Thursday, August 9, 2012


According to my temporary driver's license, I am officially a Californian. Tonight marks my one-week anniversary in the Bay Area, but I find myself feeling just as foreign here as I ever did in Seoul.

The thing is, in Seoul, everyone knew I was foreign. If I got in the wrong line at the post office? Whatever, she's white and can't read the signs. If I stared at the bus routes while six buses passed me because I couldn't figure out which one I wanted? No big deal, she's just trying to sound out the names of the stops. If I totally screwed up restaurant protocol and mistakenly ordered a sock instead of a dinner? It's kind of cute; the foreigner thinks she knows what she's doing. It was expected that I'd make incredible mistakes on a regular basis, and I actually had a blast laughing at myself.

When I announced I was moving to Cali, nearly everyone agreed that this would be much easier than moving to a new country. After all, the language, the currency, the alphabet, and the fast food restaurants would all be exactly the same as Ohio (with the exception of In-N-Out burger and its unnecessarily complicated secret menu). Unfortunately, I've stumbled across some subtle differences that make me feel like I might as well be wearing a t-shirt that says "I most certainly do not belong here."

It's just little things, really. Like when the girl at the grocery store pushed my cart out to my car and helped me load my bags into the truck, I asked her if I was supposed to tip her, and she kindly told me she couldn't accept tips but was just trying to be nice. I felt like an idiot for even asking. Then today at the DMV, the clerk asked for my passport to apply for a new driver's license, and I hadn't even considered that she might want to see that. After waiting for an hour to be helped in the first place, I had to drive home and get my passport, and by the time someone could get around to helping me when I returned, it was too late to take the written driver's test.  The clerk told me I'd have to come back another day to start the process over, and I must have looked like I was about to cry because she changed her mind and let me take it anyway.

Multiple times throughout the day, I find myself feeling about two inches tall as I realize that things aren't done quite the same way here. Thus far, I haven't done anything law-breaking (to my knowledge), but the menial things I just can't get right keep me feeling resolutely in the "out-of-state" camp. In Korea, it was obvious I didn't quite belong and I was stumbling my way through everything. Here, I feel like I'm simply too dumb to complete basic tasks.

If I haven't mentioned it recently enough, I miss being in Seoul. But tonight after making a fool of myself at the DMV, I made soup in the microwave (because I have one!), sat on my couch (because I have one!), and watched a movie on my tv (because I have one!). I suppose once I get to the other side of that ominously steep learning curve, life here won't be so bad.

Having the amazing city of San Francisco a thirty-minute drive away helps quite a bit too. Courtney and I took the ferry over on Sunday morning, and we chatted with some of the most delightful people I've ever met. A Chinese woman who knitted Angry Birds hats, a man selling surprisingly difficult wire puzzles, a hippie photographer who invited me to let me stay at his commune up north whenever I'd like, and a cab driver who offered to pick me up at my apartment any time I wanted a chauffeured ride into the city. I bought some melted wine bottles for my apartment and Courtney stole a set of chopsticks from the best dim sum restaurant in the state before we sat along the water, contemplating whether the Golden Gate had been photoshopped onto the skyline. I'd seriously consider becoming a panhandler if it meant I could spend every day in that city. And oh the languages! One of my favorite things about being in Korea was being surrounded by words I couldn't understand. In San Fran, I swear I heard a dozen languages in an hour. I love knowing I'm smack in the middle of a ton of different cultures, yet for that moment, we're all experiencing the same thing (man, I'm sounding pretty hippie already, huh?).

This post totally derailed from where I had planned for it to go...

... but isn't that the way life is sometimes? And it's those unexpected turns that end up taking you where you never knew you wanted to be.


  1. I was thinking about you yesterday... just a "Wonder what Nikki is up to these days" thought. Glad to hear you are in Cali and getting settled. :)

  2. Wow, I'm sorry for your in-country culture shock. Wish I could have warned you that this could happen. I've heard of it in Texas, and it's no surprise that California is another culture, though I've never lived there. Hang in there -- I'm sure you'll enjoy it -- especially the (hopefully) frequent San Fran visits. Cities like that are a gift of God, I believe. I love your description. Makes me want to go there, which is amazing since I've never wanted to before!