The culturally awkward teenage phase

St. Xavior College was letting out of class at the same time I was walking up to class.  They came down the hill toward me looking like an asian reincarnation of my high school class. All flannel, Converse, and floppy hair.  The worst of 80’s and 90’s fashion has descended on the cool kids of Kathmandu.  I wanted to warn them against day glow and leotards.  Though they may be making a trendy return, they really are stupid looking, and they will regret it someday.  I didn’t tell them and they wouldn’t have believed me anyway.  Partly because I don’t speak Nepali all that well and partly because I am so uncool.  Like old uncool, like someone’s mom uncool.

I walked up as they came down.   As I parted the waters of giggling and posturing adolescence I felt the insecurity and fakiness of the teen years in waves.  I smiled to myself and wished I could let them know they didn’t have to fake it.  They could be real and people would like them and respect them for it.  But they don’t even know they are faking it at this point, they don’t know how to be real, what is real, and they especially don’t want to hear it from someone’s mom.

I empathized with their insecurity and fakiness not only because I was once a totally insecure, faking it, high schooler, but because I’m faking it right now.

I realized I was faking it as I walked up the hill.  Right here, right now, I don’t know how to be real.  I’m not sure how to live in another culture and as much as I’ve studied and read about it I just don’t know how to do it.  I don’t know how to be two things at once, ex. an American who lives in Nepal.  I’m not a Nepali, that is abundantly clear in many ways.  I don’t look the part, I don’t speak the language, and I just don’t get a lot of what is going on here.  So I fake it, I try to dress like a Nepali, speak some Nepali and eat like a Nepali, but it is all an act.  I’m also not in America anymore, and that is obvious as well.  I used to be a decent cook, here I can only scrape together the basics.  People don’t behave the way I expect them to and I can’t figure out why.  I miss the conveniences and ammenities I am used to but then I feel guilty about it.   I didn’t move to another country to eat,live and look like an American, but on the other hand I don’t know how not to and it feels strange here.

I don’t know what to do and what not to do to fit in here.  I’m not sure how much culture I should absorb and adopt and how much I should just say ‘forget it I’m eating macaroni and cheese and pizza and watching television’.   I’m jealous of the bedeshis who look so comfortable at the cafe’s with their Nepali friends, chatting away in Nepali.  I’m impressed with their tolerance for curry.  They don’t seem like they are faking it.  I also try not the judge those westerners who move here and live like they would at home, using up more than their share of the host country’s resources.  Then again I secretly envying their ‘who care about culture’.  They don’t seem like they are faking it either.

I suppose I will eventually grow out of my cultural adjustment adolescent state and figure out what it means to be an American in Nepal.  But I also need to figure out what ‘American in Nepal’ is for me, not only what the cool kids are doing.   I have the old, uncool, someone’s mom, hindsight to know that my insecurity and fakiness is just a stage and eventually it will pass, and I’m glad I know that.  Knowing one day I will be real is very comforting.  I wanted to hug each of the St. Xavier kids and let them know that they will be real someday too and there is hope.
I gave myself a hug instead.