It took Dating a Foreigner to Realize American Culture

“This is so American!” he said as we pulled into the Drive-in movie theater. This was a cultural experience I had intentionally planned for him. After catching a glimpse of a Drive-in during a scene of “Greece,” as we were clicking through channels one night, I knew where one of our must-see spots was that Summer. “Do they have these in Spain?” I asked, ignorantly. “No! Of course not, this is crazy American stuff. I would love to see one of these!” Little did he know that one of the oldest functioning Drive-in movie theaters still exists in my parents’ home town, only 50 miles away.

I always think that I am ensuring that he has “truly American” experiences while we live here, but I’m often thrown by what he defines as “truly American”. And while I can orchestrate a trip to the Drive-in theater- complete with mini-golf, burgers, shakes and surrounded by the rolling farm hills of Western New York- he will still shock and surprise me at some of the things he claims are “SO American”. Often we don’t have to go far at all to have an entirely new cultural experience for him. And by these means, through his eyes (and his comments), I’m learning what it really is to be “American”.

It’s interesting because I’ve always defined being an “American” by so many of our values, laws, government and history. I wonder if others see their own cultures that way. Of course I am aware that it’s a balance of freedom, liberty and the right to eat fried chicken. But I am never surprised by what I learn from him as to what he considers an attribute of being “American”.

On our way to that Drive-in movie theater, you have to go off the grid a little, down back roads, by silos and through corn fields. I showed him the house my mother grew up in, my grandparents’ old house. Across the street cows were roaming around a traditional red barn. The corn swayed in the distance, and on the road ahead there was no sight of any civilization, except for the abundance of clearly skilled agriculture. “Wow! This…..this is America!” he exclaimed. I tried to contain my laughter as I gazed down the hilly road seeing nothing but corn around us. Sure, I suppose if you squint really well it might resemble the famous pictures of the Midwest, maybe even of Texas. To me it was something so normal, it didn’t occur to me that it was even picturesque.

Other smaller things that have received the “That’s so American” comment that have surprised me and made me stop and question the defining traits of American culture…

  • Coffee to-go paper cups
  • The waitress or waiter removing your plate just after you’ve put that last bite of food in your mouth
  • Friends not calling you back or falling through on set plans
  • Weddings, and wedding bands, ending at midnight (or earlier!)
  • Pledging to a flag
  • Drinking coffee in the morning

All of these will remain vague at the moment, they’ll be revisited in coming posts to juxtapose Spanish and American culture. Many of them are worthy of their own posts, and a commitment to detail. This list is always evolving, and with it, my eyes are opened to a new defining quality of American identity and culture.

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