Starting a new life in a new country can be an exciting adventure; there are new foreign sights, there are different cultures, a different language, different manners, and different flavors. In my first months in America, I made frequent use of the word WOW. For someone who came from Israel, a dry Middle Eastern country, I remember my shock seeing all the greenery while driving in Connecticut, it made me angry: “Why would anyone call Israel the promised land while here is the land of milk and honey?” I asked my husband, Ari, in the car. It must have been a PR trick, just like the reason why Erik the Red gave Greenland its name, or maybe that Columbus had not yet discovered America to God.
I had some American experiences, which left me frustrated and confused; experiences that now I can laugh at. Food was a big issue for me when I first came here. The bread was too sweet for me, in restaurants I missed the salad that came with the typical Israeli breakfast and the light spreading white cheese, instead of the heavy American cream cheese, and I missed one of my favorite deserts – Crème Schnitt. I went to every bakery in Sacramento, where we lived at the time, and asked if they had Crème Schnitt. No one knew what I was talking about, and I couldn’t believe that Americans don’t know such a basic desert. Two years of a mystery came to an end one day, when Ari and I stopped for lunch at Ettore’s. “You have to have their Napoleon for desert.” He told me. “What’s Napoleon?” I asked. “You will see.” He said and went to bring the desert. When I saw him back with the desert plate, I was mad: “All those years and you couldn’t just tell me that it’s called Napoleon here?”
Adapting to the Politically Correct culture was another challenge I had to face. In Israel we laugh at everyone including ourselves; we have jokes about all ethnicities, religions, and cultures; it’s a major part of the Israeli humor. Here I learned not to say jokes about Jesus, because someone might be Christian, not to say jokes about Polish people, because someone might have a Polish heritage and if I decide to joke about myself with a kosher Jewish joke, it still might be a problem, because someone’s grandpa is Jewish. My joking activity had to go underground, though sometimes it slips out in public unintentionally. Despite all that, I found some occasions when not being Politically Correct can be most useful in the USA; whenever I have different missionaries knocking on my door, trying to convert me to this Christian stream or another, it’s enough that I say “I’m Jewish, I feel enough guilt without the need to add more.” and they leave me alone.
I didn’t think dealing with English would be an issue for me, since I did learn English in Israel, but there are always new words, idioms, and slang to learn. I failed my first American driving test because I could not make sense out of the order “Pull to the curb”. The first word in English I learned almost gave my husband a heart attack. It was a few weeks after we got married, when I watched My Geisha with Shirley McClain on a night that Ari worked late. McClain, who presented herself as a Japanese Geisha pretended not to know a certain word in English, a fact that made the man talking to her very happy. I didn’t understand the word myself. When newlywed Mr. Gurewitz finally came home the first thing I asked him was “Honey, what does it mean 'Alimony'?”
My hearing also had to adjust to the new language, but there were some incidents that made me wonder if the cause to the lingual misunderstanding was more psychological. Such was the case when I asked friends how they spent their weekend, and I heard that they went to a "Noodle Beach". Another lingual mishearing happened when I was listening to a TV add for Cialis, which really impressed me. I told Ari “This is beautiful that they use a figurative image and call the problem Reptile Dysfunction.”
When it comes to slang, I give up on catching up with all the multi sub-meanings of naïve words. However, had I paid more attention to some of the common slang uses I might have saved myself from some funny/embarrassing moments; Thanksgiving dinner, a few years ago, I was hosting about 20 people. Standing in the kitchen with all my guests I pointed proudly at my new purchase and said, “Look at my new rack” just to see everyone around me laughing.