Saturday, October 18, 2008

Signs That You're A Stranger in Your Own Country

I've heard that American-born Chinese call themselves “bananas” or “Twinkies” - yellow on the outside, white on the inside. So what do you call a white girl who's been living in China and thinks she's Chinese? What's white on the outside and yellow on the inside – an egg? That's kind of what I feel like right now as I'm trying to get used to American life again. I may look like I belong here, but I feel like a foreigner. If you've ever lived outside of your home country for an extended period of time, you may understand.

Here are a few signs that you may be a stranger in your own country:

1. You try to pay the exact price marked on products in the store, forgetting that this is the country of sales tax.

2. You forget to leave a tip in restaurants, because in the country where you've been living there is no tipping.

3. You haven't driven in so long, your drivers' license is expired.

4. Your driver's license has been expired so long that you have to re-take the test at the DMV.

5. You drive 35 mph on a 55 mph interstate and it seems really fast.

6. You have to think for a few seconds about what language to answer the phone in.

7. Little words like “thank you,” “excuse me,” and “you're welcome” keep coming out in the wrong language.

8. A trip to the supermarket is overwhelming, and simple things like choosing a bottle of shampoo from the myriad of options takes about 10 minutes!

9. You find yourself staring at all the “foreigners” everywhere (people who look like you!).

10. You eavesdrop on people's conversations in public places, because everyone is speaking ENGLISH!

11. You have the wrong currency in your wallet, and the cashier is not amused.

12. Explaining where you live and why and what you're doing here takes way too long, so you start avoiding the questions.

13. Filling people in on where your family is and what they're doing creates a lot of blank, incredulous stares. (“Well, my parents moved back to the US from Costa Rica, my brother Daniel is here from Argentina, my brother Michael is currently in Korea and China, but he's living in LA, Steve lives in DC but just got back from the Middle East...”)

14. You stare at the “home address” and “home phone” lines on application forms and registration forms, not knowing what address to put, and knowing that if you tried to put your real home address (in China), it would probably not be accepted (it would have to be in Chinese characters, which is especially complicated if you're filling things out online), and whatever was being mailed to you would probably never arrive. So you try to remember which address you used last time, to try to keep it a little consistent: “Was it Dad's work address? Was it my cousin's address? Was it Steve's address in DC? Or Grandma's address in Texas? Or was it our old home address in Va Bch, where my family doesn't live anymore...???”

15. You insist on walking to the nearest supermarket, because you don't have a car of your own yet and that's what you always do in China... Then you're frustrated by the lack of good sidewalks, the stares from people zipping by in their cars, and the distance that doesn't seem very far when you're driving but takes MUCH longer than expected when walking – because NOBODY walks to the store here!

16. You get all excited seeing Asian faces in the local Chinese take-out place and can't wait to try out your Mandarin, only to be received by blank stares and “We're from Vietnam.”