Stranger in a strange land

As an East African woman in Minnesota, I'm appalled that men demand sex when we barely know each other. How can I find an American man who doesn't mind waiting?

Published February 12, 2003 8:24PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am shocked, outraged and symbolically robbed of my principles. I am from East Africa. My legal papers read: "permanent Alien resident." I have moved here by reason of insanity to some extent, bad politics in my country of birth, and maybe by some unexplained kismetic happenings. Where I come from, there is something called culture: respect, old traditions (you may call it primitive), and most of all self-preservation. I move here to Minnesota, USA, and find a terrible culture shock. People here are very fat, very materialistic and shallow. The weather is terribly cold. No culture (please don't call media hip-hop or Hollywood a culture), too many sins like freedom of sex, and other unmentionables.

I am young, attractive, educated, cultured, sophisticated and confused about the unwritten rules of dating in America. It was a huge step to consider the possibilities of dating Americans in the first place. I have successfully dumped five dates in the last three-month period. I dumped them because of an annoying three-letter word that seems to be an obstacle in my dating life. SEX! All these men demanded sex from me when we barely began to know each other. I am not that kind of girl. I can't randomly oblige a bull in heat just because his hormones are biologically in disposition. I understand if American women find that agreeable, but not me. Where I come from, there is a long-lasting courting period, a kiss on the cheek, then there is the soft kiss on the lips rendered after five months of anticipation, then there is the mutual discussion on when to actually do the deed.

I want the date to mean something grander than just some spontaneous act of violent mating. A friend of mine suggested I try dating online -- in that way I would have a chance to put my requirements clear in writing and post it out there for that single "lucky" guy for me. Is that my only option? Can I find an American date who doesn't need any convincing to wait? Or should I assimilate to this oversize American Hollywood-like culture that seems to be too modern for me?

Culture-Shocked Village Gal

Dear Village Gal,

You are not alone. Many Americans also experience terrible culture shock when, for reasons of insanity or bad politics, they journey to Minnesota. But that shock is usually due to encounters with Lutherans, rather than with the oversexed Lotharios you seem to have run into.

The online dating idea is not a bad one, but it will only form part of a more general strategy that must be based on some larger cultural understanding of where you are. That is, Welcome to America -- we are all crazy here. We are especially crazy when it comes to Africans.

You must understand that America is sick about people from Africa, especially women from Africa. Early in our national history, whites here actually thought that people from Africa weren't human. I tell you, my dear, we are sick, sick, sick, and just beginning these days to climb out of our madness. It was not so very long ago that our courts decided that people from Africa are indeed human. So you see, you are going to encounter much insanity here. But I beg you to give us a chance, because we have many other fine qualities. Though we are ignorant and coarse, we are also broad-minded and curious.

And, for all our faults, because we all came from somewhere else just like you, we generally do believe in making our country a refuge for others. Most of us recognize that we are all the children of immigrants and thus owe a certain hospitality to newcomers.

"The number of Minnesota residents who were born in Africa increased sixfold in the 1990s," according to the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul. "Most made the Twin Cities area their home," says the paper. Perhaps you would be pleased to know that certain social agencies in Minnesota are working to accommodate the many East African immigrants who have gone to Minnesota in the past decade.

Here is an idea: Many who work in government and nonprofit social service agencies hold higher standards of sexual conduct than the kind of guys you have been meeting, so, while it might sound a little nutty, if I were you I would try to hook up with churches and with social service agencies in your area. The people you meet there will likely know more than the average Joe about where you come from and what particular struggles you have. Moreover, people who work in social services have had to wrestle with moral and philosophical problems in order to arrive at their vocation. Many have come to these vocations because of a yearning for a better world, and a hatred of injustice. So rather than indict all Americans for the caddish behavior of a few, I think you will find, if you look in the right places, that many Americans will be interested in learning about your customs and your world, and relating to you according to what you think is right.

But you, on the other hand, may have to do some teaching. You must understand that in America there is very little shared culture, so we are constantly having to explain ourselves to each other. We are all different, and none of us really knows what to expect. That's why there are so many self-help books and advice columns in this country, and why we are known for talking about ourselves too much. We have to talk about ourselves because otherwise we cannot make ourselves understood. We scarcely know each other. So when you find a man you like, and you are sure that he doesn't want to just get in your pants right away, take some time to explain to him where you come from and what you believe.

We're capable of accepting people from other cultures. We just need to be educated. America is a wonderful land, but it will take some getting used to.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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