It's startling to observe the changes you go through when you move to another country — changes in the way you interact with women and men. Even the way you dress.
I started to think about acculturation after I moved from Germany to Southern California. I was sorting through clothes to see what to throw away, and I discovered a pink T-shirt. I hadn't worn it since the move, but when I put it on, I noticed that I still liked it. A lot. I've always liked pink because it's more intriguing than, say, red in the same way a complex jazz harmony is deeper than a simple triad.
In Germany, I used to wear boldly colored clothes almost every day. I found old photos that show me skiing in a purple fleece sweater or at a barbecue wearing an orange-pinkish T-shirt. I asked an American friend who currently lives in Berlin about what men there are wearing, and she said men's clothing stores there sell pink shirts, white shirts with green and yellow dots, or black ones with blue dots. "No man would wear that in the U.S.," she informed me, adding that the last thing straight American men want is to wear something that doesn't match their idea of what is manly.
Adjusting to the way men dress here was just the beginning. I had to adjust my behavior as well, especially when it came to dating women. I didn't even know the term "dating" when I arrived here. In Germany, men and women don't date. They just spend time together, and it doesn't mean anything.
This drove the first American women I went out with crazy. I thought we were just hanging out as friends, and all the while they were wondering why I didn't even give them a hug or a kiss on the cheek by the end of our third meeting. Now, after learning what I'm supposed to do when going out, I've actually come to like the fact that there is a structure and set of rules to follow.
But I'm not entirely sure I understand the American rules about socializing with other men. In Germany it doesn't mean anything if two men go to dinner or the movies together. It doesn't mean anything if they are socializing without the crutch of business or sports. In the U.S., that's apparently called a "man date" and is considered inappropriate by some, especially if the dinner takes place in a romantic setting with candles or wine and without a television.
Lord help you if you order a mojito instead of a scotch — although White Russians seem to be OK, thanks to the Dude in "The Big Lebowski." (The term now has its own entries in the Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia and got some play in the 2009 movie "I Love You, Man.")
I've been on many man dates over the years and recall dinner with a friend who works at UC Irvine, where I did my PhD research. The Cuban restaurant where we had dinner, Habana in Costa Mesa, had dozens of candles, including a Christmas-tree-like candelabra against a wall. I ordered a blueberry Mojito, and we shared a bottle of wine. And no, we weren't sitting at the bar watching sports on television but at a table for two, candles in between us.
I was completely in my comfort zone, and the memory inspires me to stand by who I am and what I like.
Last weekend, I had planned to celebrate my rediscovered passion for colors by wearing my pink T-shirt and ordering a blueberry mojito on a date with my girlfriend. But when I announced my intentions, she said the shirt was just too old and worn out.
So I won't wear it, but I won't throw it away either. And I'll still order the dark blue drink. She'll have a scotch. Hold the ice.
L.A. Affairs chronicles romance and relationships. Past columns are archived at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times