Setting down my heavy, chock-full plate, I took off my jacket and sat down next to Chen, my friend from China. As usual, she was enjoying a wok dish of fried noodles with chicken and vegetables. I watched as she turned to look at my plate and, in a mocking tone, uttered her latest discovery: “Hoang, you’re so ‘Americanized.’”
I rolled my eyes at her, then at our plates, and burst out laughing. Chen joined in the laugh, seeming to share a mutual understanding. The stark contrast between our plates said it all. On my plate was a sizable cheese burger, sitting on top of a bunch of curly fries, accompanied by plenty of ketchup and pickle slices to round up the over-packed plate. Meanwhile, Chen’s plate looked a little more vibrant with sauteed vegetables and noodles mixed up in some kind of oriental sauce.
Yes, I admit it. For that lunch I did pick American food over a wok dish with a flavor somewhat closer to home. I still love Vietnamese food very much – it’s highly unlikely that anything can ever replace it. Chen’s remark however gave me an opportunity to reflect on my adventure in the states over the last three years.
I spent two years in a small high school in Oklahoma though an exchange program, and am now attending St. John’s College in New Mexico. My memory suddenly rushes back to my very first day in America. I look back at my fifteen-year-old self and smile at that innocent boy, full of childlike eagerness and endearing inexperience. Three years later, I have changed in all aspects, far beyond the scope of my imagination. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that America had a big part in shaping who I am today.
Before coming to America, I was warned of the cultural difference. Soon, I came to realize that the reality was worse than I imagined, sometimes unbearable. It was the little things that caused the culture shock for me: no slurping (even when you’re eating hot soup or noodles), the strict rules in conversational conduct, such as no asking about age or salary, using a plate and fork in place of a bowl and chopsticks, giving tips at restaurants, etc.
After some time, I gathered that the only way to cope with this cultural clash was to embrace it. I found what I had to do was to reconcile within myself what elements from the American way of life I want to adopt, and at the same time, what am I willing to sacrifice of my own culture for it.
After all, these new conventions made me a better, more disciplined person by allowing me to abandon what were once everyday doings, now are considered bad habits. In this sense, “Americanization” was my way of adaptation and thus was inevitable.
I should also mention that there are things in American culture that I didn’t like and thus didn’t embrace, such as the pretentious questions people ask when they actually don’t have any interest in your answer, the impersonal dating culture, the wastefulness that many students exhibit, or fast food…In any case, America isn’t merely fancy and magical as portrayed in those Hollywood movies I saw before coming to the states. Just like any other culture or society, it has its peculiar flaws.
Though Americanization might have some bad connotation attached to it, I really have no problem of people calling me “Americanized.” This process of reconciliation of the two cultures, in my opinion is especially crucial for international students studying in America, as we are here not only for its esteemed education but also for its culture, so rich and extraordinary that you simply can’t ignore. And I am always certain and proud of my true identity – my Vietnamese culture, my ancestral heritage, my family. I am foremost Vietnamese; secondly a global citizen.