Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Going off the beaten path to adjust in a new country

Last year, just before packing my whole life in two blue suitcases and moving from an ex-communist European country to the cosmopolitan city of Chicago, I did what most people would do. Opened my browser and type in “How to adjust to a new culture”. Thanks to some handy tips from Chicago bloggers, I prided myself on knowing both the good and the ugly about my soon-to-be home country. Yet, I was still clueless about how to immerse into the actual cultural American habits.

According to journalists, academics or just regular immigrants from all around the world, in order to fit in America, I had to make local friends, try new foods and learn all about my surroundings.  Later, I realized, they had left out something paramount for anyone who seeks to grasp the habits of a new country. Embracing the quirks - or what foreigners usually see as hiccups - of this society could possibly be the cornerstone of successful relocation. It made me feel like I belong, which in return paved the way for friendships and job offers.

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The first habit my husband and I swore not adopt from our fellow Americans, happened to provide a bonding experience with them once we caved in: hanging out at fast food restaurants.  Sipping a small coffee at McDonalds, every other day on my way to work, helped me let go of many unfair labels I had attached to my fellow residents. 

One of the perks of growing up in a poor country is eating more of what grows out of the ground. Hamburgers were actually an expensive treat from where I came from, so we turned to veggies and fruits as our main source of food. 

But the situation would be much different if I would have spent my entire life in a place where fast food restaurants are as ubiquitous as grass. I started looking past the overweight bodies waiting at the front counter and I saw a different picture. People who don't know differently or don't have time and money to find better ways of nourishment. I noticed people like me, who stretched their coffee as long as they could, in an attempt to warm up while waiting for the bus. Or immigrant couples giggling with their kids over what could literally be the only happy meal of the week. These fast food places are no doubt, harming their physical health. But avoiding them, might rob newcomers of a great sense of social acceptance.

The same thinking applies to yoga pants. “Lazy” and “sloppy” were popping into my mind when I saw women wearing them basically everywhere. That was before I entered the workforce. Being a part-time server meant I had to be comfortable with throwing my clothes away after my laundry detergent could no longer remove the three cheese soup or ranch dressing stains. Or that I would need to move like Speedy Gonzales for hours on end. The last thing I wanted was to have a waistband digging into my muffin top. Stretchy, dark-colored and cheap, these pants have now become an essential piece of my daily wardrobe. 

Every night, they are replaced with sweatpants, as my husband and I plop down  in front of the computer and proceed to do another thing ranked high in “Top Ten Worst American Habits”: binge-watching Netflix. This one, we don’t do it to blend in. We just like it.

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