My first month in Chicago, and back in my home country, has passed quickly and with no major trauma. The one negative note was being victimized by an apartment rental scam through Craigslist: while still in China, I thought I could make the transition easier if I rented a furnished apartment before arriving in the US. It was my own fault for being gullible and believing in my own wishful thinking, and I lost a couple of thousand dollars on a deposit for an apartment that didn’t exist. Another hard life lesson learned.
On the plus side, I completed a short-term job teaching Italian teenagers at a summer English course through International Study and Vacation. I’m now working on attracting some private students, and I’m boning up on my knowledge of academic writing. I continue applying for jobs, mostly through the Chicago City Colleges.
The weather here has been glorious, a sharp contrast to the oppressive heat and humidity of south China, where the students and I sweated through 90-minute classes and the climate drained every ounce of energy from me. China now seems like a distant dream; I only occasionally have cravings for steamed bao zi (meat-filled buns) for breakfast or other local culinary delights. My studio apartment is a short distance from Lake Michigan, and my dog and I enjoy walks to Belmont Harbor and through the beautiful urban greenery of the lakefront parks.
The worst of the culture shock has passed, although there are still some aspects of local life that continue to perplex me:
I was severely chastised for failing to hold a door open for someone exiting a restaurant; it simply never occurred to me. I had become used to having doors slam in my face in China, a country where it can be hard to observe social niceties in its overcrowded cities.
I can understand virtually everything people say here. In China I long ago became used to the bliss of incomprehension; it excused me from having to respond to rudeness or others’ remarks about me. Here, I comprehend every inane conversation around me, and it can be irritating.
Chicagoans seem to walk around anticipating any opportunity for being polite or accommodating. I’ve never heard “Hello, how are you?” so often when entering a store, or people excusing themselves or apologizing for passing others on the sidewalk. Strangers smile at each other here, especially when you’re walking a dog. This over-politeness gets on my nerves sometimes. I almost prefer the brusqueness of other big cities I’ve been in.
I’m still surprised when I see “no firearms” signs at the entrances to libraries, offices, or bars. It reminds me of the constant risk of violence here.
Finally, when I asked my Italian students what things surprised them about America, their first question was “Why don’t you have bidets here? Funny what things we take for granted, and then instantly miss them when they’re gone.