On becoming American

Will I suddenly understand baseball? Will I like root beer? Will I manage to eat hot dogs without gagging? These to me, are the questions I really need to have answered. Now that the Big Day has come and gone and I've become an American citizen, it's the stuff of daily life that's going to count.

I've no qualms about the Pledge of Allegiance, loyalty to the flag, even taking up arms in exceptional cases, though I think I'm a bit past that. I acquitted myself just fine at the very civil Immigration Office test: 13 stars on the flag, George Washington, Congress 'n' the Executive Office 'n' the Judiciary. I had it all down pat. I answered their questions, but could they answer mine?

Will I be able to address people as "honey"? Will I know spontaneously if I'm facing north, east, south, or west? Is this a uniquely American skill? Will I become impervious to the TV news being interrupted every minute or two for commercials? Will I respect sports commentaries filled with irrelevant statistics? Will I dare to try buttermilk? Will I laugh at Jay Leno, or David Letterman?

I've already learned some of the basics. Football players aren't really a race apart, they wear pads. Truly, I didn't know this the first games I watched.

For ages I didn't dare ask: What does GOP stand for? When they told me "Grand Old Party" I nodded, but what was that elephant about, and the donkey?

At the stores, I couldn't figure out at first how the ticket said one price and I had to pay more. I was naive enough to argue, and the clerk, who'd not been here a whole lot longer than I, hadn't even the vocabulary to explain.

I've been Texan since way back. No problem. That bumper sticker "Texas: a whole other country" is right on the mark. Breakfast tacos, Dr. Pepper with peanuts, carpets of wildflowers in those short weeks between our pseudowinter and the Big Heat ... a cinch. Of course, my acculturation got a head start when a born-and-bred asked in all seriousness: "How do y'all say 'y'all' when y'all don't even say 'y'all?' "

But becoming an American is a whole different ballgame. I just hope my accent improves automatically, so that when, in a restaurant, I ask for a drink of water - absolutely the hardest word for a Brit to say - I don't have to say it again ... and again before the blank look dissolves. And maybe, at last, I'll be able to drink it with ice.

Was I nervous about the induction ceremony? Nah! I didn't even have to go on stage, I handled it "real good."

But being told by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service I had to wear a dress - was that un-American, or what?

*Jane Manaster, an education writer, has lived in Austin, Texas, since 1969. Born in Manchester, England, she became a US citizen Monday.

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