As an American citizen who has lived in Asia practically her whole life, I’m horribly clueless about American culture. You see, I’ve lived my whole life between two cultures, not quite sure whether I was doing American things in an Asian way or Asian things in an American way. So this semester has been an investigation into how to be a real American. For this, I’ve adopted a three-step approach.
Step one: Pick up the lingo. Real Americans say AC not Aircon; real Americans use words like “swag” and “wicked” and “sick;” real Americans deflect social missteps with a friendly “you’re fine.” Got it.
Step two: Perfect the dress code. Real Americans (or American girls, I should say) wear rain boots at the slightest hint of a drizzle. Real Americans fall somewhere on the fashion continuum of out-of-style to casual to in-style to so out-of-style it’s hipster. Duly noted.
Step three: Experience the traditions. Real Americans dip French fries in their Wendy’s Frosties. Real Americans do not call older strangers “uncle” and “auntie,” and older strangers do not take kindly to be addressed as such. Thanksgiving is a must. No holiday is more American than Thanksgiving. Real Americans do Real Thanksgiving in a Real Big Way.
I had heard of turkey-induced stupors, of family feuds and of piles of food more daunting than the workload during midterms week. I was informed of the brilliance of dressing like a turkey, the wonders of pickup football games with cousins and the simple joys of jumping into leaf piles. I realized that with my small and often nonexistent Thanksgiving celebrations, I had not been living up to the American standard.
So in order to round out my patented three step approach to American assimilation, I set out to experience the quintessential American holiday. However, the slight obstacle of 9,558 miles separating New Jersey and Singapore prevented me from doing the requisite amount of feasting with family this Thanksgiving. I decided instead to participate in a Thanksgiving tradition I had only heard about but never seen: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. With 85 years of giant balloon excellence, 3.5 million fellow Americans in the crowd and the help of three genuine Americans, my quest for American culture would be fulfilled!
Which is why Thursday morning found me up at 6:30 a.m. ready to ride the A train down to Times Square to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It is worth mentioning that on the train, a friendly subway patron taught me an important lesson about real Americans: Sometimes the appropriate response to a social misstep such as an accidental umbrella graze is “Go f*** yourself.” Well, if this is how real Americans respond ...
Once above ground, I used my expertly honed American surveillance methods to deduce where to stand for the parade. Behind that nice barricade, next to that crowd of people? Americans, there is no place safe from my discerning eye. Wait, the parade route is actually over there? Dang tourists!
After a quick spot change, I found myself in the middle of a 50-person-deep crowd, waiting for the parade to start. An hour and a half, and many wind chills later, my friends and I glimpsed the slow progression of Sonic the Hedgehog. Cheers erupted; people hugged; cameras shot in the air for photographic proof. In fact, what had once seemed like a decent view of the parade turned into an impenetrable forest of camera-wielding arms. As we jostled our way to a camera-free spot, we found ourselves stuck behind two lucky toddlers catching a bird’s eye view of the parade from their parents’ shoulders. Elbow-to-elbow with the people beside us, there was no choice but to watch the top of Sonic’s spiky hair as it bobbed in and out of sight, with only the stream-of-consciousness comments of people in front of us keeping us informed. “Is that SpongeBob? Confetti! Pikachu stinks at Rumble Blast, but I still love him!” Three hours later, with a chill in my feet but a warmth in my heart, I watched the last Macy’s Parade star bob around the corner.
Buoyed with the success of my participation in this classic American event, I called my aunt, a proud New Yorker for 16 years. “You went to the parade?” she asked. “I’ve never been. It’s such a tourist attraction.”
It seems real Americans watch the parade on TV, or rather keep the parade on in the background while they pre-heat Thanksgiving dinner as it is prepared.
Seriously though, the way people glow about Thanksgiving, the way all stores close down and New York City loses its bustle, the way families come together tells me this holiday is great. I may not have had the typical American experience this year, but I had an incredible experience nonetheless. And with my feet firmly planted in American soil, I look forward to the Turkey Days to come. Though next time the parade comes around, I’ll watch it on TV. Only tourists go to Times Square; I’m a local now.
Rebecca Kreutter is a freshman from Singapore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.