Prepublishing this Saturday night, over at Ksenia's, waiting for news
about the blizzard...20 to 30 inches they say. That's a lot.
I helped Ksenia a bit in the kitchen. It was nice to be useful, and it
really is one of those things I should've joined with Mo in doing,
especially when I saw her having a grand old time when her brother
joined in for a special meal but I have to say, my opinion that at
least on a regular basis it's more trouble than its worth still
stands...the shopping, the chopping, the cooking, the cleanup...the end
results can be nice, and there's a certain visceral pleasure to it, but
A Few Hints About Everyday American Life
--David Harris, "Entering a New Culture", from the Hebrew Immigrant
Aid Society. It seemed like a pretty decent introduction to America,
written for Soviet Jews, Russian on the right-hand page, English
translation on the left. This is just a sampling from that section.
I liked the thing about the smiles. The "Americans usually make
appointments" thing struck me as a little antisocial. Maybe we SHOULD
all be like on sitcoms, just dropping in. On the other hand, who wants
people dropping in if you're doing something embarassing?
- Americans never use patronymics. Many Americans are given middle
at birth, but these are not usually used in either salutations or
- Men often shake hands with other men on seeing each other, but
hug and kiss. Women occasionally shake hands with other women, or may
embrace. Men and women shake hands, the woman usually making the first
- The smile is very important in America and is used in greeting both
friends and strangers.
- Americans usually make appointments with other people, even with
friends. Except among close neighbors or in small towns, people seldom
visit one another without a forewarning or an invitation. Also, if you
receive an invitation to a home, it is best to check beforehand with
the host/hostess about which members of your family are invited. Some
invitations, for example, may not be intended for the children in the
family (or, perhaops, not the adults!)
- When your signature is required, it normally means both your first
last names (in that order), with some degree of legibility. Further,
it should be noted that in the U.S. a signature carries much
importance and reflects on one's honor. The same is usually the case
with a handshake by which many business arrangements are concluded.
- In bars, cafes, and small shops, normally first you eat or get your
merchandise, then you pay, The reverse is often true in the former
- In virtually all American cities, public buses are entered from the
front, not the back.
- Do not be surprised if you see a fair number of left-handed people.
American schools do not prohibit the use of the left hand for writing.
And in some cities there are even special shops for left-handed
- Try to plan your budget very carefully, The U.S. is a highly
consumer-oriented society; there is little problem with availability
or diversity of goods. Also, with loands, deferred payment plans,
credit cards and checking accounts widely available, it can be a
temptation to spend beyond one's means and to try and catch up later.
- You are likely to find that most Americans are eager to try to
understand even heavily accented or even incorectly spoken English.
Use English at every possibility and do not be unduly afraid of the
I was also struck by the left-handed issue. After I read about the
"special stores", I further surprised Ksenia by pointing out that there
could be special left-handed scissors...she had me try that thing where
you clasp your fingers, and the thumb that ends up on top is
supposedly the thumb of your dominant hand, but it doesn't work for
me...it feels much more natural with my left thumb on top. (Like a lot
of kids, I was ambidextrous for a while.) Try out that finger clasping
thing and let me know on the comments section if it works for you or