CULTURAL TIPS FOR NEW AMERICANS
To be a foreigner — one who is defined as not from here — often means unknowingly breaking rigid social and cultural rules. Definitions of these social and cultural standards often say a lot about the native society. As the proverbial Land of Opportunity, the United States has always had a steady stream of new Americans and "what it means to be an American" is loudly and frequently discussed on national television.
For Cultural Tips For New Americans project, we gathered advice to help recent arrivals assimilate and understand their new home. We took advice from published guides, public forums, streets questionnaires, social websites, and friends to create tips like:
"When two Americans are standing and talking to each other they stay at least 16 inches away from each other." Life in the USA, The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans by Elliot Essman
"Never refuse gum if an American offers it to use. Offering gum is a polite way to tell someone that they have bad breath." Jenny W. on Facebook
We have illustrated these tips and produced Cultural Tips handbook, phone kiosk posters, stickers and sculptural series.
We installed the posters onto phone kiosks and placed stickers in various places on the Bowery and in Chinatown and Soho, from May 1 to May 28, 2011.
Accompanying the street-level posters, we engaged with the lower east side community and gathered one hundred and four new cultural tips from visitors, in exchange for the handbook on Saturday May 7, 2011 at NoLongerEmpty booth / Rivington and Chrystie Streets New York, during the Festival of Ideas for the New City organized by the New Museum.
*The project has been made possible by the Franklin Furnace Fund, Blue Print Fellowship, NoLongerEmpty and The Festival of Ideas for the New City, organized by the New Museum.
CULTURAL TIPS TAKEAWAY
Cultural Tips takeaway at Toomer Labzda Gallery (located only few blocks away from where the Festival took place) was a continuation of the Cultural Tips For New Americans project. Inhabiting the gallery as a procession of objects, a gift shop of sorts; each tip claims an international souvenir stripped of color and ethnic identity, such as:
"American action movies are multi-billion dollar export industry, but don't reflect real life. Americans only occasionally drive over 100 mph, shoot each other and blow things up." Dave
"Speak loudly and chant U-S-A, U-S-A wherever feeling uber patriotic." D.H.
"When an American asks you 'what's up?' your standard response should be 'nothing much.'" Elena G.
"Smile even if you are sad." Heldon
"'Hope to see you again' does not mean that an American hopes to see you again." Emily
"If you hang out with an American for an hour you should hug them goodbye."Rebecca
"Americans don't look each other in the eyes when they cheer glasses." Stephanie
"The hard sell only works in movies and for Donald Trump." A.B.
"We really don't know anything about where you are from but please tell we are interested." Dimitry
"In capitalist America bank robs you!" Greg
There were one hundred and four wood objects, for one hundred and four tips, for one hundred and four dollars each - with the aim that each tip would be acquired and taken from the gallery before the exhibition closes. Thus bringing the project full circle and presenting the cultural tips back to the local lower east side community from which they derived.
Cultural Tips takeaway 2011-2013, Series of 104 objects, Wood and ink, Dimensions variable, Unique
Cultural Tips For New Americans, 2009-2011, Public Art Project, New York
Cultural Tips For New Americans, 2009-2011, Series of 8 objects, Cast foam, ink, paper, 18 x 10 x 2 inches each, Edition of 3