One of the strangest experiences of my life was when I couldn’t tell if someone I was speaking to had an American or an English accent. I mean I have an American accent and was born in the good old U.S. of A. and I know that almost everyone around me in England has an English accent. I know this much and yet it felt like my brain was short circuiting.
This was not the first time I’ve had a cultural blackout either.
Recently, when I was back home on the east coast for Thanksgiving I noticed that there were more than a few pop cultural references and happenings that I didn’t recognize. Even more so, I was talking with friends and family about “adult” things like insurance and housing prices and the job market in the US and at first I felt like an idiot with my lack of solid information to contribute to the conversation.
As I sat listening to why the country was going down the drain at the traditional Thanksgiving feast, I racked my brain and scolded myself for not keeping up on these essential parts to “adult life” and then it dawned on me again.
My lack of “adult” knowledge wasn’t just because I read comics and play video games more than I should , nor was it because I was delaying growing up and learning about fiscal responsibility; rather it goes back to the fact that I moved to the UK at 21 and never had to learn how to live in the US.
I am an American who has no clue how to survive in America.
This is a topic that Bill Bryson wrote an entire book on, so I’ll leave my experience with being puzzled by both my country of birth’s culture and foreign ones to these few hundred words.
When I started driving in the UK it was quite confusing when no one else was on the road at first and then a car would appear on “the wrong side of the road” in the distance when a car was on the left I thought they were coming straight at me and now the same thing happens when I go home to Connecticut and drive around the old neighbourhood.
One of my philosophy professors in college once said that the person who speaks many languages no longer has a first language. The same can be said for one’s cultural frame of mind too. At first I thought this was a bit strange because the first language you speak is always your ‘first’ language, but I don’t think you lose your first culture or language in these cases.
A more accurate description of this cultural nomad is, a person that adapts and integrates rather than settles or inhabits. People who learn a second language create there own dialect with each, just as an expatriate does with there living habits as they move across the border
The one thing that I can say, for sure, about living in a foreign land is that it has taught me more than I could ever imagine about my own country, even though I’m still unsure how to rent an apartment in it.