Feb 172012
America the Hyperreal

Visiting and then writing about the U.S. has a solid tradition among the French, but it’s safe to say the late Jean Beaudrillard‘s 1986 work"America" hasn’t made the list of books covering their country that Americans would showcase. Even the most cynical among my new compatriots would hesitate to call their country "a giant hologram", a "blank solitude," or a "narcissistic refraction." Abstract hyperbole defines Beaudrillard’s "America". On the ground, it is the desert that defines Beaudrillard’s America. He can’t get enough of it because "you are delivered from all depth […] Continue reading >

Feb 152012
American Euphemisms and Evasive Thinking, Part 1

Last year’s final issue of The Economist featured an article exploring euphemisms—expressions that substitute neutral, ambiguous wording for a potentially uncomfortable one. The article “Making murder respectable” alludes to the experience every immigrant knows all too well as a cultural and language outsider. American euphemisms are in a class of their own, principally because they seem to involve words that few would find offensive to start with, replaced by phrases that are meaninglessly ambiguous: bathroom tissue for [toilet] paper, dental appliances for false teeth, previously owned rather than used, wellness […] Continue reading >

Feb 042012

The Devil appears to a man on his deathbed. “I’m going to give you a choice between Heaven and Hell,” he says. “And just to make it fair, I’m going to let you see them first.” Heaven is, well, Heaven: halos, harps—pleasant but dull. Hell, however, looks terrific: drinking, music, dancing girls. “I’ll take Hell,” the man says. Once he dies, though, Hell turns out to be exactly what you would have imagined in the first place: flames, screams, demons, pitchforks. “Wait a minute,” the man complains. “This isn’t […] Continue reading >

Jan 232012
Catching Up on the Acculturation Treadmill

Aside from being a wonderful English phrase, "learn something new every day" captures an immigrant’s experience to a tee. It feels good to understand your new home better, day by day. Until you hit the acculturation treadmill. The bigger the cultural difference between your own and the host American culture, the steeper and longer the learning curve. Even immigrants and transplants from Central Europe, who have, culturally, always taken inspiration from and looked up to the United States, have plenty to process and learn. After a while, the instances […] Continue reading >

Jan 182012
The Puzzle of America's Infant Safe Haven Laws: You Can Legally Abandon Your Child

San Francisco can leave you with many memories, but the one that’s stuck with me most strongly is the sign I saw on a fire station (see right) indicating people can leave their unwanted babies there. Even two years later I have a hard time fully wrapping my mind around the American infant safe haven laws. Many State legislatures have enacted legislation to address infant abandonment and infanticide in response to a reported increase in the abandonment of infants. Beginning in Texas in 1999, infant safe haven laws have […] Continue reading >

Jan 122012
"Russian Old New Year 2012. Party!" on Friday the 13th Promises a Party

And judging from Chervona’s Xmas video shoot a month ago, a good one too! In fact, most, if not all, of the good people who populated and helped shoot the video (below, includes American Robotnik in a snow-white ushanka) will be in attendance at Dante’s on Friday the 13th. Tickets may even still be available. According to Stephanie Salvey’s intro to the reprint [pdf] of my article about the video shoot on Oregon Music News, “Each year around this time the cheapest round trip to Russia is a ticket to Chervona’s Old Russian New […] Continue reading >

Jan 092012
The Lure and Magic of Junk Stores

On a recent road trip to Northern California, I made a point of revisiting the Guerneville junk store. Tucked in the western edge of the Safeway parking lot in downtown Guerneville, the junk store, like many other junk stores, casts a strange magic on me whenever I visit it, which is on every trip down there. A junk store is like a lure: it pulls you inside but it hurts as well. As always, I forgot to check the name on the storefront. Thinking back, there may not even be […] Continue reading >

Nov 282011
The Little Big Differences

Whether you consider yourself an expat(riate), a transplant, an émigré, an exile, or an immigrant, you notice how and in what way your new country—the U.S. in the case of American Robotnik—differs from the country of your birth. “Cultural distance from host society”, that is, how much your new country differs from your old one, plays a role not only in your acculturation, but also in what you notice and how it affects you. When it comes to the differences between developed Europe and the U.S., Vincent Vega said […] Continue reading >

Nov 252011
Black Friday vs. Buy Nothing Day Smackdown

If you’ve lived in the U.S. for at least a single Thanksgiving, you know about Black Friday. Retailers open super early to launch the holiday shopping season with ridiculous deals, and shoppers respond by raiding the stores. It’s called “black” because it’s hell out there and because it marks the retailers starting to run a profit on the year (or be “in the black”). A lot of people have strong feelings about Black Friday.  In the Black Corner… Representing the Pro Black Friday side this year is the man who […] Continue reading >

Oct 312011

Halloween (or Hallowe’en) is an annual holiday observed on October 31, which commonly includes activities such as trick-or-treating, attending costume parties, carving jack-o’-lanterns, bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films. —Wikipedia Today is Halloween and other than bonfires, which I have yet to see anyone do, there just is nothing to Halloween that connects with me. I know my history enough to appreciate Martin Luther King, Presidents, Memorial, Independence, Labor, Columbus, and Veterans Days. I’ve learned the basics of American football rules […] Continue reading >

Oct 132011
Heritage Festivals Distort National Cultures

Reading about and attending ethnic/national heritage festivals here in Portland, Oregon, has enabled me to draw some tentative conclusions about their purpose, effects, and shortcomings. While heritage festivals fulfill an important role in preserving ethnic/national cultures, they also distort them by presenting their antiquated versions. What Heritage Festivals Have in Common The only difference between the recent Serbian, Polish, and Greek festivals was the heritage they celebrated and the resulting substance; each festival wrapped the same prescription in a different flag and flavor. The festivals had a lot in common:* […] Continue reading >

Oct 112011
I Survived a Peanut Butter Pickle Sandwich

Living in a new country means constant learning. Food is no exception. When you get used to, and even begin enjoying, a new dish or an ingredient, the learning curve flattens and further learning occurs on the edges of your experience. This has been the case for me with peanut butter, the principal ingredient in a peanut butter jelly sandwich, or PBJ. After several PBJ fits and starts during my stateside travels last century, I adopted PBJ into my breakfast diet about 8 years ago, after I settled in […] Continue reading >

Oct 082011
Writing Across Cultures

Portland’s book and literary festival Wordstock is taking place this weekend. This year’s theme: “America Is a Story That Never Ends”. In the event brochure, Wordstock Executive Director Greg Netzer wrote, “America is a biography of who we are, and a dream of who we want to be. This year’s festival is devoted to such stories of American experience.” How apt for American Robotnik! I am attending both days, to hear writers, foreign-born and natural-born alike, talk about their own (and their characters’) challenges in the new country. The […] Continue reading >

Oct 062011
Fall Is Heritage Festival Season

Fall seems to be the season for heritage festivals. Over the past three weekends here in Portland, Oregon, Serbian, Polish, and Greek festivals took place. I had a chance to attend the Polish and Greek one. Today’s first of two posts looks at the festival experiences (Part Two next week will tackle heritage festivals in general). 5th Annual Serbian Fest I learned about Serbian Fest 2011 the week after it took place from Vickie Kavanagh’s preview article on OregonLive.com. Excerpt: Traditional music, entertainment, activities and food will be featured at […] Continue reading >

Oct 032011
Acculturating? You Have Options!

It’s a special kind of discovery to learn your personal experience has an underpinning in academic theory. A paper by Jean Phinney, Gabriel Horenczyk, Karmela Liebkind, and Paul Vedder on the connection between immigration, ethnic identity, and well-being validated my personal transformation that led to American Robotnik. The Acculturation Model To be more precise, it was an overview of John Berry’s acculturation model that confirmed what I’d gone through. Berry asserts that acculturation has two dimensions: the degree of preservation of one’s heritage culture and adaptation to the host society. In […] Continue reading >