1. Leave your home country saying your goodbyes, waving to the family members who have been so kind to drive you to the airport and make sure you actually get on the plane – or at least that you get past security without stirring up any trouble, the security of your home country, must we specify, because no one can guarantee a positive out come to a conversation with one of the exquisite, efficient and uniformed civil servants of the distinguished United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, who now stare at you through the scratched Plexiglas that makes for a new type of prison, the kind we build for ourselves when we dream of living a life we weren’t born into. Do so promptly, without looking back, without pulling your glasses off to wipe the tears that have started to cloud your vision and your judgment and, as you trot along the halls of the international airport of your choice, don’t forget to slow down, almost to the point of stopping, so you can listen to the echoes of the marble, the steps of those who went before you.
2. Arrive in your new country with fresh eyes, ready to take things in, and an open heart, ready to be broken. The road might present itself as arduous, perpetually peppered with circumstances that bear witness to the fact that leaving what you know for a dream might not have been the most intelligent decision you ever made in your brief but intense life, that maybe life in your homeland, or even in your hometown, could offer you a more luminous perspective. But you cannot cave and allow for the Fata Morgana that is spontaneous disillusion to trick you into taking a step back. Life has never looked so peachy as now.
3. Be embarrassed whenever you need to introduce yourself to others. Show every external sign of abashment and feel free to accumulate them on your person: blush, shake, own your sweaty hands, your dry mouth, stutter whenever possible, red ears always help. When someone asks you to repeat your name – because they will – take pity on them but answer in the most sublimely delicate of tones. When they pronounce your name wrong – because they will – ponder carefully if you absolutely must correct their mistake or if you could find it in your heart to one day feel comfortable being called by another name, a new name.
4. Be aware of the existence of acronyms, and don’t commit the rookie mistake of relying on them or trusting them in any way. Please make sure you stay at a safe distance from all “TBA,” “TBD,” “Q&A,” “PC,” “BLT,” “TTYL,” “TMI,” “BYO-anything,” “AA,” “FYI,” “ASAP,” “DIY,” “DUI,” “PMS,” “PBJ,” “LMFAO.” History keeps track of the few audacious academicians who, wanting to demystify their power, have dared to recount them all, catalogued them like precious butterflies and made their proliferation known to the public, but they were outnumbered and it proved to be a Herculean task. Acronyms are crouching behind any word, clutching to any possible syntactical form as if it were their last hope, lying in wait for the inexpert speaker’s mistake of thinking they understand everything in the current conversation. You will at some point feel the urge to shout out “FML,” but gird yourself and hold your tongue: you are an “FOB” and you will forever be in a trial-period.
5. Operate with special care and caution in restaurants; this advice also applies to any other food establishment in which you will be required to make a decision that could affect your already sufficiently delicate and pampered digestion. Never dare to order something you have not eaten before, or something you could not describe with pinpoint accuracy, or something that bears the ever so marginal possibility that a surprise could occur when the waiter brings you your food. A “corn-dog” might not be a corn-dog. Who knows what Butterfingers are.
6. Don’t talk too loudly, or too often. Even when finding yourself in the company of your friends, never open up to the point where they might sense – God forbid deduce – who you really are. You might think the guardedness unnecessary and prefer to abandon your attitude of permanent caution, and suddenly a surreptitious slip such as pronouncing the word “jacket” as “yacket” will turn you into the object of mockery and parody by those who until the moment preceding this one thought you were one of them. In case of loss-of-friendship anxiety, breathe quietly, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, entrust yourself to the deities that were imposed on you since the earliest age in your home country and make an innocent yet sly remark about the possibility they might learn another language, in which fairly hypothetical scenario you will show them the same compassion they are having the magnanimity of showing you at present.
7. Think twice when you are gearing up to say a word out loud for the first time. Like “awry.” Take the time to make sure you are in a place and time where no curious or accidental ears could get hold of the fact that the sound made by your vocal cords and the sound made by Sir Kenneth Branagh’s vocal cords, paladin of Shakespearian English, don’t coincide. Don’t ever trust appearances: the written letters of which a word is composed are never an indicator of how the latter is pronounced. Keep in mind the fiasco of discovering that “Duane Reade” is not pronounced “Doo-ahhhn Red.”
8. See if you can pass the ultimate endurance test of the supermarket. If at first sight the quantity of food and options leaves you perplexed, spend some time in these halogen-illuminated aisles to allow your five senses – or six – to acclimatize. You will have to choose between thirty kinds of cereal, none of which you have ever encountered before (see point 4), or elucidate what the opaque containers labeled “butter substitute” really hold and whether they can be considered an option to schmier on your morning toast (see point 4). Don’t believe the labels. Olive oil is Spanish, not Italian, and yogurt is Turkish, not Greek.
9. Forget who you were – or are, if you insist on resisting conversion. Don’t long for the motherland because it’s been a while now since she spat out your ungrateful bones and now barely remembers your name. Why else would they treat you like they do on the rare occasions you go back? Never share your homesickness with others. If you do, you will risk stopping being the natives’ “friend” and become their “Spanish friend”, and they will bore you with endless tales of vacations in Puerto Rico, anecdotes about how deep in their nasal orifice the booger that was worrying them was lodged at the moment when Spain won the World Cup, and ask impertinent questions about the circumstances of your youth, and whether electricity was a luxury for your family. On the other hand, they might think you useful in case they decide to eat at a Mexican restaurant. After all, what American citizen has completely understood the difference between a taco and a fajita?
10. Behave always and without exception like the perfect guest. Don’t ask for more tea, or more cookies. Don’t ask inconvenient questions, or complain, or put your feet on the coffee table, literally or in a figurative sense. Never feel at home. Always keep an eye, a splinter of the peripheral capacity that has not yet completely abandoned the human vision since the most atavistic of times, on the emergency exit. Never believe that the journey has ended, that you’re at home, that here you can lay roots and rest your bones and watch your grandchildren grow.