I found myself growing hot with frustration.
I tried to back up. “Let me explain. Both of you grew up here. You’ve lived in the towns where you now live since you were born. It means you know the rules; you ‘get’ how to do things, how things work. Those of us who move here? We don’t know these things”
I felt like I was speaking to children. The conversation began as I was telling some colleagues about our friends who just moved here for a year after living in Japan, Australia, and most recently, Romania. Their youngest daughter went to her first day of school yesterday.
“So?” was the reaction I got “Big deal.”
This was her first day of school in America. Ever. She’s in high school and she’s never attended school in the United States. Added to the equation is that this is a part of the country where people don’t move a lot. You meet many people who have lived here all their lives. Those of us who haven’t are the exception, not the rule. Both kids and school administrators are not used to having new comers. There is an assumption that everyone knows the rules, everyone knows how to fill out the forms, find out specifics, work the system.
So it was a huge, big, fat deal.
And to have to explain this felt more than frustrating. Everything seems easy when you know how to do it. But as Robynn said in a previous post, sometimes the “easy” is impossible.
So I tried to put the situation into a different context. “Imagine if you came with me to Pakistan and I wanted you to get something in the bazaar, or I wanted you to go sign in with the police. Would you know how to do it?” Silence “What if I said ‘but it’s so easy! everyone knows how to do that!'” I think I made my point.
I found myself yet again the outsider trying to defend other outsiders. It’s a role I have played often, but it still surprises me that people don’t understand. We become so comfortable with our normal that we consider it normal for everyone else.
It’s fall now and schools across the country have begun the school year. Elementary, high school, college, graduate school – it all begins in September. And there are a lot of outsiders, a lot of people who don’t have a clue where they are supposed to be and how they are supposed to get there.
They may not know that you are expected to wait in line in the United States or that in America the expectation is that you follow traffic laws. They may not understand that you don’t walk through a “drive” through to get your meal; they might be shocked at our public displays of affection to our pets and our partners; they probably don’t know that bargaining isn’t common – you don’t negotiate the price. And initially they won’t even know where to get the basics – eggs, bread, milk, and fruit.
We can step into these scenarios and be that person who makes life a little easier for the outsider, a little less daunting, a little more manageable. That person who reaches out and understands that some of these things really are big deals. The person that helps make the easy possible.
Do you remember what it was like to be an outsider? How did that work for you? Who was the person who came alongside you and walked you through the rules, the do’s and don’ts of life in another place?
- Proud to be an “Outsider” (susankorsnick.wordpress.com)