Being an American is one thing, but being a first generation American is a completely distinct experience. Like all things, it comes with its perks and its detriments. Growing up, you were always the unique kid with the weird name and a quirky way of going about things. Your peers couldn’t understand your tales of going home to the motherland and the experiences you had out there.
Even growing up, you were exposed to a different perspective on life. What you thought was normal, your friends thought was outrageous and bizarre. You would celebrate holidays that your peers have never even heard of and you would come to school usually wearing some weird outfits because you had to go to a family event afterwards.
Being a first generation American is truly a unique experience and many of us would not have it any other way. Although, at first, many of us tried to fit it, there was no way we can get around the fact that our parents were foreign and our culture was just different. Here are the 10 signs you’re a first generation American.
Unless you’re extremely ill and on your death bed, home remedies are your only form of medication.
You know you’re first generation American when prescription medicine was a last resort because your parents thought that home remedies, passed down from generation to generation, magically worked better. If your friends came over and were bewildered by the ways your family treated the common cold, then you were definitely using a home remedy. Your parents never believed in pills or modern medication, to them, their sketchy home remedies made more sense than scientifically proven medication — hey, you still loved them anyway. And you’re well enough to be reading this.
You get reprimanded through beatings instead of timeouts.
When you got into trouble, it was best for you to run out the door and hide because you know what’s coming for you. Overseas, the rules are a little different and, unfortunately, a timeout just doesn’t cut it for foreign parents. Sometimes we wished we were American because timeouts or being grounded seemed like such a slap on the wrist.
I wish I could get sent to my room after getting in trouble. I knew once I heard my parents yelling my name, it was over for me. If you did something wrong and you knew your parents found out, it was best you didn’t run because you would get it twice as bad.
‘No’ actually means ‘No’
Walking down the street on a regular basis, I notice American children usually run the show and dictate to their parents what is to be done. They tell their parents what they want, when they want it and, if they don’t get their way, they begin to cry and to whine. This just doesn’t fly with foreign parents, once they say ‘no,’ their minds are set and you will have to wait for another time to get what you want.
There is no way to cajole your parents into changing their minds and if you try to whine or cry, you are in for a world of pain. They will ask you if ‘You want a real reason to cry?’ Then they follow it with a swift backhand to the mouth. This will be sure to silence you and teach you a lesson. So we all know when you’re first generation and your parents say ‘no,’ just end the conversation there.
You learned your native language before English.
It is highly likely that your parents and grandparents did not get a chance to fully learn English. However, they know enough to get them by with their everyday activities, but once they’re at home, they speak what is comfortable to them. Growing up with immigrant parents, you definitely were exposed to your native language while at home.
The only time you were truly exposed to the English language is when you were outside your home or entering pre-school. Don’t worry, you weren’t the only kid in pre-school who didn’t understand half the things the teacher and other kids were saying.
Summer vacation almost always meant visiting the motherland rather than sleepaway camp.
While most of your friends were packing their bags and getting ready to spend much of their summers at camp, you were packing all your summer clothes in order to spend a whole summer abroad in the motherland. You always knew that once school ended, you would be on that first flight to the depths of Eastern Europe to spend time with your family and friends over there.
Most of your friends teased you and constantly spoke about how you were going to miss out on all the fun, but little did they know about how fun it was to actually go back to your native land. This later proved to be helpful as it exposed you to a different lifestyle and opened your mind to new ways of thinking.
You omitted the words ‘a’ and ‘the’ when you first started speaking English.
Your parents came here with no understanding of the English language, so to them, it’s a habit to omit articles in their everyday speech. There is a reason why you were able to understand what they were saying when they said phrases like ‘I go store’ or ‘I want speak you.’ Although this hurt your English speaking abilities, you cannot blame your parents for this one. The use of articles was just foreign to them.
You always had the most difficult name to pronounce growing up.
Going to school was a great experience, but every year it was the same story, no one knew how to properly pronounce your name. If you had the most difficult name to pronounce in your class, then you are probably first generation American. This was your parents way of trying to stick to their roots, but in turn, it was massacred any time some American tried to pronounce your name. Nothing like going in on the first day of class and hearing your teachers butcher your name every day until you corrected them or found a way to Americanize your name.
Lunchables and PB&J were unheard of as in-school lunches.
You were definitely the only kid in the lunchroom with a full 3-course meal. Your parents would never send you with a simple PB&J or a Lunchable. To them, this was unreal and who was really supposed to be full from such a small meal? Your parents wanted to make sure you were full and there is no way that you weren’t going to have a healthy homemade meal. Even buying lunch was foreign to them. Why buy fast food when you can reheat a healthy homemade meal?
You notice that Americans are completely oblivious to what is actually going on in the world.
If you were in school and you were the only one with any sense of geography, there is a reason for that. You probably listened to your grandfather’s tales about his experiences throughout Europe at the dinner table. With this, you developed a sense of geography whereas American students seemed to be oblivious to the world around them. Not only that, but your constant summer trips to the motherland exposed you to a completely different world that your friends who went to summer camp were never really exposed to. So thank your parents for this one.
It was normal for you to start working at the age of 10.
Foreign parents are big on discipline and they always want to teach their kids good habits in order to produce respectable people. If working as early as the age of 10 seems normal to you, then you are a first generation American. For many Americans, working before the age of 18 is unheard of, but at least when you’re actually ready to get a real job, your resume will look more appealing.
Bonus: You celebrate International Workers’ Day on May 1st.
If you, at any point in your life, have celebrated International Workers’ Day, then you are — without a doubt — a first generation American.