Where was I?
Ah! Yes, I managed to get my way back to my apartment and as if a veil had lifted I immediately started figuring out streets, addresses and where to pick up a cab, bus or train. I have since traveled to different American cities (Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Oakland…) and I am comfortable in all of them. Last week I got a friend, who was visiting from Los Angeles, on a train. We traveled to three cities in the Bay Area in Northern California i.e., Dublin, Richmond and Pleasanton.
It was this latter remark that made me reflect about my own life as events raced like a film running in fast-forward review. I also noticed the three long haired young girls speaking animatedly with three other boys. All were in their late teens or late tweens. I caught parts of their conversations and heard “………Kamusta……….Salamat…………nognog.” This last one must have peeked my ears. When I next heard it, I immediately looked at the three boys for reaction.
None showed any outward sign of reprehension or bitterness. In fact they also spoke fluently in Tagalog (a major language in the Philippines). I later knew that they were children of US Army officers stationed in the Philippines and were in the U.S. on vacation. Behind our seat were four pairs of mixed white, Asian and black couples who it was clear were long time friends. They had tagged luggage and perhaps were so tired after a long flight. They were coming from the San Francisco Airport and I imagined they were looking forward to one, two, three days of sleep. May be.
I caught parts of what they were saying: “…………I’m going to say this right off the bat………………….I will bite the bullet and be your first……………………..home stretch….…” This reminded me of the subtleties that textbooks on America don’t say about American people. Hollywood only paints a picture of villains vanquished by the good.
But…….the tossed salad version is different. The street level America calls for reaching out and negotiate how to share space with others. It means noticing nuances. One has to have appropriate intercultural competences or learn them very fast. The expectations of one’s task role or relational role behaviors must be spot on. Text books nor Hollywood can teach these unless one gets to interface with Americans blunders, sorry's and thank you's to boot.