5 Ways I've Become a "Typical American" and 5 Ways I'm Still Very African
As you spend time in a particular place, you begin to "catch" the culture that your in. TCKs become good at this; easily adapting like a chameleon in order to blend into the current environment. As we move from place to place, culture to culture, some things stick around and take up a more permanent residence in our deep root system- shaping values, thought patterns, and ideas. The longer a person lives somewhere, the more likely it is that those deep parts of culture will soak into them and become a part of who they are as a person.
I was asked the other day, "If you didn't go back to Africa and just stayed in America for the next 20 years, wouldn't you eventually just become completely American and not really be a TCK anymore?"
No. The longer I live in America, the more comfortable and adapted I feel in this culture, but there are still parts of me that will always be very Tanzanian. There are also many ways in which I have become, or remained, very American. I've come to appreciate the hybrid that I am.
For better or for worse, here are 5 ways (some silly, some deep, all very true!) that I've become a "typical American" and 5 ways I'm also quite Tanzanian.
5 Ways I'm Quite American
1. I like to be on time. I have learned that this culture values time, so out of respect, I try desperately to not run late to anything. In fact, running late makes me an anxious mess! This is something I had to intentionally learn to do when first living back in the US, and now it has become a part of my nature. I always put appointments, meetings, play dates in my calendar for 15 minutes earlier then they actually start so that my 15 minutes "late" is actually on time.
2. I really like Starbucks. That almost feels like a confession. Iced Caramel Macchiatos are my summertime guilty pleasure, a hot Soy Latte can turn a bad day around, and the new holiday Chestnut Praline Latte tastes just like Christmas.
3. I appreciate getting things done quickly. If I have flyers that need to be printed or business to take care of at the bank, I can expect a quick turn around time. Likewise, if someone asks me to complete a task, I get it done asap. I have come to appreciate efficiency and I am a huge fan of drive-thrus.
4. I have learned the art of "small talk." While I still despise it, I have (through literal study) mastered the art of small talk. Turns out, this is how American's start relationships and while I'd strongly prefer to skip it and move on to a "real" conversation, I've settled into this cultural expectation.
5. I appreciate the convenience of grocery stores and Target. Especially as a mom, the ability to get in and get out with everything I need is pretty grand. While I would get used to it, I think I would have a hard time re-adjusting to the full day of grocery (or any) shopping that is almost always required to collect everything on your list in Africa.
5 Ways I'm also Tanzanian
While I have soaked up some American culture over the last few years, there are still many values deep down in my roots that were soaked up a long time ago in Tanzania. These, while they may present differently in the US, are still very much a part of who I am.
1. I value relationships more than anything. Relationships take priority, period. Over time, over money, over convenience. There is always time for a good conversation. In Tanzania, time with a friend is something to never be rushed and it is always a mutually understood reason for being late to an appointment or other engagement. While I've had to adapt to the cultural norm of American time-constraints, I still make it a point to be more Tanzanian in my approach to time with friends.
2. I prefer face-to-face interactions. Living in the age where everyone communicates via email and text, I sometimes feel like I'm the black sheep, always wanting to get together in person. This applies to business meetings (even if it means driving several hours) or conversations with friends. I will gladly come to you so we can talk in person if that is at all logistically possible.
3. I prefer a slower, simpler pace. In Tanzania, the phrase pole-pole (slowly, slowly) sums it up. Though I tend to pile too much onto my plate, I prefer to take life a bit slower and to be intentional with my days. It can be easy to get swept away into the speed of life in America (I am guilty!), but I have seen through Tanzanian life how this can be counteracted in many ways. I prefer to make our food from scratch, to walk if my destination is within walking distance, I am not phased by a long wait in line (though a fussy toddler can quickly change that!), and I am happy taking the scenic route to my destination.
4. I have a "hamnashida" attitude. My African friend, Sarah, used to call me "Miss Hamnashida" because that word (meaning "no worries") was probably my most common response. There still is very little that phases me and I live life with a very "hamnashida" approach, sometimes to my husband's frustration. This African attitude is something that is very much a part of who I am.
5. Sometimes, I just need a cup of real Chai. Starbucks just doesn't cut it so satisfy this craving. Real Tanzanian Chai just does something for my soul.