Americans ... A Novelty? MAG

By Ryan S., Glendale, AZ

     Have you ever wondered what other countries think about America? In the summer of 2001, I went on a month-long tour of France and Spain with the Phoenix Boys Choir. We stayed with host families which was great because it gave me a sampling of the cultures.

On my first day in Europe, I stumbled off the plane into an airport where the luggage handlers were on strike. We were herded onto a bus and assigned to host families. My friend and I would be staying with a married couple with two sons and a daughter.

We were greeted by a friendly blond woman who escorted us to her car. She was thin and had a pleasant voice with the first authentic French accent I had ever heard. My friend and I sat silently, not knowing what to say. The woman broke the silence, explaining that her children had been excited about our arrival for months, continually asking when the Americans would be coming.

Arriving at the apartment, we were shown our room. We put our things away, but felt like we were being watched. We looked toward the door and noticed three heads quickly disappear. A moment passed and again they were watching us. The tallest had his head wrapped around the door frame, the second tallest under his, and finally the young girl’s head close to the ground. Again, as we turned to look, they quickly pulled their heads back. Only the girl, about three, had the audacity to come into our room. She spoke no English but we did our best to communicate. She continually stole my possessions and seemed particularly fond of my suitcase key, which dangled from a red fish-shaped keychain. She played with it as if it were a real fish and eventually made it swim right out of the room.

That evening the family brought us to Notre Dame Cathedral, which was an incredible experience. On the way home the daughter continually talked to us and could not fathom that we did not understand her. Her mother turned to us with the most puzzled expression and said, “I don’t know why ... she is speaking about the red fishes.” This seemed like a completely random statement, but later I realized she had been talking about my keychain.

Later during the trip, we stayed with a man and his son. All night we were badgered by questions about America, especially Arizona. We were unsure why they were so interested in hearing about our country. After a delicious dinner they asked us more questions about the “Wild West.” We began to understand that they were completely unaware Arizona had become an urban metropolis. They asked if we had ever seen any cowboy and Indian fights in the streets and if it were hard to hitch a horse. Confused that we had never seen these events, they brought a comic book with cowboys and Indians. They thought this was the reality of America! We laughed before we realized their sincerity, then we explained that we lived in a city just like theirs. We showed them pictures of the Bank One Ballpark and the tall office buildings that grace the Phoenix skyline. They seemed disappointed that we were not always in the middle of standoffs with the sheriff.

It was surprising to learn some of the ideas foreigners had about America and its people. Before my time there, I never knew that other cultures look at ours with the same stereotypes we have about theirs. I discovered that some of ours are not true about their country. For instance, did you know the French don’t walk around all day smoking excessively long cigarettes?

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