I have a great roommate. She’s from Brazil–or at least her family is. She grew up primarily in Mozambique. Her parents are missionaries, and so she moved often growing up. So far we have found that we both once liked Nsync, and that she and her friends liked the Spice Girls. Early on, she made a rice and (black?) bean dish that I don’t remember the name of, but it was really good. It apparently is what the poor college students live off of in Brazil. However, I don’t know if I’m culturally insensitive, but when I think of my roommate, I don’t immediately think of her as Brazilian or a missionary’s daughter. In fact, I just tend to be jealous that she can cook things like rice. From scratch.*
California State University, Chico offers a course called International Forum. Recently they hosted a panel of international students, and American students who had studied abroad. There were quite a range of countries represented: from France, the UK, and Italy to Costa Rica, New Zealand and Japan. As well as the Czech Republic, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. There were quite a few students on the panel; they had to keep adding chairs.
The discussion was organized around the stereotyped American around the world. Most of it wasn’t a surprise. The government isn’t popular (it isn’t here either), there tends to be an ignorance of geography and other cultures (not all that inaccurate) and we eat junk food (so unfortunately true). There were plenty of surprises though. For instance, places like McDonalds (sort of) and KFC apparently serve real food in other countries. Several students expressed surprise at what kinds of food we are willing to eat. Well, often they technically serve real food here, but it’s actually pretty good food abroad. Hmmm…
(I should mention the student who’d come from Czech was sympathetic to the cost of real food–as sodas tend to be cheaper than bottled water, etc. Although it usually isn’t necessary here to buy water, the parallel with food is true.)
Also, flip flops are frowned upon, except as something to wear around the house. The student who’d travelled to Italy mentioned that wearing flip flops outside tended to draw attention and whispers and children pointing. I completely agree. I don’t wear flip flops–although I will confess to owning a pair to wear at a pool or in a shower, should it prove necessary. So far, it hasn’t. I’m something, apparently, of a shoe elitist.
Finally, what took me mostly by surprise, although it shouldn’t have, is that the US has a reputation for having guns on every person. This is most likely because the NRA tends to get lots of media attention, but still, it’s far easier in the US than many other countries to get ahold of a gun-type weapon. Unless you’re me.
Most of the international students pointed out that in their countries guns are either not allowed at all, except in cases of hunting, or even then have very strict standards for keeping a weapon. Now this really didn’t occur to me because I don’t have any contact with guns. I have only once seen a gun in person (that I can actually recall) and that was my uncle’s rifle (?–I don’t know what it was, actually, just that it was long). My dad technically has a gun apparently…I’ve never actually seen it, and keep forgetting to ask. But hunting was a major pastime where I grew up, even if not so much in my family. People tended not to use them on each other, but they were there. So guns just aren’t a part of my consciousness, so I never even thought about how other countries might allow/disallow them.
I always wanted to do some kind of foreign exchange program, but could never afford it and was always too shy. My best friend in high school did go to Germany for a year, and I still have all her letters to me, though unfortunately the message she left me where she sang “Happy Birthday” in German was lost. I have been to Canada though. Technically. It was Sunday and nearly everything was closed and it was rainy so we stopped at an A&W and a gas station for souvenirs. Well, it does make for an amusing anecdote.
*I can make big dumplings though. And mash potatoes with a fork.