For the first time in my life, I am singular. I try not to drag out the jargon of isolation or capital-O Other too much because such broad brushstrokes leave little at the human level, the one we all start at when we wake up, before we put on our pants and our cultural mores. But today flowed with evidences of wandering in a strange land. I was laughtrack and lead in my sitcom of one as lunch hour verged toward the absurd. No, U.S. coworkers aren't that touchey-feely, no, you can't look at what I'm texting, yes, I still like it here, no, I can't go to happy hour because I made dinner plans and there is no such thing as happy hour here, it's just the term for Mexicans hanging out all night, no, I've never heard of Tepetongo, no, "running into" someone doesn't mean that you literally bodycheck them, we call it Hotlanta because it gets hot and...we just do.
This is the granular reality of cultural exchange. Gone are the dreams of seamlessly blending in; I have learned to survive by breathing different air. It's more real and more right, I think, though the tide of foreign words, sounds, and bubbles of personal space does erode the land I thought was sacred. Slowly, imperceptibly, I am learning to pivot, not to take offense, to view others as people to be explored and not obstacles to my understanding or cogs in my elusive quest for acculturation. Some days, that leaves me quiet and lagging, others, laughing to myself as coworkers smoke on the office steps. It never hits in the same place twice, the moment of clarity. The best I can do most days is hold out my glove and hope for tacos al pastor, a lucid tongue, and wisdom.