"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Foreign Impressions

I often find it interesting to hear of people's experiences in other countries.***  A friend told me of two German coworkers who visited the US (San Mateo, CA) for the first time recently.  Their impressions:

Americans are louder, much more open and friendlier. A waiter or waitress thinks nothing of telling you about his day or her family. (Apparently small talk amongst strangers doesn't happen much in Germany!)  Also the younger guy said no one smokes. In fact when he did light up in a parking lot, someone threatened to call the police!  He noted our love of ice - we 'overwhelm' them with the stuff. And they were surprised by the huge amount of Coke served with their meals.  (In Austria and Germany on our recent trip it was about 3 euros for a small bottle - cold, but no ice, no free refills.) And also the people here are fatter.  Maybe because we drink too much Coke and don't smoke..hmmm?

I was reading Ciao, America! by Beppe Severgnini and he made many similar observations. He lived with his wife in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. for a year.  He noted the ice (he really felt strongly about it. Why are ice cubes so offensive? Because they crunch?), the frigid air conditioning, the differences in Mass, the bureaucracy involved in getting services (piece of cake compared to Italy), and the talkativeness of random strangers.  I was especially laughing at the bit about waiters and waitresses telling about their lives and running to serve when they (Beppe's family) just wanted to be left in peace to eat.  It wasn't all negative. In fact it was mostly just observations and reactions to life here.  I found it amusing. And these I shared on Facebook as a sample.

"Relationships are good with the rest of the neighbors and conversation comes easily. Americans tell you more about themselves in an hour than the British do in ten years. The main thing is not to mistake this cordiality for friendship. It's more a sort of cosmetic to perk up everyday life, and should be treated as such." (pg. 98)

"There's always a note of alarm in American weather forecasts. TV weatherpeople have glassily inexpressive eyes. Even when they're making one of their little jokes, they give the impression that they're keeping back some tragic piece of news. There's an entire channel (the Weather Channel) that deals exclusively with the subject.  In fact, it ferrets out disasters in every corner of the Union. Hurricanes, floods, storms, downpours, eclipses, landslides - any calamity will do.  It's the meteorological version of a horror film, and we foreigners are unaccustomed to the concept. ... During the summer it is not sufficient to communicate infernal temperatures. There's also a comfort index, calculated from the combination of heat and humidity.  And winter is not just a question of bitter cold. There is also the windchill factor, ... Knowing the exact quantity of discomfort - being able to say exactly how badly you feel and why - is the first step toward the goal of every U.S. citizen: to feel good."
  (pg. 64-65)

Earlier today I was in downtown Graham running errands. Walking them really. And a little girl saw me.

"Where's your car?" 

Me:  "Around the corner and up the street.  I parked at the library."

"Ohhhh. I like your blue bag"  (I was carrying some things I'd found for Zach at Little Blessings, and the bags *are* a pretty color.)

Me:  "Thank you. I hope you have a good day, sweetie" I said as I smiled and started to walk away.

I hear floating after me:  "I looooove you" 

Sweet Stranger Moments.

And, yes, I did wonder what Beppe would have thought if he'd encountered such an outgoing little girl during his time in the United States.   :)

My apologies to those who are Facebook friends and have already read much of this. 

***  This is why one of my favorite places on the web is Malik's blog. He's from Jordan and lives in Missouri.  I love when he writes posts dealing with differences in Arab and American culture or what he finds picture-worthy.  Sadly, Samer doesn't blog because he has some good stories of life in Germany, and I enjoy hearing what he has to say about the differences in his experiences in Germany and Damascus.  Thankfully he gives me full permission to share them. I got the German coworker impressions from him. Bet you never would have guessed that, huh?


sanil said...

Ah, so I'm just living in the wrong country! :D

Mr Sanil and I have an ongoing argument about the value of small talk. I hate it, it makes me uncomfortable and I know I come across as really awkward when I have to do it. He says it's important for building relationships, it's how strangers learn that you're a normal person and not a psychopath who might hurt them. But..but...they're strangers! Just don't talk to me, and they won't have to worry about whether I'm a dangerous person or not, because they won't have to see me again!

LK said...

I have always worked in service position so small talk is a must. But as someone who serves the public you need to learn to read people. Some people DONT want to talk. And you can tell. Small talk is also the art of stalling as a receptionist or assistant. Its essential lol

Inspector Clouseau said...

I'm with you regarding the value of hearing what others outside our borders have to say about America. At a minimum, it is instructive. Nice blog work. I came across your blog while “blog surfing” using the Next Blog button on the Nav Bar located at the top of my blogger.com site. I frequently just travel around looking for other blogs which exist on the Internet, and the various, creative ways in which people express themselves. Thanks for sharing.

Amber said...

Huh. And I don't think of us as being particularly friendly, as a nation. It's interesting hearing what people from other countries think of us!

I wonder where the one guy was that someone threatened to call the police on him for lighting up in the parking lot. Most places have no smoking policies in place for *inside* the building but out in the parking lot? That's weird to me.

The waiter/ess thing: Doesn't that have to do with tipping? From what I understand, people in many other countries don't tip and it's not expected so the wait staff doesn't have to work harder to get the customer to like them in order to earn a larger tip.

Americans like to gossip. I think that explains a lot!

I'm divided about small talk. On the one hand, it can lead to new friends when you discover someone with similar tastes. On the other, it can get really awkward really fast if you have nothing in common with the other person. Which is about when I start making things up just to amuse myself and shock the listening audience. :D

ps: I'm loving Malik's blog too. It's really neat seeing America from another pov.

Susanne said...

Sanil, haha! Your comment was cute. :) I'm weird. Sometimes I don't mind small talk, and other times I'm like you. I guess I have to be in the right mood for it. I love what you said about not having to worry if you are dangerous...your comment made me laugh. :)

LK, ah, you have that gift, huh? I'm glad you can tell when people don't want to talk because I hate when people keep talking to me when I clearly don't care to talk. :) Thanks for chiming in on this topic!

Inspector Clouseau -- thank you for stopping by and for your feedback!

Amber, why do you think we are unfriendly? I do wonder if some places are friendlier than others. Yet the author wrote this about his time in Washington, D.C.. I think maybe "friendly" should be "they like to talk more than we do." We being these Europeans.

The German guys were in San Mateo, California. First time to the US for both of them. I thought the bit about the parking lot was interesting, but I do know even here in Tobacco Land (NC), we have smoke-free campuses which mean you cannot light up anywhere on the grounds. Maybe it was like that.

Yes, that's what I think about tipping. Well, people do tip some in other countries, but I dont' think it's expected to be as much as it is in the US. The Italian author mentioned that point.

I wonder why we enjoy gossiping and maybe the Germans do not? Or do they like to gossip only they do it with close friends and family instead? Hmmm

"Which is about when I start making things up just to amuse myself and shock the listening audience.: -- hahahha! Oh, excellent point about realizing you have nothing in common. That is really really awkward especially when you just want to get away fast! :)

Yes, I'm so glad someone else mentioned Malik's blog a few months back and I decided to check it out. I ended up reading nearly all the posts within a day or so, and have read them ever since. I'm glad you've enjoyed it!

Amber said...

I don't know that I'd say we're *unfriendly*, just that I don't think of us as *overly* friendly. We're kind of...well we'll tell you a lot of stuff about ourselves that doesn't mean anything but it's just because we like to talk and we're nosy and the best way to get you to open up about yourself is to make you feel like we're open too. But we're not really.

We talk to fill the emptiness in our souls!!!!!!


That's true, smoke free campuses. My college is one and my work is another. But I don't know that anyone would threaten to call the cops if someone lit up. Just go out and explain that it's not allowed...that's happened before. Calling the cops just seems sort of extreme.

Yep. Awkward conversational pauses are when I start talking about that one time I discovered proof of life on Mars.

Susanne said...

Ha..you make me laugh! :D

jaraad said...

Thanks for sharing your book readings with us. I like it especially when it is about intercultural experience like this one. Today, I read your Facebook status about this cute little girl, what an exceptional lovely attitude. I am sure she made your day.
I can't describe how happy I am when I know an American is reading and liking my blog. When I started I have never imagined I would get any comment from non-Jordanians. Now, it seems most of my readers are Americans :)

Thank you! I hope my blog keeps a satisfiable standard among my lovely readers :)

Susanne said...

Jaraad, yes, the little girl really made my day! I was smiling hugely when I left her. :)

I'm really happy Chiara mentioned you a few times so I could finally go to your blog and get hooked. :)