Ginika is waiting to pick Ifemelu up at the bus terminal, looking much thinner than she did when Ifemelu last saw her, and with straight blond-streaked hair. They are overjoyed to see each other, and Ginika drives Ifemelu through Philadelphia, a city Ifemelu will come to love. Ginika talks excitedly, using outdated Nigerian slang to prove to Ifemelu how unchanged she is.
Ginika too has been changed by America, but she has adjusted much more successfully than Aunty Uju. Ginika has changed, but she wants to prove to Ifemelu how Nigerian she still is. She is experiencing uncertainty about her Nigerian identity, now that she is so “American.”
Ginika tells Ifemelu stories of cultural misunderstandings, like the fact that she is supposed to say “biracial” instead of “half-caste,” which is offensive. She says that Ifemelu will have a harder time with white people because she has darker skin than Ginika. Ginika says that she came to America and discovered that she’s supposed to have “issues” because she’s biracial. She says that Obinze should hurry up and come to America before someone snatches Ifemelu up, as she is “thin” in the way American boys like. Ginika immediately started losing weight when she came to America, and was close to anorexia.
Adichie gives more examples of cultural disparities, from the innocent to the tragic. Another issue Adichie brings up about American society (other than racism and prejudice) is the prevalence of mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and anorexia. A new immigrant like Ifemelu doesn’t yet understand all the things that would be offensive to an African-American, as she doesn’t think of herself as the same race as an African-American—but to whites she is, because of her skin color.
Later Ifemelu drinks beer with Ginika and her American friends, including a Japanese American, a Chinese American, and an Indian. Ifemelu is surprised at how well Ginika fits in. They all have an American vernacular and rhythm of conversation that Ifemelu can’t keep up with. Later Ginika takes Ifemelu shopping, but Ifemelu is afraid to spend any money until she finds a job.
Ginika clearly struggled after coming to America—she almost developed an eating disorder, and has her hair streaked with blonde to seem “whiter”—but by now she is an example of a well-adjusted immigrant, one who has found a relatively comfortable identity as an American.
At the clothing store there are two young saleswomen, one black and one white. Ginika decides to buy a dress, and afterwards the cashier asks her which girl helped her, so she can get her commission. The cashier asks questions that don’t distinguish the two saleswomen at all, and finally says she’ll figure it out later. When they leave the store, Ifemelu asks why the cashier didn’t just ask “Was it the black girl or the white girl?” Ginika laughs and says in America you’re supposed to pretend not to notice race.
This is a humorous example of both how important and how taboo the issue of race is in America. Part of Ifemelu’s adjustment to America is “discovering” race, and realizing that she is not considered Nigerian anymore, but just black. Race is a huge issue, as Adichie shows, but most people like the cashier, are also afraid to talk about it.
Ifemelu tries to find an apartment she can afford, and finally moves in with three white American girls and their dog. Ifemelu wishes the dog would stay outside, but Elena, its owner, keeps it inside. She notices that Ifemelu hasn’t petted the dog, and asks if it’s a “cultural thing.” Ifemelu moves in and is mystified by some of her roommates’ habits. When they go out to a party Ifemelu expects them to get dressed up, but they purposefully look slovenly and casual. Later Ifemelu would blog about this—the privilege of choosing to look bad. At the party Ifemelu takes note of anything she finds strange or amusing, to tell Obinze later.
Ifemelu’s initial adjustments to America allow Adichie to make all kinds of observations about American culture and ways in which it is different from the rest of the world. For now these cultural disparities are innocent and humorous, but they will later become much more serious. Elena’s comment shows how as a black woman and an African, everything Ifemelu does is somehow seen as representative of all black people and all Africans.