‘Half and half’ does not always make a wholeThe fall of 1995 was a time of exciting changes, at least for me. I was nine, and had just moved to New Jersey from Korea. I did not speak fluent English. I didn’t even speak broken English. But that did not stop me from plunging into my new world, getting into a handful of mishaps along the way.
On one of my first days in the United States, I was thirsty for some cold milk after devouring a box of cookies. So I made my way to a local supermarket and purchased one of those big milk cartons with a cow’s face on it.
When I was done chugging it down, I thought to myself, “Wow, American cows must be different. Even their milk is creamier, richer and sweeter.”
Oh, it was creamier, richer and sweeter all right. I had drunk a carton of “half-and-half” (cream and milk) instead. For the next few days, I had to pay the price of ignorance in the bathroom.
My stomach never really got around to accepting milk again, something I learned the hard way on the first day of third grade. I used to eat rice for breakfast, but decided to eat cereal as a new way to start at a new school. However, during recess, I felt an unmistakable queasiness in my gut as I tried to stop myself from breaking out in a cold sweat, but to no avail. I even stopped a game of kickball as I became sick in front of everyone.
Words could not express my feelings, both literally and figuratively. I had no way of telling the teachers that I just wanted to sprint back home, and crawl into the safety of my bed. Instead, I quietly sat in the nurse’s office for the rest of the day.
America fazed my relatives too. The story of my uncle and his first stick of anti-perspirant always rates a telling at family reunions. My uncle’s son adapted quickly to Western hygiene regimens and purchased anti-perspirant. One morning, my uncle stepped into the bathroom and found this product with no evident purpose.
He sniffed and touched the stick, and finally concluded that it was a shaving stick, meant to prevent nicks and cuts. He felt young and cool to be using the same product as his sons and also noticed that he no longer sweated on his face. Amazed, he continued to use Old Spice anti-perspirant as his daily shaving aid. It was only when his son exclaimed, “Dad! I use that on my armpits!” that he caught on.
Looking back, I can laugh and make fun of myself. At least I now have stories to tell my grandchildren.
Most importantly, mishaps are all just a part of experiencing that certain culture. I mean, drinking half-and-half and putting anti-perspirant on your face is cross-cultural experience at its finest!
by Kahee Kim
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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