ASK AMY

Ci­ti­zen still feels ‘cul­tur­ally dif­fer­ent’

Orlando Sentinel - - Puzzles - Askamy@amy­dick­in­son.com Twit­ter @ask­ingamy

Dear Amy: My fam­ily and I came to Amer­ica from the Soviet Union when I was a teenager. We be­came cit­i­zens. I got ed­u­cated here and own a suc­cess­ful busi­ness. I write well and speak cor­rectly, with al­most no ac­cent. I feel like I am an Amer­i­can.

I love Amer­ica and try to learn new things ev­ery day, but I feel like some­thing is miss­ing in me.

Since I was born and spent my for­ma­tive years in a com­mu­nist coun­try, my “au­topi­lot” re­ac­tions are not like those of typ­i­cal Amer­i­can-born peo­ple. For in­stance, my man­ners, top­ics of con­ver­sa­tion, hu­mor, dress, at­ti­tude to­ward money, and even body lan­guage some­time seem “for­eign.”

I feel like it is hurt­ing me to be “cul­tur­ally dif­fer­ent.” I don’t think I say or do any­thing straight-up of­fen­sive — it’s more like a lot of sub­tle lit­tle things.

How can I fix this “hand­i­cap?”

I would love to know how to be more Amer­i­can, but I can’t find any books or cour­ses on the sub­ject.

Dear Not: As we ap­proach the cel­e­bra­tion of an­other In­de­pen­dence Day, I ap­pre­ci­ate this un­usual and provoca­tive ques­tion, which, hon­estly, has no “cor­rect” answer.

First, I urge you not to see your own cul­tural back­ground and habits as a “hand­i­cap” but as an as­set.

Yes, Amer­ica is a coun­try. But Amer­ica is also re­ally a se­ries of con­cepts, ex­per­i­ments and ex­pe­ri­ences. It is no one thing.

But here is a beau­ti­ful “Amer­i­can” ideal: All Amer­i­cans have the right to be uniquely them­selves, and that in­cludes you.

How­ever, rein­ven­tion is baked into the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence, and so if you want to af­fect “Amer­i­can” man­ner­isms, I sug­gest you be­come a stu­dent of Amer­i­can cul­ture. Take a his­tory course at a com­mu­nity col­lege. Fol­low up with a class on cin­ema and pop­u­lar cul­ture. Read Mark Twain, Edith Whar­ton, Sher­man Alexie, Gary Shteyn­gart and Jeri­cho Brown. Lis­ten to Dolly Par­ton. Watch “Singing in the Rain,” “Good­fel­las,” “Bar­ber­shop,” “The 13th” and “Ramy.”

Teach English as a sec­ond lan­guage (teach­ing Amer­i­can con­cepts will show you how much you ac­tu­ally know). Work at your lo­cal polling sta­tion.

When you say or do some­thing you be­lieve is “off,” ask a friend to break it down for you. They might choose to tell you what I’m try­ing to tell you: That your ef­fort makes you the most “Amer­i­can” per­son they know.

Dear Amy: I’ve been mar­ried for two years. My hus­band has a dif­fi­cult time tak­ing my feel­ings into con­sid­er­a­tion. He of­ten ig­nores my calls and texts. He makes plans with his friends when my fam­ily has an event they have in­vited us to.

I am tired of this. Every­one else sees him as this “great guy,” but be­hind closed doors, he’s not so great. I don’t know what to do.

Dear Stuck: Your mar­riage is still young. You and your hus­band both en­tered the mar­riage with the knowl­edge you gleaned from your own par­ents. He might be recre­at­ing his fa­ther’s style, and you might carry your mother’s ex­pe­ri­ences and ex­pec­ta­tions about what mar­riage is sup­posed to be like.

Be­ing a good spouse is a learned ex­pe­ri­ence. Should you put one an­other first? Ab­so­lutely. But must he at­tend all of your fam­ily’s events? I hope not. There is room for ne­go­ti­a­tion and com­pro­mise.

When I was newly mar­ried, my most trea­sured wis­dom came from friends who have been mar­ried for decades. In that spirit, you and your hus­band might learn from read­ing “What Makes a Mar­riage Last: 40 Cel­e­brated Cou­ples Share with Us the Se­crets to a Happy Life,” by mar­ried power cou­ple Marlo Thomas and Phil Don­ahue (2020, Harper­One).

Dear Amy: You nailed your answer to “In a Cor­ner,” the hus­band who had fi­nally reached his limit with his al­co­holic wife.

I lived that story, and it was aw­ful.

Al-Anon gave me the strength to live in an al­co­holic mar­riage as long as I did. Then Al-Anon gave me the strength to leave.

Now I’m mar­ried to a won­der­ful woman and liv­ing the life I’m meant to. And I’m still go­ing to AlAnon — it works!

Dear John: Your own re­cov­ery!

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