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Return to the mothership

Return to the mothership

Sophie in Santa Cruz

‘They’ve all come to look for America’ sing Simon and Garfunkel wistfully. This is a feeling I could definitely get on board with, in this case even literally as I climbed the steps of the airplane bound for San Francisco. This summer I wanted to understand this country that supposedly makes up half my origin. Armed with my American passport, a good friend, and a car I drove cross country from San Francisco to New York City to do just that.

Despite speaking the language already, there was still some cultural adjustment in store for me. I remember cringing as a teenager in Switzerland when my mother, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, tried to engage fellow passengers in the bus in conversation. I am used to sitting in silent ignorance of other passengers in busses and fighting to get the attention of sales staff in European stores. A true Central European would not dare to smile and enquire after your wellbeing if they don’t know you. The idea is ‘I don’t know you, so why would I put effort into being nice to you?’ Here, all the people I encounter in stores smile and ask me how I’m doing. Of course, this is a figure of speech and I doubt they care more about my wellbeing than European salespeople do. But the reigning rule of thumb is ‘It doesn’t hurt me to smile at you so I might as well make you feel comfortable.’ I am learning an entirely new way of communicating with strangers. It turns out my mother was not an alien from another planet sent to embarrass her daughter but a product of American etiquette stranded on a continent to straight forward to be polite even in a shallow way.

Sophie Silverstein



2016-08-30: Sharon
On behalf of your mother and all the other American mothers who find themselves raising their children in a foreign culture, thank you for understanding that we are not TOTAL alien freaks, even if we ARE embarrassing to our daughters! And welcome to your American roots. Glad to hear your cross-country adventure was successful and wishing you a great semester at Santa Cruz! I'm sure you'll have fun. BTW: very lovely photo of you girl!

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