Thursday, October 28, 2010

Speaking American

There's nothing that makes you realize what you are quite as coming face-to-face with what you aren't.  In the past year I have discovered I am not North or South Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hakka nor even Aboriginal Taiwanese.  And as I have thrown myself into learning about these cultures, I have found many times I have asked, "Wait? Wha?" with practices, traditions and phrases that everyone else in that culture just 'gets' but leaves me scratching my head.  

And it has made me wonder, "Is America like that?"  I've grown up with the impression that because America is a melting pot of the world, the only way to have culture was to have a distinct genealogy that allowed you to carry over traditions from generations and countries before.  But the more I study about Asian cultures, the more I realize maybe America has a culture that I never saw before, in the little things that we do day to day that could leave others scratching their heads and wondering, "Huh?"  

Thanksgiving for instance.  It was the story of a friend of a friend of a friend... who had a TV film crew follow him to America from South Korea to see a real American Thanksgiving and the thought of a bunch of Koreans sitting around watching some American family eating dinner and playing Turkey Bowl football before the dinner and sitting around in a food coma afterwards that I realized, Thanksgiving is part of American culture and tradition.  (I mean think about it: Why Turkey?  Why cranberries and stuffing?  Why the Turkey Bowl and the food coma?) No matter when your genealogical roots came to America and how separate families bring in their own traditions into holidays and practices, we still have a culture that is our own and can be considered just as rich and interesting as other cultures.  

So I've compiled a list of Americanisms by no means comprehensive but definitely one that makes me realize that after spending a lot of time trying to fit in, sometimes its nice to just realize that you already do.  

1. Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!  - What we yell when playing hide and go seek and someone has been caught.  I have no idea what it means or why we yell it but we all seem to get it, and use it.  

2. Pin the tail on the donkey - A favorite game for birthday parties?  It's actually quite boring and we've all threatened to pin something/someone else accidentally instead.  But despite this, we still think about this game when it comes to planning parties, even if just in jest.

3. The Jeopardy Song - When doing any activity where eventually we're all just waiting for someone to finish writing their thought or thinking and its almost guaranteed that someone will start singing the jeopardy theme.  My roommate claims she's never even SEEN an episode of Jeopardy and she knows that song by heart. 

4.  The Seventh Inning Stretch to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame - Even friends who don't like baseball and are ready to go after one inning will wait so they can stand and, with gusto, sing.  And whoever thought an organ was a good instrument for a sporting event anyway?  Think about it.  

5.  Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, Robin laid an egg, Batmobile Lost a Wheel and Joker Got Away - This could have its own separate list of things elementary kids make up and sing and yell to each other in the playground.  But when I was younger, I honestly thought that a friend of a friend of a friend in my elementary school had made up this song.  It seems a few of my friends from other sides of the country had grown up singing the same song and thinking the same thing about their peers.  We realize that there is a huge elementary school culture that somehow transcends location even though we have no idea how.  

6.  Be Aggressive, Be Aggressive, B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E - Last week at a high school football game, my friends and I were shocked to find we knew almost all the words of the cheers.  It seems that all schools tap into some mysterious cheer bank where you simply insert appropriate school and mascot here. 

7.  Groundhog Day - Really?  We take our weather predictions from a large rodent?  And yet, it goes on the calendar every year and we continue to all want to know if the groundhog really saw his shadow or not. 

8.  Happy Birthday!  - We sing the same song with the same silly variations at the end which various persons will insist on singing.  And making a wish before blowing out the candles on your cake?  Plus, we insist on cake AND ice cream.  

9.  It's X:XX, Do you know where _________ is? - Can you believe we got this from a public service announcement back in the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's about child safety?  I showed up at my friend's the other day asking if she had her keys and everyone shot back, It's 10:30, do you know where your keys are?  I smiled at the joke we all shared.  We just 'get' it.  Other commercial jokes include Can you Hear Me Now? (Verizon) and Got ___? (from the Got Milk commercials)

10.  Hammer pants - Say hammer pants and everyone gets what the fashion statement is.  Isn't it hilarious that we attribute a specific look to people?  Imagine Elvis fans for instance and you immediately see the curl in the middle of the forehead with some man in a white and silver spangled suit complete with bell bottoms.  Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and others all have their own distinct identities that we just know.  

Please feel free to add your own. 


  1. I like this list. I like America.

  2. Hooray for Americanisms! Aren't we a kinda strange bunch?