I Don’t Understand Americans

Went out for dinner last night and got onto the topic of a mutual friend’s family culture, and it’s maybe the first family that has sounded anything like what I understand and expect, and it’s so weird to them, and that’s so weird to me. I bet there’s a direct correlation between the number of people in nursing homes and the number of people who kick their kids out when they turn 18.

Do you ever walk into a room and kind of linger at the edge because you don’t understand what they’re talking about? You know that rising wave of panic on the first day of a class when the professor starts talking about all the stuff you’re going to be learning, and you don’t even understand the name of the course? That’s how I feel all the time. I wasn’t wired with American culture. Sure, I’m legally American. When I didn’t live in America, that was the nationality I identified with. But now that I live here, I don’t really know what there is to identify with.

This extends to my concept of beauty. Beauty is a construct of the society you grow up in. Most of my idea of beauty has to do with how clear your skin is. I associate pale skin with wealth because it means you didn’t have to work outside. My concept of beauty doesn’t include that hourglass figure obsession. It doesn’t include that Martian tan. I’m easily impressed by colored eyes because everyone I grew up with (including my mother) had brown eyes. I was probably 9 or 10 the first time I saw blue eyes (that I remember).

And speaking of beautiful eyes, I don’t understand why you can’t genuinely compliment people (or for that matter why no one can take a sincere compliment, but that’s not just Americans). I think it’s weird that if you tell an American they have nice eyes, they think they’re being hit on. It’s frustrating because I write in English, but I see my story in Japanese (I apparently have no idea what English-speakers think is romantic, because hey, that’s yet another thing I have a non-American concept of). Even though I just celebrated my tenth anniversary of moving to the States, I’m still impressed by blue eyes. I’m still offended by shoes on carpet. I still think in partial Japanese. I still don’t understand why Americans think there are no colors but black and white. I don’t understand why your politicians and your lawyers are mostly liars and why your public transportation sucks. I don’t understand why you are so very determined to voice your opinions when in the grand scheme of things, do individual opinions even matter? Does it matter if people disagree with you? Isn’t the whole point of America freedom? Freedom of religion and opinion and freedom to disrespect your parents and throw away half your food.

Here’s my real problem: I’m not Japanese either. One of my coworkers was telling me about something called the third culture, which is when you grow up in a culture that isn’t yours and consequently you don’t grow up in the culture you and your family is identified with, but because you grew up in that second culture, when you return to the original culture, it’s not your culture either. And so you live between the worlds, always looking in and never understanding.


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