I spent most of my childhood in Germany. We moved to Alabama in 1987.
At first being in America was exciting. I wanted to go to all the fast food restaurants that I had never heard of before. I could not believe all the different types of cereal in the stores. There were also candies and other treats there were new to me. I was always exploring and trying new things.
When school started, I went to East Limestone High School. That’s when the culture shock really hit me.
The other kids were talking about popular TV shows, movies, singers, and other cultural icons. Most of the time, I did not know what they were talking about. The food was different. Grits, chicken fried steak, okra, and other foods were all new to me.
Aaron and I had a very different accent from the other students. Some of the other kids did not believe we were Americans. They called us foreigners. My math teacher had a long discussion, during class, about how foreigners needed to stay in their own country.
If I broke a cultural norm at school, I would be punished. Sometimes, I did not even know what I had done wrong.
There were a few things that happened during this time that I still laugh about today. My favorite involves Aaron trying to buy a book. We had only been in America for a few weeks and went to a bookstore.
In Germany we paid sales tax, but it was figured into the price. The price on the tag was the price you paid. Also, we did not use pennies. Everything was rounded to the nearest nickel and you could not even use pennies as a form of payment.
Aaron wanted to buy a book. He had enough money, but did not factor in the sales tax. He goes to the register and hands over his money. The sales clerk said he was short and needed to give her more money.
Aaron started arguing with her and pointed to the price tag. The sales clerk made some comment about taxes, which my brother did not understand. Eventually, my mom stepped in to pay the extra money.
The sales clerk handed the change to Aaron, which included a couple of pennies. Aaron looked at the pennies and said, “What exactly am I supposed to do with these?” Everyone in the store was staring at us, like we were crazy people.
The biggest culture shock of my life was moving to Alabama.