Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not an American

I knocked at her door. We had only ten minutes. She opened it.

"Are you ready to go?" I asked.

"Oh, I am about ready."

"We have only ten minutes till choir practice!"

"Oh...I forgot - you are American. Time is gold to Americans. Not so in [my country]."

We walk down-stairs and out into the evening cool.

"But Sarah, you are not really an American."

"You're right..."I stammered startled.

"You do not have America culture. It seems like you have your own culture. But you are not really an American. You are more like [my country] than America. But you are not all like my country either. You should come - you might like it. But you make a culture all to yourself."

"It is true," I admitted. "I was born in America, but I do not belong to American culture." I do not know the songs. I don't recognize the names of movies, tv shows, actors, singers. I don't know the slang. I don't even know how to act "blonde" or how to flirt. I truly can't pull off even pretending those personalities: I've tried.
I've always felt out of the loop. I do know some things, but what I know doesn't match what everybody else knows. I don't fit in.
And I refuse to fit in with some things. I live by certain standards that I will not compromise.
But there is adiaphora I would like to understand. I'd like to know what my fellows are refering to when they speak of music and art and movies and drama.
I'm the child who loves to talk to adults instead of children. The child who'd rather ask questions just to hear the elder's talk than eat candy or watch a cartoon. I'm the second grade child to whom the school librarian gave permission to enter the highschool section of the library because she'd read all the biographies in the elementary section. I'm the child who scratched rubber marks off the gym floor to earn the teacher's attention because she didn't want to paint nails with the other girls and learn about every new crush. I'm the child who always was "It" when the class played T.V. tag because the only show I ever watched was CRI's "Creation Network".

Then came a happier social season. 4H gave me a framework for interaction geared toward accomplishing a worthwile goal and producing a product. I mastered the language, the red tape, the methods, the business of it. I could talk to any child, youth, adult using the language of goats, barns, manure, pitchforks, shaving, milking, breeding, and butchers. Then as I joined the Teen Service Club, I gained the language and social framework of business and service. I interacted and socialized to my heart's content.

Homeschooling allowed me to choose my social peers. I could invite and visit friends who thought like me. I participated in events and co-operatives with youth who at least shared or understood my vocabulary even if they themselves belonged to the wider cultural group.

And church - church is where I know I belong even when I feel worse than the dust I from whence I was taken. At Emmaus, I know that what I say theologically will be understood even if it is wrong and merits a correction. I share a vocabulary there too. I have come to at least partially understand an existing social framework.

But now....Now 4H is gone. Now Homeschooling days are over. Now I come to church only on Sundays and that to soak up as much orthodox teaching as I can before plunging back into the sea of "emerging adults" seeking to "find truth for themselves".

In other words, I am cast back to the American social-cultural system. And I stick out like a sore thumb.
"You've never heard of the Jonas brothers?" a friend asks in shocked disbelief as I try to figure out whether this new phenomenon is movie, book, music, T.V. star or other.
I fooled myself to believe that I'd catch on - that I'd figure out American pop culture and slang pretty quickly. But I can't learn in a few weeks the things my peers have been immersed in before they even came home from the Labor and Delivery ward. And I wonder, "Why should I try to learn these things?"
I guess I try to learn new things if they are important to me. Things become important to me if I care about them, or if they are important to someone I care about. I guess that is the reason I make a vague attempt to acquire some vague knowledge of pop culture. But pop culture doesn't appeal to me. I don't know why I should be giggly and talk about every guy who casts a glance my way. I don't like to talk about how something is "sexy" or the clothes that are "in". That vocabulary doesn't have any meaning to me. I don't have time to watch every movie on the planet or listen to everybody's music. So I try to keep quiet and try not to trip over my tongue.
That is why I eat dinner with the group of multicultural/international students when I can. They don't quite fit into the culture either, though they often understand American culture better than I do. We can all be our own different selves without rubbing anyone's feathers the wrong way. And we do, at least I do, very much enjoy being together and free to be goofy and make mistakes knowing that everyone will only love you more for being different than the surrounding culture.

I'm not sorry I don't understand American culture. I only had so much time to learn and what I learned in my few years I would not trade for the world.
I had parents who actually engaged me in discussion and debate. I learned to care for living creatures. I read every book I could get my hands on and by doing so, learned to write. I learned to work in the dirt with my hands and take pleasure in that work. I learned to think. I learned diplomacy and patience. I gained a firm grounding in science, mathematics, history - what is.

But now I'm out in the world and I'm different enough that people notice. There's no problem in being different. But sometimes, you get lonely for someone to be different in the same ways you are different. At the very least, you want someone to listen to and challenge the reasons why you are different.
I get the feeling that most of the outward "different-ness" of people is just for fun or on a whim. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about idea or worldview different-ness. Sometimes outward different-ness stems from idea different-ness. That is the different-ness that I'm refering to.

Anyway, I'll never belong to American culture. My international friend is right about that. I do have my own culture. But a culture of one is a pretty lonely culture to live in. I am working on entering into the wider culture while still retaining my own - a interesting balancing act. It's a little painful. I'm not sure I want to be other than I am.

In a way, I've become more like a child here at school than I ever dared to be at home. At home, I tried to put on the responsible-eldest-sibling-interacting-with-adults hat. But here, I sing in the shower, hop down stairs in bounces, twirl in the breeze, and tease, joke, and laugh like a baby with the dinner group.

And I'm very sorry, but I can't think of an appropriate conclusion. This isn't blog-quality, but I'm going to post it anyway because I need to. Don't understand? That's O.K. You don't have to.


Ninja Master Nick-Ig said...

I didn't know who the Jonas Brothers were until someone said something about them on MH. I still don't know anything about them besides they're singers. I think that your own culture is a very good culture there are many things about the American culture that are not that great. Even though I probably watch more movies listen to more music and stuff then you I am still the "odd kid" in my scout troop. Everyone else goes to public school and think that I am crazy to read a book over 200 pages long for fun. That i actually volunteer to cook at the camp outs. Besides the fact that I am the only one that is home schooled they all go to the same schools I think that all the scouts are separated into three different schools so they all know each other. I am the only one that has more then three siblings, I am the only on the is Lutheran, and i am the only one that doesn't spend the meetings playing with cell phones. Oh and what do they do with the cell phones? They call each other while they are in the same room just to waste time and be funny, but it isn't just scouts that act this way most of the public school community are really different from me. Basically what I am saying is that all home schoolers have their own separate culture, and even though it means we are the "odd" ones I like our culture better

Nat said...

One thing I've inadvertently found to be helpful is to indulge in your oddness. It tends to alienate all except those who are themselves a bit odd, or teachers. On my first day of orientation another student guessed that I was homeschooled on the basis of my hat - "Homeschoolers wear weird clothes," he stated simply. Hey, if the shoe fits.

Beyond that - you find what companionship you can. Over the course of my first few days here, several people went out of their way to sit by me or talk to me, as part of their process of getting to know people in an unfamiliar environment - but one guy did for another reason. He stopped next to me and introduced himself as the other English major in our block, which, it turns out, is about as good a start as one can hope for. Oh, we could talk about Tolkien and (Douglas) Adams and even Lewis, sure, but I was amazed to learn that we could go further into Twain, Arther Conan Doyle, and even G. K. Chesterton, and further that he is so far nearly the only person I have met who is familiar with The Man Who Was Thursday. When, in a conversation, I mentioned my fondness for Germany, he reflected that my descriptions were reminiscent of his own home country - Ecuador.

So, I can relate to the international and multi-cultural things, as well. And always with the adult thing. I seem to converse with teachers as much as with students, given the opportunity, and often (with females, at least) the students I find it most easy with whom to relate are the adult students. I'm not quite sure how that works.

This also doesn't have an ending, but luckily it's just comment, and doesn't need to be blog-quality. ;)

The Celebrated Author said...

You'll always be my sister in Christ and you'll fit in here. We love you here.