How long does it take for a grown man to become Americanized?

in FP: Latest/Life

21 years and 11 months! This is how long it took my 80-year-old father to tell me this: “We were visiting our friends and we watched a Broncos game. Did you know…”and he began to tell me all the nuances of football he had learned. He was so excited about the game that I took advantage of the opportunity and suggested we create a new tradition for our extended Katsenelson family – Sunday as football night. So now three generations of Katsenelsons have another reason to get together every other week during the fall and winter.

December 4th will mark 22 years since my family arrived in the US. Among all of us, my stepmother was the only one who spoke American. I studied British in high school and college. But the Russian teaching system focused mostly on blind memorization – I still remember an excerpt from a 4th-grade text I had to memorize: “I get up at 7 o’clock in the morning. I open a window and shut my door. I do my exercises.” Memorized text is great for the teachers who have to grade it … but a poor sort of teaching. Needless to say, I could barely speak when we got here. My English vocabulary was just good enough to buy milk and cigarettes. (I quit smoking 20 years ago, and my father followed my lead.) Not speaking the language did not stop me from looking for a job a week after we landed in Denver. My aunt taught me the most important phrase in job search: “I’d like to fill out an application.”

I visited every single business establishment within a two-mile walking radius around our house. None of the fine fast-food establishments in the area – McDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King – found me an attractive minimum-wage candidate. I don’t blame them, because although I could speak a few words I could not understand a thing Americans (especially hungry Americans) might have wanted to say. See, to my shock, I discovered that Americans (unlike British) spoke not in distinct words but in jumbled sentences – that is, all the words in the sentence would be compressed into one long, completely indeciphable sound. (Texans were the only exception; they seemed to speak slower and pause between words.)

It took me a while to perfect the art of nodding in order to convey to interviewers that I understood what they were saying (which I did not). It took me two months, after being rejected by not just one but two strip clubs (I am not quite sure what job they thought I was applying for, and I sure didn’t know) to get a job at Cherry Creek Sporting Club. I was put in charge of cleaning locker rooms and folding towels. Well… fast-forward 22 years and our family is ordering pizza and watching American football.

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