Friday, November 28, 2008

An unscientific poll

Stinking Billy asked me a question, and not knowing the answer, I thought I'd ask my expat Brit readers who live in the US to help. I made a poll, but if you read this blog via RSS reader it probably doesn't show up so, if you haven't already, can you actually visit the blog and pick an answer? Thanks! If you're feeling really bored, you could explain your answer in the comments.

I've already (at least partially) answered him via my response to his original comment - I'm Accidentally Almost American.

Becoming American part 3

Born to Indian parents in London and raised in Rhode Island, author Jhumpa Lahiri spoke in her interview on NPR about becoming American of a "sort of a half-way feeling [of being American]."

Like me, she is a US citizen who does not always feel American. She seems to have struggled with this over her 40 years in the US, particularly with the idea that her parents stood out as not American despite the fact they did have American passports. They never socialized easily with her friends' parents.

"I think this was a two-way street. It wasn't just that they were afraid or unwilling — there was a fear, an unwillingness on both sides."
As a white immigrant, with an English accent rather than a foreign language accent, I have had less difficulty fitting in than many immigrants to the US. Some people seem to put me in a different category than the more obviously foreign newcomers to the US. One person, mid-rant about how all immigrants should be sent home, paused to say, "Not you of course, you're different." The irony was her grandparents immigrated from Poland! It is important to remember that assimilation IS a two-way street. I fit in partly because it is assumed I will. I listen to comments made about some of the immigrants I come into contact with through my work, and am amazed that people see them as so different just because they don't speak English well - and then they wonder why these immigrants don't assimilate better?! 'Black' president or not, we have along way to go in learning tolerance!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving in New England

One advantage of celebrating Thanksgiving in New England as opposed to some other areas of the United States is that once the fridge is full, the garage can become a walk-in fridge.

At least this time it all went on a table instead of on the steps!

Becoming American part 2

Joseph O'Neil was the second author interviewed for NPR's series on Becoming American. He talked of how the decision to emigrate has become much less decisive than it was. I think he was comparing immigration today to the waves of Irish immigration in the past when those who left knew they were unlikely ever to return to their homeland, when he says that nowadays:
"You can go backwards and forwards as much as you like, subject to legal and financial restrictions. And you can stay in touch with everyone back home. You can read their blogs, you can speak to them on the phone."
You don't have to go that far back though - even 20 years ago it was a very different experience than it is today. Phone calls home cost dollars per minute instead of cents, there was no such thing as the Internet yet (as far as the general public was concerned anyway) and blogging certainly hadn't been invented. The experience must be very different for a new immigrant (or even an exchange student) in any country than it was for those of us who moved pre-Internet and cheap phone calls! I wonder if it doesn't have the potential for worsening culture shock in some respects because it allows you to cling to home? Or maybe for some it lessens the disorientation because you don't have that shock, like jumping into cold water, of being completely immersed in the foreign culture?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I loved the very first Thanksgiving I ever experienced. I was living in a dorm (hall of residence) and was staying there over the long weekend. It was the only dorm on campus that catered specifically to international and graduate students, and as such was the only one that did not close for vacations. It emptied out though. Even many of the international students who had no family or friends in the US to visit chose to travel for those few days. A few of us remained behind and we planned a Thanksgiving lunch.

Sometime in the morning we congregated in the area outside the tiny kitchen and started to get our feast ready. We had the most enormous turkey. It would probably have fed 15 or 20 people but there were (to the best of my recollection) only 6 of us, none of whom had ever cooked a turkey before. Somewhere I have a photo of Andy determinedly shoving every last ounce of a very large quantity of stuffing into the bird. It didn't occur to any of us until sometime after lunch that the turkey was not going to be cooked until sometime in the early evening. Ah well - not to worry - we had snacks and beer and we had nowhere else to be! We sat around all day chatting. I seem to remember some homework being finished. In the mid afternoon it began to snow for the first time that winter just as Andy and Sarah headed outside with some scissors and attacked some of the campus evergreens to get some greenery for a centerpiece for the table. I think we even had candles on the table when we finally sat down to eat - strictly against the rules of course, but there was no one around to stop us!

Of course we ended up with enough food for several days, especially as we decided to make soup with the turkey carcass. None of the campus dining rooms was open and it was much more convenient to keep eating turkey than to go out shopping again or go to a restaurant. (Back then I still hadn't mastered the concept of calling for pizza!)

All in all, it was an extremely pleasant day. Some of my later Thanksgivings were not so relaxed. I eventually got fed up of people inviting me over "because you can't be alone on Thanksgiving!" It felt like people who celebrate Christmas not understanding that some people don't and not realizing that because non-Christians don't celebrate Christmas they're really don't care whether they spend the day in a special way or not. I remember choosing to be alone on at least one Thanksgiving because it was just easier. I remember one Thanksgiving spent with other non-Americans and us all laughing together at how all the Americans we knew had been so concerned that we might be on our own on such a 'special' day that meant nothing to us.

Nowadays, I enjoy Thanksgiving again, and not just because we get a couple of days off work! It's also nice to spend time with family, some of whom we don't get to see very often. Although the children never had a chance to meet their great-grandparents, they have a great-aunt and uncle and a great-great aunt who will be spending the day with us. Of course not everyone can make it, and this will be the first Thanksgiving since my mother-in-law died, so we will make a point of thinking of those who are not with us.

I finally understand now the willingness of Americans to open their homes to me at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, but it is an American holiday. It means more to Americans of course than non-Americans, but it's a holiday everyone can enjoy. It's a good excuse to spend extra time with family and friends, to take stock of our lives and of course to be thankful for what we have. This year we made a point of asking a friend of ours who we thought would be on his own if he would like to join us. It wasn't so much that we were horrified that he might be alone on Thanksgiving, but more the attitude that if he wasn't going somewhere else we'd love to spend some extra time with him! Looking back, I'm sure that some of the invitations I received were made with similar motivations that I perhaps misinterpreted. Ah well, that's the nature of cross-cultural communication!

I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving whether you're celebrating it or not. If you're not - take a moment to count your blessings anyway! You don't have to be American to do that, and it's a good thing to do from time to time!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Becoming American

During this week of Thanksgiving — the most American of holidays — National Public Radio is spending time thinking about what it means to become an American in a 3 part series of interviews with noted authors who've written about newcomers to the United States.The first is Junot Diaz who immigrated from the Dominican Republic at age 6.
"Feeling like an outsider at a young age made Diaz become a "fanatic" for his home country.

"I don't think that I ever would have thought so fondly of Santo Domingo had I stayed there my whole life," he says."

You can hear the interview here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cultural knowledge

When DD asked yet again this year what they eat in England for Thanksgiving, I realized we have been failing miserably to teach her about both her cultures. It was brought home to me even more when I realized after reading Daffodilly's post about Bonfire Night, that my children have absolutely no idea what it is! Sadly, our children are really not bi-cultural at all, though they don't go quite as far as chanting that "England is evil." (Well, they haven't yet, but it's a while since we've been back there - DS really doesn't remember the UK at all at this point!)

Perhaps one day I will have to make good on my threat to send them to live with their cousins in England for a year or so . . .

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How do you want that?

It took me years to feel comfortable ordering a sandwich here in the US. I hated being asked "How do you want that?"

Umm - you mean I have choices? Which one of several kinds of bread? Toasted or not?

"And what do you want on it?"

Oh no, MORE choices! Mayonnaise, or oil and vinegar? Onions? Pickles? Tomatoes? Lettuce? Hot peppers? And on and on . . . it was just too much work. Oh, to be in the UK where I just had to decide which one of the prepackaged sandwiches I wanted. (Usually chicken tikka just because I never see it in the US!)

Eventually, I simply resorted to a sandwich that does not require choices to be made except whether I want fries with it - the tzatziki chicken gyro.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Scary pumpkins

DD commented as we walked out of the house today, "Mom, the pumpkins are looking really scary today."
Scary? Today, but not yesterday? In broad daylight? I didn't understand at first, but that's because I wasn't looking at the pumpkins . . . when I did, I saw what she meant.

They were beginning to go mouldy:

And one was beginning to ooze and collapse - those horizontal wrinkles weren't there yesterday:
Apparently it's not been cold enough recently - with unseasonably warm temperatures over the last week (in the 60s at times during the day), the pumpkins were beginning to rot already. Given what I paid for them and what a short time they lasted, the ceramic pumpkins I've seen on sale are beginning to look like an excellent bargain in comparison. Of course, the ceramic ones wouldn't be as much fun to prepare each year . . .

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


The polls have not yet closed in my state, yet Yahoo's state-by state results map shows that 3% of precincts have already reported their results, and that Obama "has won" in this state. Well, yes, in this state he probably has - but it just seems so wrong for them to be announcing 'results' before the polls have even closed in this state, let alone out west!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Letter to the tooth fairy

The tooth fairy doesn't have to bring her pliers to our house! In the last week, the tooth fairy has paid us two visits, and she'll be back again tonight. DS lost his two top middle teeth - so now he actually has an excuse for his inability to say the sound 's'! One of his teeth was so appallingly wiggly that when I tried to straighten it in DS's mouth, (so it wasn't sticking out at a 90 degree angle!) it came out with no effort on my part. The other came out a couple of days later when DD kicked him in the face. She was sitting on the couch and he was crawling on the floor by her feet annoying her, so I'm pretty sure the kick in the face was as much his fault as hers. "Well, if you hadn't put your face next to her feet, she wouldn't have been able to kick it, would she?!!!" Yeah, yeah, I'm an unsympathetic mother!

Just yesterday DD discovered that one of her teeth was wiggly too. She kept asking when it was going to come out, and I had to tell her that it looked as though it would be a few days yet. However, shortly after I sent her to bed tonight, she reappeared downstairs - bloody tooth in hand, and gum bleeding profusely! She went back to bed quite happily though, leaving the tooth with me so I could clean it up before putting it next to her bed for the tooth fairy. I just went upstairs to do that and found that she had written her tooth fairy a note:
Dear Pearl,
Do you know my brothers tooth fariy if you do could you wright it hear __________ (signuture)
I would like a picture of you to if you could

PS I forced the tooth out.
One of DD's friends found out that her tooth fairy was called Pearl, and what do you know, when DD asked, she found out that her tooth fairy is called Pearl too! I suspect DS has the same tooth fairy as his sister. (I'm too tired tonight to be creative!)
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