Ask Amy: I’m afraid my un-American attitudes put people off

Dear Amy: My family and I came to America from
the Soviet Union when I was a teenager. We became citizens.

Amy Dickinson (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)

I got educated here and own a successful business. I write well
and speak correctly, with almost no accent. I feel like I am an

I love America, and try to learn new things every day, but I
feel like something is missing in me.

Since I was born and spent my formative years in a communist
country (truly like another planet, compared to the USA), my
“autopilot†reactions are not like those of typical
American-born people. For instance, my manners, topics of
conversation, humor, dress, attitude toward money, and even body
language sometime seem “foreign.â€

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I feel like it is hurting me to be “culturally different.†I
don’t think I say or do anything straight-up offensive — it’s
more like a lot of subtle little things.

How can I fix this “handicap?â€

I would love to know how to be more American, but I can’t find
any books or courses on the subject.

NOT Born in the USA

Dear NOT: As we approach the celebration of
another Independence Day, I appreciate this unusual and provocative
question, which, honestly, has no “correct†answer.

First, I urge you not to see your own cultural background and
habits as a “handicap,†but as an asset.

Yes, America is a country. But America is also really a series
of concepts, experiments, and experiences. It is no one thing.

But here is a beautiful “American†ideal (so different from
the culture you were raised in): All Americans have the right to be
uniquely themselves, and that definitely includes you.

However, reinvention is baked into the American experience, and
so if you want to affect “American†mannerisms, I suggest you
become a student of American culture. Take a history course at your
local community college. Follow up with a class on cinema and
popular culture. Read Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Sherman Alexie,
Gary Shteyngart, and Jericho Brown. Listen to Dolly Parton. Watch
“Singin’ in the Rain,†“Goodfellas,†“Barbershop,â€
“The 13th,†and “Ramy.â€

Become a volunteer firefighter. Teach English as a second
language to other newer citizens (teaching American concepts to
others will show you how much you actually know). Work at your
local polling station during the next election.

When you say or do something you believe is “off,†ask a
friend to break it down for you. They might choose to tell you what
I’m trying to tell you now – which is that your effort makes
you the most “American†person they know.

Dear Amy: I’ve been married for two years. My
husband has a difficult time taking my feelings into consideration.
He often ignores my calls and texts. He makes plans with his
friends when my family has an event they have invited us to.

I am tired of this. Everyone else sees him as this “great
guy,†but behind closed doors, he’s not so great. I don’t
know what to do.

Feeling Stuck

Dear Stuck: Your marriage is still young. You
and your husband both entered the marriage with the knowledge you
gleaned from your own parents. He might be recreating his own
father’s style, and you might carry your own mother’s
experiences and expectations about what marriage is supposed to be

Being a good spouse is a learned experience. It’s really a
question of being on the same team. Teammates have each others’
backs. They also grant each other occasional “outs.â€

Should you put one another first? Absolutely. But must he attend
all of your family’s events? I hope not. There is room for
negotiation and compromise.

When I was newly married, my most treasured wisdom came from
friends who have now been married for seven decades. In that
spirit, you and your husband might learn from reading “What Makes
a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us the Secrets to
a Happy Life,†by married power couple Marlo Thomas and Phil
Donahue (2020, HarperOne).

Dear Amy: You nailed your answer
to “In a Corner,†the husband
who had finally reached his
limit with his alcoholic wife.

I lived that story, and it was awful.

Al-Anon gave me the strength to live in an alcoholic marriage as
long as I did. Then Al-Anon gave me the strength to leave.

Now I’m married to a wonderful woman, and living the life
I’m meant to. And I’m still going to Al-Anon, it works!

John K, in South Carolina

Dear John: Your own recovery!

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You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a
letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also
follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.

Source: FS – All – Interesting – Lifestyle
Ask Amy: I’m afraid my un-American attitudes put people