For me, immigrating to America, and learning to live life the American way has been one very interesting adventure. Having lived seven years in Europe (United Kingdom) before moving here, I thought the transition would be seamless; after all, both countries share pretty much the same values, and speak the same language- right? Oh, how wrong I was. I have experienced several episodes of culture shock, and had plenty of learning moments, that after six years in America, though I am still learning (there is a lot to learn!), I do not feel like such an outsider anymore. At work I still find myself asking my colleagues questions they would initially consider ridiculous, and often reply with statements like: “you mean you do not know….”. I would always humbly and calmly remind them that I am an immigrant, and several cultural nuances are lost on me. I would also remind them that I am learning their way of life, and that it would take a while. After this gentle reminder, they would (without exception) explain the issue to me. But, I digress.
So, my first culture shock/ learning moment happened moments after I set foot on American soil, as I cleared Customs and Immigration. The last officer to check my papers waved me off with a cheerful, casual “Have a good one!” I cringed, thinking how awkward that was. In England, Italy, Germany, France, no border official had ever waved me off with a pleasant wish. I was ambivalent. It was nice of him to wish me well, but “have a good one?” A good what? What did that even mean? How rude was that?, I thought. I was later to learn that it was a standard farewell wish in America. Today, I happily wish folks ‘”a good one!”
I still hadn’t left the airport when I had my second lesson in the American way of life. I was hungry and jet lagged, so I walked over to a Subway stand at the airport. I ordered a tuna sandwich and a small Coke. The lady pulls out this humongous cup, and passes it to me with instructions on how to obtain my “small” Coke from the fountain. I was taken aback. I quickly reminded her that I ordered a small Coke, to which she replied “This is the small Coke, is this your first time in America?” The lady proceeds to show me the cup for the large Coke; it looked more like a vat to me than a cup. For me, lesson learned. It did not take me long to realize that everything is bigger on this side of the Atlantic.
I have worked my way through learning aspects of life here that have made integration easier for me. My wife and I learned the rules of American football so we could enjoy NFL games and the Super Bowl with friends. Our family quickly adopted the celebration of Thanksgiving, and I learned to oven roast and carve up a turkey for the occasion. Other things I have learned on my adventure include, taking the family to the city center to watch fireworks on July 4; my wife and I took a class in US History that gave us a better understanding of why politics in this great country works they way it does; learned to drive and parallel park a pickup truck; learned to host barbecues with friends and family on Memorial Day. I have also learned that when invited to a friend’s place for dinner or some other food- fest, you do not show up empty- handed. You can imagine the embarrassment I had to endure when I learned that the hard way.
In the culture that I grew up in Africa, we were taught to be very afraid of water. I came to America and realized that almost everyone knew how to swim; so guess what? I had to put aside decades of indoctrinated fear of water, and push myself, my wife and the kids into swimming class. We have all learned how to swim! Today my kids are winning trophies in competitions for their swim club. I have learned how to shoot a handgun, a rifle, and believe it or not, a bow and arrow. I have also become accustomed to leaving a tip for the valet or waiter. Next on the list, go fishing on the lake with my children. I could go on and on, but all things considered life here has been great.
Coming to America has been a life changing adventure for me and my family. I have watched my children slowly lose their British accent and acquire an American one. My view of the world has actually been changed, and so have my goals and aspirations. I suppose I had to recalibrate to match my environment. Most importantly, the adventure has been fun. Plenty of fun.
This video catalogs a list of tips that would have been very helpful to my 2011 self on what to expect upon arrival in America.Fun Facts About USA
Fun Facts about USA video from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89aEoIjzupk
Image of American Flag from http://www.researchhistory.org/2011/05/24/the-american-flag/
Image of McDonald’s Soda Cups from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2809810/Just-large-large-soda-McDonald-s-cup-sizes-vary-globe-biggest-U-S-30oz.html