“You have an accent!” I heard again. I smiled politely and replied, “Yes,” in my thick Eastern European accent. Some people said my accent was lovely, some didn’t care and some obviously didn’t like it. That was a part of my heritage, a curse or my ace, depending on how I wanted to look at it. Surely, having an accent meant I was a stranger. I felt at times like I did not belong to this country and culture coupled with a strong desire to fit in. Surely, I was getting used to it and growing my roots. I came to United States in my late twenties with high hopes and I embraced this New World with an open heart and faith for a better and happier life.
It was year 2000 and I was in Dallas, Texas trying to adapt to this amazingly different environment. It was a mind-boggling place for a European like me with huge ten-lane freeways, enormous mansions, big cars, big hair, scary bugs and an interesting mix of people from all over the United States. Dallas was a crucible, a melting pot of sorts since this was a mecca of all telecom engineers from around the world as telecom companies were sprouting around each corner of freeway 75. Living in Texas, of all places, proved to be an interesting challenge to me, an Eastern European gal, who had an affinity for refined things like art and literature. Not that Dallas lacked any of these things, quite contrary. Dallas was a multifaceted conglomeration of various styles and profiles including quite an interesting portfolio of modern artists and a wonderfully well-appointed Dallas Museum of Art. However, it was also populated with people who loved roosters as the art on their walls and thought bigger was better. Well-off families who liked their suburban lifestyle inhabited the North area of Dallas. Men were making a 6-figure income and women happily spending it. Prior to coming to Dallas it never occurred to me that a woman’s goal was to have a perfect hair and make up and stuff her enormous room-size closet with the newest fashions. I was rather amazed to discover that so many Dallas women would spend their time going on extravagant shopping sprees to yet again redecorate the entire house. This was a new idea to me. After all I came from a family that would rather buy me books for my birthday than a make up. My parents’ favorite pastime was taking daily walks in nature with me and shopping was just a necessity. Here, life was different.
So different that I made so many faux pas simply because I didn’t know any better. I was embarrassed not once for breaking American rules and I made people laugh at me, too. Here, I recall some of the funniest mistakes I made.
Once I needed to deposit some money at my bank but it was past 5 pm and the door was closed. I was about to turn back and head home when a security officer advised me to go to the drive through. Now, there were no drive through banks in my country and I had no idea what that meant so I naively asked him how far it was. He said it was around the corner and to take my car. I smiled and thought, “these Americans don’t ever walk, they always choose to drive, I am sure I can get there by means of walking.” And I walked only to find myself facing three lanes of cars waiting their turn to deposit the money. As stubborn as I was, I kept waiting behind one of the cars feeling the absurdity of the situation I got myself into. I felt I should not be there, inhaling the exhaust and looking as dumb as I probably was at the moment. Yet, I stayed there. When it was my turn to make a deposit, I didn’t know how. There was a plastic tube in front of me but for the life of me I had no idea how to use it. I gestured to a driver in the car next to me and asked for help. That’s when I heard a thunderous laughter coming from all the cars in the drive through and I knew I was hilariously funny and ridiculous. But I finally figured it out and gracefully walked away from my scene of humiliation.
Next time I made a fool out of myself was at the Dallas Country Club. I thought it was a public park, naïve me. I managed to enter through a rear gate and unnoticed by security guards or anyone I kept walking and enjoying the grounds. At some point, I heard one of the golf players shouting to me to stay safe and watch out for the balls. Even this didn’t give me a clue that I was doing something wrong. As I continued on I noticed a cart. A rather stout man jumped out of it and with a heavy Spanish accent asked me if I were a member. “A member of what,” I asked. He starred at me with a disbelief and then explained I was at the Dallas Country Club and needed to have a membership. Flamboyantly, I assured him I was going to purchase one and asked him for the price. The smile on his face was priceless. I left the grounds and researched it, only to find that prospective members don’t approach the club seeking admittance—they can only be invited in. Even then, it can take seven years on average for an application to be accepted with the fees reaching $100,000 and more. I guess I wasn’t ready to apply at that moment ;-).