First Days is a weekly series in partnership with the South Asian American Digital Archive, documenting the first-person stories of immigrant America. This week, the story of Tianyi Sheng - who left Beijing, China for Orlando, Florida in 2007.
"I came to US in 2007 as a college student and lived in an apartment complex where a lot of other local college students live too. My neighbor was two American students and both were very nice people when we met during the first day of moving in. That evening, they came by again and talked to me and my roommate, another Chinese girl. By the end of this conversation, they said 'Hey do you guys want to hang out with us this Friday?' Both my roommate and I were very confused. Hang out? What does that mean? I know 'hang' means to 'hang something up,' but what does that mean to 'hang out?' They were waiting for the answer, and because we did not feel to say 'no' to someone we just met, we just said 'oh ok' hoping to end the conversation there."
"That evening, my roommate and I were thinking about this for the whole time. We did not have internet in the apartment yet so we could not go on to google and find the answer. All we had by then was a small electronic translator we brought from China, and when we typed in 'Hang Out,' it said 'no result" 'So we double checked the meaning of 'hang,' and also checked the meaning of 'out.' However, we could not find the possible explanation for both words putting together.
Then we started to guess: does that mean they want to all hang together on the tree? Maybe it is an American thing? So are we going to need ropes? Do they mean to do it somewhere far away because they said "out"? Are we going on a trip? Do we need to get food and other supplies for this "hanging" thing? Maybe we can ask them tomorrow when we see them again? But why do we need to hang ourselves on a tree? They look so nice and it cannot be something bad right?... My roommate and I were talking for a whole night and trying to figure out what we should do about this "hang out" event that would take place the coming weekend. But we were still confused, and we were also too embarrassed to ask them, so we decided we would wait till Friday and see what would happen."
"So Friday came, and we were waiting nervously in our apartment. We bought instant noodles and water, just in case. We were also all dressed for outdoors with sneakers and jackets. Door bell rang, and I opened the door. Our neighbor was in shorts and T-shirt, and he said: 'so what's the plan?' I was a bit disappointed at that moment because apparently they did not look like they were ready, so I said slowly:" Are we going to hang out?"
'Yes, of course. How about getting some pizza and coke?'
Ohhh so 'hang out' is actually eating! I finally figured out at that moment! I ran right back into the room and told my roommate in Chinese with my overexcited voice: 'We are not going to hang on the tree! It means eating!' We were so relieved and cheerful and then headed over to their apartment for delicious pizza and coke.
Since then, I have been using 'hang out' in different occasions and feel very good about myself since I know one fancy American slang. It was not till six months, when I said to one of my American classmate 'I am going to hang out with some noodle tonight' and he said 'What?' with wide open eyes, I finally was told the true meaning of 'hang out.'"
Read the original story, and more like it, here. You can also submit your own story or interview your parents or friends about theirs. Your story may be featured here during Asian American Heritage Month in May.