Sometimes I go over my blog, to see if there is at least some semblance of balance between positive and negative posts. I don’t want to always sound angry and whiny, especially in my posts that are more directly related to being an immigrant in this
crazy country. That wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of my state of mind outside of this blog. Nevertheless, anger and resentment do seem to crop up on a regular basis. How is it that I am still able to keep that up after twenty-three years?
I mentioned a while back that I’m playing an online game, and that it’s the first time I’ve done anything like this. Very slowly but surely I’m figuring it out, having fun. I made some game buddies who invited me into their guild and who’ve been helping me along via written messages. I don’t always immediately understand what they say–it’s like they’re speaking a foreign language sometimes–so it can take a while for us to figure out why we have a misunderstanding about some technical aspect, and that’s alright. I know all will be revealed in time.
Then something happened. I have no idea what I did, but the person who invited me into the guild unfriended me, left the guild and so far won’t respond to my messages. It doesn’t feel very good.
I remember exactly when and where I experienced something similar.
Way back in the eighties, when I was a librarian at a police training school in the Netherlands, we had a school-wide cultural awareness week, for both students and staff. During one workshop, we were put in situations that were supposed to give us some insights into what immigrants from completely different cultures might experience.
We were divided into groups of about ten to twenty people each, and we went to separate classrooms, where we were briefed on what our culture was. Then outsiders from another group came and visited, two at a time, for about ten minutes before changing up again.
Seeing the outsiders trying to figure things out was interesting in itself. Most outsiders started off kind of circling the whole group, staying together, observing, hesitant. Some then made the plunge, others stayed on the sideline the whole ten minutes, not sure what to do, how to approach these people.
First I was part of a group of traders, where everything was about trading as little as possible for something outsiders didn’t realize was valuable to us. So when an outsider came, we crowded around him, taking the pieces of paper he had, and giving him whatever it was we had that was relatively worthless in our society–I don’t remember what it was exactly. We made out like we were welcoming him in our midst, like we were helping him transition. We would take those worthless bits of paper off his hands and give him something useful in return. The outsider was completely overwhelmed, what with our confusing explanations and the fact that we were taking things from him and handing him other things while we talked. And we were inwardly grinning at our cunning. (Also interesting how the outsiders brought out the worst in us!)
Next, I volunteered to be an outsider in a different group. Me being me, I barged right in–never mind observing, forget the other outsider. People in this group were all standing around, talking with one another. When I approached one set, they smiled warmly and included me and asked me how my father was, and my brother, and I said they were fine and I, in turn, asked them about their relatives. They really seemed to appreciate that. I went from one group to the other like this one or two more times until I felt completely relaxed and well-adjusted. Look at me, mingling like a boss!
So I kept going with a next group: Hey man, how’s your brother, your father, your mother? Suddenly everyone gasped and frowned and turned their backs on me. I tried another group: How’s your father, your sister, your… Same thing–they turned their backs to me. I had no idea what I had done wrong, what I had said that was so offensive, and the feeling of being completely in the dark and ignorant about the etiquette that I was obviously butchering was awful. I wanted to learn, to find out what I was doing wrong, but they wouldn’t talk to me, they no longer wanted anything to do with me.
Later, during the explanation, it became clear that I had been thrown in the middle of a patriarchal society where people always asked about the male members of one’s family, but NEVER about the female members. That had never in a million years occurred to me!
In this online game, with this person clearly being offended, I feel just as lost and clueless as back then, and it really bothers me. I’m new to this gaming world. I’m trying to figure it all out. I asked my other game buddy if he knew what I had done to offend, and he said that our guild partner is very social in this game. Suggesting, maybe, that I hadn’t been social enough lately? I don’t know. Gamers don’t seem big on elaboration.
Which is why I keep going back and forth between being chatty and buddy-buddy and then reining myself in because it might be too much, because maybe in the gaming world the whole point is to play with complete strangers, anonymously. So I disclose a few small things about myself here and there, but I’m not sure I should ask too much about other players. Maybe that’s not done? But maybe if I don’t ask anything, it’ll seem like I’m not showing an interest?
This blog is my writing outlet, but I hadn’t had anything to say here lately, which is part of the reason my game buddies sometimes got these tsunami messages from me. Now I’m back on a blogging spurt, so I get my writing fix and I don’t feel the need to impose myself as much on guild members in the game. I thought they would probably appreciate that. Maybe I was wrong.
But maybe that isn’t it at all. Maybe it’s something completely different. I don’t know what I don’t know. And maybe my game buddy mistakenly assumes that I do know.
It occurs to me that, in a way, I’m like a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant in this gaming world. But the time I experienced a similar situation wasn’t within the past twenty-three years that I’ve been an immigrant in America. So what was so different about these situations in the cultural awareness workshop and in my online game?
Rejection is never a great feeling, but I think it’s being left guessing that leaves me gobsmacked. If I had figured out, in that workshop, that people turned their backs on me because I had the audacity to ask about their sisters, my reaction probably would’ve been something like Well, fuck you too, you misogynist bastards, and I would have sulked along the sidelines until I could go back to my own sleazy but familiar group. Maybe it wouldn’t have been altogether helpful, but it would have been a choice–I would still have had some say in the situation, and I could always change course after thinking about it for a while. Anything would have been better than being at a complete loss the way I was.
I don’t think that if or when I find out the reason my online game buddy is offended, that my reaction will be Fuck you too, asshole. Because I can’t imagine that our misunderstanding stems from some fundamentally different world view. But who knows. Either way, it got me thinking.
If anger is still better than nothing in an alien world, that explains a lot. For an immigrant, sticking bravely to one’s principles in a new environment can provide an anchor in the mental storm of immigration. Anger and resentment are not only useful defenses, they’re choices–a way of still having some control. They’re a first reaction, though some of it never goes away. I’m still battling several American principles with my own, and I still need to feel that I have some control–hence this blog, where I can’t change anything either, but where I can at least voice my frustrations.
Are you a gamer? Do you have any tips? Gamer or not–have you ever experienced something similar? Immigrant or no, in which subcultures have you found yourself to be at a loss, shocked, an immigrant? What is/was that like? Let me know in a comment.