It was a day of firsts. It was the day I met my first friend, the day I experienced my first conflict, and the day I learned my first lesson about being American.
It was the first day of school.
“Class, this is our new student who came from China,” the teacher announced.
“Good morning. My name is Natali Ong, and I am honored to be in your class,” I said, bowing deeply at the waist.
The class immediately erupted into a storm of claps, cheers, and whoops. I cannot hear myself think with all the noise! What on earth was going on?
I nervously waited for the sounds to die down before taking an empty seat, utterly bewildered by the enthusiastic reception.
Thus the day went, as I frantically tried to understand what in the world was happening. I attempted to match faces with names while shaking hands and receiving “friendly” slaps to the back. Then the bell rang, and everyone rushed outside, while I followed at a sedate pace. I found an empty bench, took out my lunch bag, and was suddenly surrounded by curious faces.
“What’s that?” A blonde girl pointed to the inside of the container I had just uncovered. I was offended by her rudeness; she was supposed to compliment its appearance and fragrance before making a subtle inquiry of its identity, but I smiled at her nevertheless.
“They’re Shanghainese wontons,” I replied, holding one up with my chopsticks. Blank faces stared at me, so I added, “Dumplings.”
“Cool! I love dumplings-”
“-they really look good-”
“-thank you!” chorused the group, as the wontons quickly vanished into their mouths.
A lonely wonton perched forlornly on my chopsticks.
“Thanks for the dumplings, Natali!” chirped the blonde girl whom I now recalled as Elaine.
I smiled, hiding my anger.
The bell rang, and we headed back inside. However, a few hours later, the bell rang again. I looked around, confused. My classmates were gathering up their lunch boxes and heading out the door. Elaine beckoned me over, and I hesitantly followed, realizing with dread that what I had assumed to be the lunch break was actually the recess break, and therefore I had nothing to eat.
When we sat down, Elaine asked, “Where’s your lunch?”
“Someone ate it during recess,” I informed her frostily.
The realization dawned on her.
“I’m so sorry!”
“It’s fine,” I soothed hastily, seeing tears forming in her eyes.
The tears instantly evaporated as Elaine beamed at me. “Well, why didn’t you tell us it was your lunch?” she exclaimed.
“It would’ve been rude.”
“It’s disrespectful to cause trouble for small annoyances; it’s better to hide the anger behind happiness.”
“I disagree! I think it’s bad to hide your feelings; you’re free to be yourself!” Elaine argued. “What’s wrong in telling others what the problem is?”
“Because it makes the other person feel bad and creates an awkward situation!”
“It’s only awkward if you make it awkward! Besides, is it bad to want to be happy?”
“Then what’s wrong with being happy?” Elaine demanded.
“Exactly!” she crowed, triumphant as an eagle.
I opened my mouth, and closed it when I realized I had nothing to say. Elaine did have a point. While having manners is a good habit to have, my excessive politeness has caused me to lose my lunch.
How typical of an American to be so liberal with their feelings.
“Americans and their freedom,” I huffed loudly as I stole half of her sandwich.
Elaine merely grinned.
“Welcome to America.”