Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane

I remember getting on a bus that day. It was November 2, 1982 and the bus was departing from in front of the SBB Bahnhof (train station) in Basel, Switzerland, headed for the airport in Mulhouse, France. (I could be wrong...but that's what I remember).

It was gray. I remember thinking that perhaps I'd never see this place again. I had the urge to kiss the ground and say goodbye but I did not do that.

I have no memories of the transatlantic flight, but I guess I must have some of flying in to New York City because I can't see pictures of the Statue of Liberty without choking up.

Of course I was excited. I was also scared out of my wits. I was coming to America and heretofore it was not my home. From now on it would be.

I remember flying from New York to Boston and the being picked up by a friend of my parents'. We stayed with them that first week. I've been to Boston in the fall! (unlike Larry the cucumber in the Pirates that don't do Anything song!)

That first week was a mixture of fun historical visits to all the places in and around Boston that every American should visit if they get a chance, and mind boggling culture shock. My face literally hurt from speaking English full time that first week.

I was twelve and a hot European mess of a twelve year old, at that. The girls in the family we stayed with were so smooth and cool and preppy and American. They wore their hair curled and their bangs had "wings". They wore makeup!!! I was in shock. I was middle school Swiss grunge and only a decade too early. Seattle in the 1990's would have loved me. They tried fixing me up with makeup but I felt like a hooker with a bit of powder, blush, lipgloss and mascara. It was all so "junior high".

Since it was November, there were lots of Christmas things on display in the stores already, and the movie ET was popular. So it was this weird ET Christmas theme in ALL the stores. ETs in Santa hats were everywhere. I was very underimpressed with the crassness of it all and missed St. Nicholas and all the old world traditions.

That fall was pretty in New England. We were there for a week, then my dad found an agency that let people drive other people's cars across the country, so our family squeezed into a Beemer to drive to Tennessee.

So theoretically I've been to PA and such places that are between Boston and Nashville, but only on the interstate.

That was November and I was out of school until January when the new semester started. I remember taking a placement test, and of course was placed in my age-level grade which was actually a grade higher than what I'd been in in Switzerland. I found, once school started, that the academic side of things was mind numbingly easy.

The social parts, not so much. I was so overwhelmed and confused. Culture shock can do that to a kid, you know. I cried in school on more than one occasion. I could not tell one African American person from another at first because I had just never been around any black people before and I did not have the neural connections to distinguish facial features at first. I got better at it, but being plunked smack dab into a cross cultural situation where I couldn't even read the white kids' body language and slang, the added confusion of there being subcultures was just a bit much. I did not understand the anger, resentment and hatred I felt radiating at me from the black girls at my bus stop in the projects. And I certainly did not always understand their slang. We lived in an old house owned by an inner city church, so where else was I to catch the bus, eh?

When I was at school, the kids called me JAP. I had no idea what this meant but I did know it was some form of insult. I asked my mom what JAP meant and she said it was short for Japanese, a derogatory term used during the WWII era. That made no sense whatsoever. Oh well.

Now I have figured out it probably stood for "Jewish American Princess" and I think it was in the context of these Nashville kids trying to figure out how it is I came from Switzerland of all places.

7 comments:

Barbara Taylor Minton said...

Alana, thank you for sharing your experience of those days we lived through together. No easy, but we survived. Love you so much.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing vantage point of the difficulties of moving from one culture to another without any transitions. The "deep end of the pool is always accompanied by struggles. I love reading your blogs. Your posts are articulate and instirational. ...and make me think. Thanks for a good job.
Your Mom's friend, Elaine

Margery DeVilder said...

Very good and thank you for sharing. I was disappointed that it ended--I hope there will be more of the story one of these days. I think Dan would have some interesting things to post about his challenges in adapting to the US culture, too.

Alana said...

Had to quit while I was ahead! ;-)

E Helena E said...

I also really enjoyed reading this and hope you write a part two. Having arrived in the "New World" as a child, then back later as a pre-teen, some of this resonates. I've been reading your blog for a while, but not commenting. What you write makes an impression. Thank you.

Barbara Taylor Minton said...

Alana, is this the beginning of the book in you that is waiting to be written?

Alana said...

Not yet.