Following Unwritten Rules
I came to America in my early twenties, not knowing what to do with my life and yearning for adventure. I didn't know much about this country. All I knew was that it was a lot bigger than Holland, my home country.
My biggest challenge in trying to adapt to living here was to figure out the 'unwritten rules' of American society.It started when I went for my first interview for a job as a secretary. As I was waiting for my interviewer, I heard someone call out: 'Madeleine?' and I thought to myself 'Hey, that's funny, somebody here is also called Madeleine.' But then I realized that they were calling ME! Imagine being called by your first name by a total stranger! I was shocked to my core. In Holland, being called by your first name by someone you don't know is a sign of total disrespect. I was very insulted and almost walked out of the office.
Now that I am a veteran immigrant I have grown to like this custom. I like it because it reflects one of the most basic American values - that of equality. In America, titles, such as "sir" and "madam" are seldom used in business or elsewhere. People in authority, managers, directors, even presidents are addressed by their first name. So why not a lowly interviewee?
Another basic American value is that of openness and frankness. At the office I initially closed my office door so I could concentrate on my work, but people kept knocking, peeking in and asking with a worried look on their face whether I was alright. I realized that another unwritten rule in America is to leave your office door open unless something unpleasant is going on that needs to be shielded from the outside world.
You see, there are very few physical barriers in America: Yards have no fences, doors are left open, taxi cabs never have a devider between driver and passengers.. So how do you prevent your children from playing in your neighbor's yard? Why doesn't the whole office staff end up in YOUR office? How can you talk freely in a taxi cab without the driver knowing about your most intimate secrets?
Again: it's the unwritten rules. Except for naïve immigrants like myself, everybody knows that you don't let your children play in someone else's yard. And you don't just barge into someone else's office without first knocking on the open door. A taxi driver is not expected to listen in on a private conversation 3 feet away (how that is accomplished is still a mystery to me). And the list goes on.Continued on the next page