The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

(Op-Ed) From a Different Perspective – The American Life

Photo: Nick McAdam

When you move to a new country, you expect change. If you’re doing it willingly, you’re probably seeking change. Either way, you’re prepared for things to be completely different from your norm.

I knew I’d be driving on the other side of the road; I knew the culture would be vastly different, and, moving from South Africa, I really thought the internet speed would be better. There are little things, though, that people would never think to expect. They’re not exactly life-altering problems, but more small, daily inconveniences that you never thought to prepare yourself for.

Since I moved to the US, I have fallen down infinite flights of stairs. I slid down an entire flight for long enough that when my host family heard the initial thud, they had enough time to get there to see the grand finale as I thudded solidly onto the landing. I’ve fallen up a flight of stairs, which resulted in me falling right back down it.

I’ve fallen down a flight of stairs with a birthday cake in my hands. I’d spent
hours on the cake, baking and decorating. Fortunately, by then, I was good enough at falling down stairs that I managed to save the cake.

I fell down so many flights of stairs that falling down stairs became what I was known for. “You know, Hannah? The one that falls downstairs a lot?” The fact that I fell down stairs was a big enough thing about me that it even made it into my Tinder bio.

So, when I fell down the stairs on a first date, he caught me by the arm, looked at me, and went “Oh, you weren’t kidding. I thought it was some quirky joke.”

In one year in America, I fell down more flights of stairs than I did in 19 years in South Africa. What does this have to do with unexpected differences? Well, I will always maintain that the stairs in America are just slightly narrower than the stairs I am used to. There’s not a big enough difference that it affects anything structurally, but that quarter-inch of change is just enough to make sure I never quite have my balance.

I never expected language to be an issue either. I chose the United States because my first language is English and I figured it’d be easier to adapt to a new culture if there wasn’t a language barrier to conquer at the same time.

So, imagine my shock the first time I went to a grocery store with a shopping list provided by my host mother, and I didn’t understand a single word on it. I stood blankly in the produce section staring between the list, the vegetables and the fruits in front of me. I eventually called my mom in a panic to ask what butternut squash was.

I’d never heard of anyone calling a butternut a “butternut squash”. I stood in front of a bin labeled “yams” and asked an employee where I could find the sweet potatoes. He looked at me, then at the bin, back at me, and just pointed.

In South Africa, a yam is not a sweet potato. We call tangerines “naartjies”, eggplants are “brinjal”, and zucchini is a “baby marrow”.

And then there was the driving. I’d anticipated the issue of navigating a new place on the opposite side of the road to what I was used to. I definitely found myself driving on the wrong side of the road once or twice, but I outgrew that.

What I never realized was how much the side of the road you drive on affects everyday life, too. It affects what door you use to go in and which one you leave from in a store. It affects walking patterns. I walk on my left side of the path, while the average American walks on their right.

This means I bump into a lot of people, and when I do, I instinctively step the opposite way to what another American would, which results in those cartoon-like run-ins where we keep moving the same way and nobody passes and we both feel like idiots and everyone is just chuckling nervously.

After three years, I still wait for whomever else I’m driving with to get in the car first so I don’t mess up and enter the wrong side. I still occasionally bump into people on the sidewalk, and I still stumble on the stairs every now and then.

The internet is exactly the same as it is back home. But I know the American
names of most fruits and vegetables, and I haven’t outright fallen down a flight of stairs in at least one year.

I guess I’m finally adapting to American life.

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