One great thing about reading the blogs of other American expats is it gives me a chance to reminisce about things I sometimes take for granted.
Does that make me old and jaded? Maybe not. I think it’s normal to stop comparing life in Greece with my birthplace after being abroad for 13 years.
Friends have questions, strangers approach me on the street, and co-workers use me as their resident translator and Cliff Clavin of all things American. It’s never been annoying. In fact I love connecting with people and building bridges, and it’s given me insight on how ridiculous America must look to the world.
I’ve also learned that there isn’t a satisfactory response to everything, and certain subjects spark other questions that are even more difficult to answer.
“Hey Kat, what means…?
What I love about these questions is the unspoken ‘no holds barred’ rule, that people feel comfortable to ask me anything. I never ask where or how some of these questions come up. Believe me, it’s better this way.
1. Questions about spelling and pronunciation
— Why is quit pronounced <qwit> and mosquitoes pronounced <mo-skee-toes> without the ‘w’ sound?
— And what about biscuit and suit? Why isn’t biscuit spelled bisquit (like the ‘quit’ in mosquito) OR spelled with no ‘u’ since there’s no ‘oo’ sound? And why isn’t suit pronounced <sit> then?
These are the kind of questions for which I have no answers because I’m not a linguist, and the English language has irregularities I’m not qualified to explain. But I think it’s like any language — they all have their exceptions and intricacies.
2. Questions about politics
— Can you explain why the U.S. government goes to war over Kosovo but not Cyprus?
— Why did Bush get elected for a second term?
Personally, I do my best to avoid political discussions because they start innocently, grow heated and end strangely, even when I agree with those involved. But for the record, I didn’t vote for Bush either time, and I’ve long believed the Cyprus issue needs resolution.
3. Questions about American culture
— You’re an American, why aren’t you fat?: Of course all stereotypes are based on some truth, and I’m aware of what they are. But I’ve taken pride in trying to dispel stereotypes by being an exception.
— What is that guy from Nirvana singing about?: What can I say about Kurt Cobain and “Smells like Teen Spirit?” I could barely understand what he was saying back in 1991, and it’s difficult to explain the concept of teen revolution, angst and disillusionment. I normally use the other explanation that he’s singing about his ex — it’s easier because people universally relate to having their hearts broken.
4. Questions about specific words
— Cheese spread: “What did you call the tyrisalata?” asked the man standing next to me at Everest. “Cheese spread — it’s cheese and you spread it,” I said. “Oh, that’s so simple and it makes sense. Thanks.” (Note: I think Greek can be like this too. Melissa is a bee, and meli is honey. To me, that makes perfect sense.)
— “Cornhole“: Working in an office with more than 50 men is a breeding ground for questions, and thank goodness there’s another American in residence to help me field them. My colleague wanted me to take this one, likely for his personal amusement, but I couldn’t get through the lead-up after looking at wide-eyed innocent faces expecting the word to relate to vegetables, so he calmly and academically enlightened them. He even took follow-up questions pertaining to ‘why?’ I admire him.
5. Questions about food
— “Why are Tootsie Rolls shaped like turds? Doesn’t that make them unappealing to eat?”: I never know what to say because it’s true, and I can never get anyone to try one no matter how much I rave about it’s chewy goodness.
— Marshmallow Peeps and Bunnies: Back when my mom was alive, she’d send me some classic yellow Marshmallow Peeps and modern purple Marshmallow Bunnies for Easter. These sugary confections are curious and pretentious in comparison to traditional Orthodox Easter in which everything has significance and religious meaning.
Dimitri: What are those?
Kat: They’re marshmallow bunnies.
D: What are they for?
K: They’re for Easter. In America, a lot of people take Easter baskets and fill them with candy shaped eggs and bunnies.
D: I understand the eggs, but what’s with the bunnies?
K: Eggs and bunnies are symbols of fertility to mark the beginning of Spring, but most people just do it for fun.
D: What do you do with them?
K: Eat them.
D: That’s it?
D: Why is the bunny purple?
K: Because Easter in America is pastel — pink, purple, yellow, light blue, green.
D: Why does it have a face?
K: Because it’s cute, I suppose.
D: I don’t get it.
K: It’s crazy American things
D: Oh, okay.
That’s my fallback — it stops questions 99 percent of the time and is somehow satisfactory in explaining everything that otherwise makes no sense.
P.S. Anything that is colored and underlined in this post, and all posts on this site, is linked to an article or an explanation if you need one.