Challenges of a Cultural Chameleon

I’m dealing with a crisis of confidence from incomprehension.
It’s been 1.5 years since I arrived in the USA and people have been welcoming and kind and seem much more in touch with—and expressive of—their feelings than Europeans likely will ever be. I love this about living here.

But at times (and more so, recently) acquaintances or friends have suddenly changed their behavior around me, leaving me intensely puzzled. From amiable, openhearted and joyful, people turn quiet, catty or sour without any warning. I don’t understand it and I don’t see it coming. I don’t know how anyone could.

The straightforwardness of emotions reaches not beyond the positive.

I’ve learnt that the unfavorable truth is kept back as a courtesy; nobody wants to be the bad guy. If there’s no need to ‘stir the pot’ you’d better not. This has been the hardest cultural difference to overcome.
So I try not to get too upset when it happens, but it does affect me. And it’s challenging to figure out how to respond when my knowledge of interaction is grounded in honesty.

I’m concerned not because I want to be liked by everyone, but because I can’t make sense of it. If something I said or did makes someone else sad, angry or plain freaked out, I’d like to be aware of it. Perhaps I could apologize, empathize or at least I’d know what to do about it. Now I’m left in the dark with no way to learn.

Admitted it’s nice to live in disregard of one’s flaws, but we all have them and everyone sometimes hurts someone else’s feelings.

Often times I surprise people by letting them know how their behavior makes me feel and encourage them to be more direct. In the end everyone seems to like that, but many feel inhibited to do so in a culture where directly commenting on others is unheard of and where every such comment means disrespect.

I acknowledge I often bring unfamiliar tension to the table, not fully comprehending how personally things are taken in the US. When saying things like they are–the way Europeans do–it’ll appear blatantly insensitive to Americans where it’s practically impossible to insult a Dutchman.
Trying to overcome miscommunications or clear the air between myself and someone else is often interpreted as spawning a fight. In this country you just don’t bring it up. I’m then met with the accumulated aggression; a result of not expressing your feelings enough.

I’d like to stay true to myself and I don’t mind standing out. And though my intention is never to offend anyone, I feel like I often do. It’s like I’m the one opening the door to a sealed room where a small fire has long been burning inside. I let the oxygen in and suddenly flames burn my eyebrows off and windows are blown to shards.

Might you suggest I just leave the door shut: I’m not anticipating fires left burning that way and am intuitively trying to let some warm air escape. I can’t change the way things go here and have no desire to, but I feel stunted in my functioning if I continue to communicate the way I’m used to.

I totally realize that I’m the weird one here. And I understand that my high level of English may help people forget that I’m an immigrant. But please tell me what’s the matter so that I may learn and become better integrated in my new homeland. I feel defeated right now. It’s the first time I’ve not been able to ‘chameleon’ my way into an environment.

Categories: Being Dutch in the USA, Most Popular, North AmericaTags: , , , , , , ,


  1. Welcome to America! Your thinking to damn much. Be yourself. Small towns are different than big towns. You can’t hide in a small town. After all the travel you did, your what people might call “Open”. Your enlightened. You found Buddha and killed him. Be yourself. Your pretty damn young. I think your on the right path. Your expressing a lot of deep stuff on this blog and people are reading it. Maybe they feel uncomfortable with that (don’t stop). Or maybe they think your weird? Oh my god. Sometimes the weather changes make people feel gloomy. I say hold your head up high and smile. “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Hunter S Thompson


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