I recently acquired an German exchange student in my class. I was very excited, because I happen to speak a little German. On his first day, I stood in front of my class and said, “Wir haben ein neue Freunde!”, which to me said, “We have a new friend!” (how culturally responsive/globally aware I am!). He just stared at me and said, “I didn’t understand you.” Uh, awkward.
In my freshmen classes, we are studying Greek mythology. This is one of my favorite units to do. I am not too crazy about the stories themselves, but I love delving deeply into culture and how artifacts, such as stories, art, and historical events, can tell us who the people are. We are excavators–putting together who these people were by simply reading their stories. Today, we compared the story of Apollo and Aphrodite–the most beautiful and talked about gods in Greek mythology. Apollo is described as tan, muscular, golden blonde, and piercing blue eyes. Aphrodite is described as having a luxurious scent, golden blonde hair, and a white, seductive shoulder. In my class, we talked about how these two gods dictate how Greeks wanted to live their lives. In our culture, we focus on things, such as freedom, education, and wealth, whereas these two figures suggest that the ancient Greeks focused on love, materialism, and external appearances.
I had a unique upbringing, because my dad’s parents are from The Netherlands and my mom’s parents are from Alliance, Nebraska (or, more famously known, Netrashka). Throughout my life, I have seen European customs adapted to be American, and I have seen a good old mid-western family. Every afternoon, my Oma would stop her cooking, cleaning, errands, and prepare us a tea time. When we were little, this consisted of us sitting on a picnic blanket in the middle of the floor and eating cheese, crackers, juice, pickled herring–all traditional Dutch foods.
All of this culture study allows me to study myself, my relationship to the world, and how our values dictate how I live my own life. For example, I can look at football: basically, it is a spectator sport–we are drawn to it because we can watch someone else get hurt, but we ourselves do not need to suffer. In a way, this helps me to look critically at whether I want to support certain teams, and in the end, I save money because I am not buying the memorabilia because I see the idiosyncrasy and manipulation of it all (Please do not mind my cynical view of the world).
All of this cultural exploration has been a very interesting journey and has led me to the question: If I had someone from a foreign country visit me, what would I absolutely take them to do? What would I saw him/her to give the most authentic American experience?
Here is my list thus far:
1. Go to a rodeo: Especially in the western states, there is something patriotic about attending a rodeo. There is country music, American beer, the national anthem, and the old fashioned cowboy. It is dirty and dusty, unpredictable. The events are very dangerous. It is uniquely American; there is a special feeling one attains that can only be found at the rodeo.
2. Shop at Wal-Mart: My students and I always discuss that Americans like convenience and efficiency; we do not want to wait or rely on someone else to transport us, which is why we all drive our own cars (which is a little ironic because all of our separate cars is what caused rush hour traffic…). When I was in Europe last summer, we relied on public transportation. The idea was: we will get there when we get there. And, there were plenty of times that it took longer than anticipated, because the train broke. When you think about it, Wal-Mart is a uniquely American concept. In most other countries, you purchase bread at the bakery, fruit and produce at a market, meat at the butcher shop. Here in America, we have a one-stop-shop for everything: Wal-Mart.
3. Chick-Fil-A: Chick-Fil-A sponsored a spirit night for my dance team, so naturally I ate there three times today. Not only does Chick-Fil-A have a unique flavor, but it also has a unique atmosphere. Even when I called the manager the other day, she hung up the phone by saying, “My pleasure”. It is such a kid friendly environment also: not only do they have the sticky-est slides so your kid can’t get hurt, but the condiment station also comes equipped with a stick on place mat, wet wipes, and containers of Cheerios for the wee ones. I think Americans get a bad global rap, but I think Chick-Fil-A would give a foreigner an excellent reason to combat those stereotypes.
4. Go rafting/tubing: I have been rafting and tubing with my sister several times this summer. Every time I am laying, being drifted by the river, feeling infinitesimal among the great valleys, I can’t help but think about Lewis and Clark–the pioneers heading out west. I think this is a uniquely American ideal–traveling, exploring, going to places and doing things that are unknown and unfamiliar. There is some excitement in it. And, the landscapes of Colorado are simply beautiful.
….and that is as far as I have gotten thus far.