Compiled by Han Bui and Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
There are a lot of hurdles that new immigrants face in the United States. Not only do most have to learn a new language, they also have to navigate through the complicated cultural differences. <!–more–>
In honor of American Independence Day, we asked some of our favorite Americans to share stories about their initial cultural struggles in a new country.
This is what they said.
When I first came to school here, I remember doing a presentation in front of my class, which was bad enough since I was a new student. In my presentation, I had to say the word peanuts, but because of my accent, it sounded like penis.
The whole class laughed at me.
It was horrible.
— Iris Chan
Carving the wind
In Vietnamese culture, we have a treatment called cao gio. When you get sick, flu or cold, you lie on your stomach and the “wind” gets “carved” out of you, in order for you to get better. You take some ointment, rub it on the back and take a spoon or coin, then scrape the skin along the spine and ribs until it’s very red.
One day, I got a call from my daughter’s teacher because she saw my daughter’s back. We talked on the phone, and I told her what it was, but she still wanted me to come in to the school and talk about it some more. So we had the meeting.
After some trouble and time, they finally believed that I wasn’t hurting my kids!
— Thy Pham
Feeding the birds
When my grandma lived in Laos, she fed food scraps to stray animals. This was a mentality she carried over to her life in America.
While people in America typically feed birds with a bird feeder, my grandma washed out an old tofu box and filled it with leftover grains: bits of bread or day-old rice.
My grandma would then dump out the tofu box’s contents on the sidewalk outside her apartment. Once she walked away from her ‘offering,’ the birds would descend on the feast like vultures. Sometimes, they ate everything. Other times, they didn’t.
It was ‘the times they didn’t’ that caught the eye of her landlord, who saw the uneaten food as an eyesore. Notices were distributed that tenants should desist from ‘leaving food on the streets.’ Nobody ever suspected that my grandma was the culprit.
My grandma had nothing but good intentions. But it was a hard concept for her to understand that, in America, food left outside is considered garbage — not food!
— Van Tran
Not on sale
When I was younger — and still a little bit now — I had to be a translator for my parents because their English is not great. Once, I was with my mom in a store at Southcenter Mall. There was a really cute bear that I wanted. I asked her if we could get two.
She wondered out loud if we could get a discount, since we were getting two. She told me to ask the clerk, but I said, “No, no! I can’t ask him that!” I was thinking, “We are in a store in a mall in America — we can’t just bargain down a price in the mall!”
I refused to ask.
My mom, frustrated with me, asked instead. To the clerk, she said, “Discount?”
And he gave her one!
— Serena Wu
Drinking and walking
My brother-in-law used to live a block away from my place. When he first came to the States, one hot summer day, he walked over to my place holding a can of beer in his hand, sipping and walking, happily and all.
He didn’t realize that it’s not legal to do that in America.
In Vietnam, you can carry a beer, sipping while driving, and nobody cares.
— Trang Nguyen
Answering nature’s call
Filipinos — mainly males — have a fondness for taking quick pees. I mean, guys just pee in a corner when nature calls. I’ve had some moments when I was in a public area in Seattle and I really needed to go.
And I went.
But afterward, an American-born Asian friend of mine told me that leaking in a public place is illegal — not so in the Philippines. He told me I can be fined for public waste dumping, indecent exposure, among other things.
So there you go. I think twice now before I make that decision. It hasn’t stopped me from doing a quick pee at the golf course, though! Ha!
— Juan Ton
Evangeline Cafe and Vivian Nguyen contributed to this report.