Dear Amy: My family and I came to America from the Soviet Union when I was a teenager. We became citizens. I got educated here and own a successful business. I write well and speak correctly, with almost no accent. I feel like I am an American.
I love America, and try to learn new things every day, but I feel like something is missing in me.
Since I was born and spent my formative years in a communist country (truly like another planet, compared to the USA), my “autopilot” reactions are not like those of typical American-born people. For instance, my manners, topics of conversation, humor, dress, attitude toward money, and even body language sometime seem “foreign.”
I feel like it is hurting me to be “culturally different.” I don’t think I say or do anything straight-up offensive – it’s more like a lot of subtle little things.
How can I fix this “handicap?”
I would love to know how to be more American, but I can’t find any books or courses on the subject.
— NOT Born in the USA
Dear NOT: As we approach the celebration of another Independence Day, I appreciate this unusual and provocative question, which, honestly – has no “correct” answer.
First, I urge you not to see your own cultural background and habits as a “handicap,” but as an asset.
Yes, America is a country. But America is also really a series of concepts, experiments, and experiences. It is no one thing.
But here is a beautiful “American” ideal (so different from the culture you were raised in): All Americans have the right to be uniquely themselves, and that definitely includes you.
However, reinvention is baked into the American experience, and so if you want to affect “American” mannerisms, I suggest you become a student of American culture. Take a history course at your local community college. Follow up with a class on cinema and popular culture. Read Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Sherman Alexie, Gary Shteyngart, and Jericho Brown. Listen to Dolly Parton. Watch “Singing in the Rain,” “Goodfellas,” “Barbershop,” “The 13th,” and “Ramy.”
Become a volunteer firefighter. Teach English as a second language to other newer citizens (teaching American concepts to others will show you how much you actually know). Work at your local polling station during the next election.
When you say or do something you believe is “off,” ask a friend to break it down for you. They might choose to tell you what I’m trying to tell you now – which is that your effort makes you the most “American” person they know.
Dear Amy: I’ve been married for two years. My husband has a difficult time taking my feelings into consideration. He often ignores my calls and texts. He makes plans with his friends when my family has an event they have invited us to.
I am tired of this. Everyone else sees him as this “great guy,” but behind closed doors, he’s not so great. I don’t know what to do.
— Feeling Stuck
Dear Stuck: Your marriage is still young. You and your husband both entered the marriage with the knowledge you gleaned from your own parents. He might be recreating his own father’s style, and you might carry your own mother’s experiences and expectations about what marriage is supposed to be like.
Being a good spouse is a learned experience. It’s really a question of being on the same team. Teammates have each others’ backs. They also grant each other occasional “outs.”
Should you put one another first? Absolutely. But must he attend all of your family’s events? I hope not. There is room for negotiation and compromise.
When I was newly married, my most treasured wisdom came from friends who have now been married for seven decades. In that spirit, you and your husband might learn from reading “What Makes a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us the Secrets to a Happy Life,” by married power couple Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue (2020, HarperOne).
Dear Amy: You nailed your answer to “In a Corner,” the husband who had finally reached his limit with his alcoholic wife.
I lived that story, and it was awful.
Al-Anon gave me the strength to live in an alcoholic marriage as long as I did. Then Al-Anon gave me the strength to leave.
Now I’m married to a wonderful woman, and living the life I’m meant to. And I’m still going to Al-Anon, it works!
— John K, in South Carolina
Dear John: Your own recovery!
(You can email Amy Dickinson at email@example.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
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