, tattoos, decals, houses, and even off the backs of trucks. Seriously. I used to be offended and think it mighty strange that people were even permitted to fly the flag of a failed rebellion, but it's allowed and, in many places, celebrated. (Complete with calls of "The South will rise again!")

Rules are different. Things you may be used to doing can and will get you into trouble:

  • No jaywalking (To the rest of the world, zebra crossings are merely suggestions, but to the USA, crossing wherever you please will get you in trouble)
  • No piling a car past max capacity
  • No passengers on the back of a truck (or in the trunk of a car, for that matter)
  • No bribing the police officers. Seriously, don't.
  • Motorcyclists, don't weave in and out of traffic. Motorists, don't make a new lane.
  • No bare feet in public buildings. (Between you and me, I still don't get this. I mean, the only person you're putting at risk is yourself. Also, Americans seem to have this thing about feet.)
  • Drinking age is 21, not 18. (Not that I advocate drinking, just warning you ahead of time)
  • Speed limits are enforced, not suggestions.
  • Right turn on red (a heavenly blessing that exists solely because other drivers actually follow the rules)
America is also fairly germophobic. I work as a waiter, so I know the health codes; some of them are ridiculous. As a biology graduate, I know some of them are redundant, pointless, or even ineffective. I also happen to know what can actually kill you (and as an African, I've probably been exposed to them anyways). Not to mention the majority of the public is woefully un-/misinformed when it comes to various diseases and their transmission/prevention (I've seen people wearing masks to avoid ebola). That being said, don't go out of your way to bolster their immune systems. It's just not cool.

America. Is. On. Time.
Seriously. Almost soul-suckingly so.
So, for all of you who, like me, come from time-liberal societies, I recommend setting your clocks 5-10 minutes ahead. I'm almost always 5 minutes late: either I've underestimated the traveling time or I've underestimated how long it will take to finish what I'm working on/the conversation I'm having.
(And yes, being late because you were having a good conversation with a new/old/long-lost friend is not a valid excuse for your lack of timeliness).

Yes, it's big. No, it's not that big. It's bigger.
Seriously, though. Almost every TCK has what I call the "Cereal Aisle Moment" when they just stop and gawk as the gross extravagance, amount, and variety of food on the shelves. (and yes, it's almost always the cereal aisle that does it. So many types of cereal...)

Many Americans are wasteful. I still remember the first time I saw someone simply throwing leftovers away. I was visiting someone's house for dinner and they were clearing the table. I just stood there, flabbergasted that people would just waste what could be another day's meal. As a waiter, I've become slightly desensitised, but it still catches me off guard.

It's often more than just a few crumbs, too
Americans can't spell. Seriously, how hard is it to spell colour, flavour, theatre, centre, or favourite?

People are different. I mean, it goes without saying, but it's true. whether they're white, Asian, Black, Indian, etc., they're different. If you're used to Danes, be prepared to be surprised by white Americans, especially if they have Danish last names - they're not Danish; they're American. 

Following that, cultures are different. 

Food is different. While the gastronomic preference of America is indeed shifting, it is nothing like that of West Africa, Central America, South Asia, etc. If you want authentic food, move to a big city and look for pockets of immigrants - they'll tell you where to go.

Americans don't all sound like Larry the Cable Guy.

Lastly (for now), guns. Many Americans own guns and will vehemently fight for their right to do so. Stand your ground laws still exist as do castle doctrine laws. So, if you're from militantly unpeaceful areas of the world or are from areas which frown on gun ownership, don't be afraid or alarmed. Actually, you can rest slightly easier as, depending on who you ask, stand your ground laws contribute to a lower incidence of murder and armed assault.

So, yes, Americaland is a strange place, but it can also be very fun and exciting. It just takes some preparation and a bit of good humour.

For suggestions and tips on navigating your reintegration, read part 2