2012.06.27 Here's looking at us

Written by David Green.


A lot of stories about the United States make the rounds in refugee camps where people from other nations are waiting for a chance to move here.

Lots of money, lots of jobs, amazing machines. The stories will vary with the location of the camp and of course they will vary in truthfulness.

 A reporter named Mary Wiltenburg interviewed refugees for a report that was broadcast on the radio program “This American Life.”

She learned there are a lot of really, really fat people here and new arrivals should be prepared not to stare. When people go to the beach, they wear swimming suits that are little more than underwear.

Old people are sent to places called nursing homes. It’s shocking to see people showing affection in public. In America people sleep in bed with their cats.

Ordinary Americans can go into a store and buy a gun. How can there be law and order, they wonder. In America there are people without homes who sleep on the streets. Surely that’s a myth.

Wiltenburg’s program launched an idea for the website Quora in which foreign visitors were invited to write about things that really surprised them about the U.S.

A student from Portugal, for example, thinks it’s strange to see American students showing up for class wearing pajamas. He also thinks it’s odd for restaurant waiters to take away an empty plate as soon as one person finishes eating.

“For me this was incredibly rude, as back home you never take the empty plates before everyone who is dining has finished their meals,” he wrote.

An Indian visitor finds it very puzzling that a bag of grapes can cost several dollars, but a McDonald’s sandwich sells for only $1.  An eastern European visitor is amazed at the portions of food served in restaurants. 

“When I eat out with my husband or friends, we usually share,” she wrote. “Not because we can’t afford it, but just because we do not need THAT much food.”

She does like the doggy-bag routine for leftovers, however. It’s not so common where she comes from.

This same person thinks it’s very odd to see people in T-shirts, shorts and sandals in the winter. She’s watched kids in Crocs running through piles of snow between the car and the mall. Those aren’t immigrant kids, she said, because they have been overdressed since November.

A Russian can’t get used to set prices. Can’t we talk about it? Isn’t it negotiable?

Americans are friendly, but relationships tend to be on the superficial side. Visitors think the initial warmness was the start of a friendship; it turned out to be a shallow, arms-length affair.

And speaking of interpersonal relationships, many foreign visitors are truly amazed that family members live so far apart—in this big country.

A few miscellaneous observations:

• There actually is an accepted piece of clothing called a “wife-beater.”

• Surprise at how much debt the average American has, and they’re still willing to take on more. 

• Many people believe the Earth is only about 6,000 years old and they mention a talking snake.

• Surprise to discover that cold medicine is controlled more tightly than sniper rifles.

• The kids are expected to leave home at 18 or so, and in old age parents need to fend for themselves.

• You can drink water from the tap?

• The frequency of clapping.

• Infantile and convenient food—no bones, no spines, seedless everything. Even desserts sometimes look like 5-year-olds were left alone in the kitchen—cookie dough ice cream, Oreo cheese cake.

• Expensive hospital bills.

• Spray cheese.

• Large personal automobiles and poor public transportation.

Some commenters reacted a little defensively and claimed the foreigners were being judgmental. One person—totally missing the point—responded this way to the remark about public transportation: “There is extensive public transportation. They are called highways, and they are all over.”

Guns in Wal-Mart, dogs in handbags, couples kissing in the park—Don’t worry,  don’t stare, Wiltenburg says, imagining someone explaining the place to guests. That’s all normal here.

  • Front.cowboy
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  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
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  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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