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Monday, August 16, 2010

25 years and counting

Last weekend I welcomed my 25th year in the United States. It was midnight. I was sitting in the parking lot of a gas station right off highway 46, next to my Thai friend, hoping the men who stopped to refuel and buy snacks at the well-lit Foodmart would not notice the two women resting in the parked car. My friend fell asleep almost right away and I tried to sort out what it meant to live 25 years in the United States.

25 years. That sounds like a very long time.

After 25 years in this country, I still mop the floor the Israeli way. With a squeegee and with water, not that abominable moppy thingy that spreads the dust and hair and crumbs around and makes the floor even scummier. I still eat shkedei marak right out of the box, pour them into my mouth like beer. I never got used to the obscene American cucumbers and was utterly happy when the first normal cucumbers showed up in my produce store and then at Trader Joe's. Why they call them Persian cucumbers is beyond me, but I don't want to mess up with Ahmadinejad, nuclear bombs and all, so I let them call my cucumbers "Persian."

I like hard-boiled-egg sandwich with tomato and green olives even for dinner, just like in the kibbutz. Not much has changed in this department. I also never got used to drenching my food in ketchup and I shudder in horror every time my daughter covers her fried potatoes in this red goo. I never got used to eating cold cereal in the morning, or drinking soda instead of water, or eating left-over cold pizza for breakfast.

I once said that in order to become a true American I needed to do two things: I had to make out in the back seat of a car at least once, and learn to order something to eat in a fast food joint without looking at the menu. I am sorry to say that even today, 25 years later, I still don't qualify. I never eat fast food, and making out in a car... well, the jury is still out on this one.

I did learn to drive and be polite to strangers. As many of you already know, Israelis don't dwell on the small things like saying thank you and please or wait for their turn to speak. I learned to do it the hard way. Shortly after I came to the States I started waiting tables in a popular 50s style diner. One day the manager called me into her office and told me someone had complained that I was rude to them and that she was going to suspend me. I asked her to describe the offense and when she finished, I told her that it was probably not me because it simply didn't ring a bell. She refused to believe me. When the story became public, one of the Irish servers confessed to the misdeed. When I asked the manager why she assumed it was me she said, "Well, they said the server had an accent and was rude, who else could it be?" Truth be told, I have not perfected my American manners, yet, but I am improving, and maybe in 25 years I'll be almost there.

I am sure there is a lot of Israeli left in me even after all these years. It is not something I can dispose off, like a moldy shower curtain or an old pair of shoes, as they say. Those Israeli traits follow me everywhere, giving me an added edge and a different perspective on things whether I want to or not. Sometimes they get me in trouble, rarely do they open a door. Cultural differences are very difficult to bridge, even for the most conscientious and keen observer of human behavior. There are so many subtle nuances, shades of white and black and gray. Being an American is a life-long learning process. Sometimes I get a good grade, sometimes I am very mediocre. My only hope is that I don't fail too many times.


  1. You've been 100% American for a long time! L'fi daati, being American does not mean loving mayonnaise and ketchup and constantly putting on a front of false sincerity labeled "politeness". Millions upon millions of true Americans have accents and cling lovingly to cultural habits that don't fit the bland status quo! There is nothing more American than making a life here as an immigrant, and who wants to fit the mold anyway? FOX news is full of adherents to that idea, don't try to get a good grade!!

  2. While there is a lot of truth in the comment above, not wanting to fail the text means that I wish not be seen as the odd outsider 24/7. Sometimes it'e nice to just fit in, whatever the situation is, even if for a very fleeting moment.