Monday, March 14, 2005

Overheard Conversations

“London looks just like Cincinnati!” I actually heard this statement made the yesterday. Of course when I heard it we were still sitting on the tarmac at Heathrow and we hadn’t been there more than fifteen minutes. The person who said it was a little girl (perhaps no more than eight-or-nine) that had just awoken from a nap. She put her seat upright and opened the shade to look outside. All that I could see out the window were planes and airport buildings. I guess from that perspective, London looks very similar to Cincinnati.

It is this tendency to compare things at a very superficial level that led Dave Barry in his book, “The Only Travel Guide You’ll Ever Need” By Dave Barry, to explain how you can travel all over the world and never feel like you have left your home city: “Never Go Outside Your Hotel.” Apparently this is one of the cardinal things every travel should learn. I think it is a sad piece of advice and one that I would never take, had I taken this advice I would never had learned how homogenous the American populace is.

Apparently, there is a day of class time that is dedicated to the teaching of the American culture here in the UK. (Oops! Have I just generalized the entire UK to a single conversation overheard this morning on my way to work? Shame on me!)

There was a game that I remember playing when I was young, I think it was called “The State Game” or “The Game of the States” or something like that. It contained a map of the US (with the non-contiguous states inset into the pacific off of Baja California) on which each of the states had a commodity, a career, and some third symbol (perhaps food, I cannot remember) inscribed. The game, as near as I can remember taught children that the main commodity of Florida was Citrus, while the main commodity of Pennsylvania was steel, and the main commodity of Texas was Oil. The career symbol portrayed the predominate profession associated with each state, there was a little bank over New York, a little movie studio over California, and a little guy driving a tractor over Iowa. I can’t remember the third symbol, if I am right about it being food, I guess it had a bratwurst over Wisconsin, a Lobster over Maine, and oh, I don’t know, SPAM over Hawaii. The point is that the game was one big generalization after another. Playing it one was led to believe that everybody in Florida was a Citrus Farmer, everybody in Pennsylvania had steel mills in their back yard, and everybody in Hawaii had a dozen cans of SPAM in their pantry. (No, wait! I think this last statement may be true… According to the SPAM Museum exhibit, Hawaii eats three times more SPAM than any other state!) Any way…

I think that the teachers at this kid’s school must have taken their curriculums directly from “States-O-Rama” or whatever it was called. As I was walking to the office this morning, a group of three young boys all wearing the school uniform of the same school (same colors on the caps, same ties, etc.) were talking about prep work that they had done for a test that was apparently coming up today. They were talking about who had prepped for which unit. Apparently, the important things to remember about the United States are:

1) We invented the hotdog bun
2) We were the first to have commercial radio stations and
3) The most popular vacation Destination in the US is Disney World

What caught my attention was when one little boy asked the others if they had “Done the United States yet.”

“Yeah, last Thursday.” was the nonchalant reply. “Hotdog buns were invented in New York, 1860; 1920 – First commercial broadcast was, uh, a channel in Pennsylvania, I think, a baseball match; and 1973 – Disney opens in Orlando. I did South America on Friday. I think I am going to do okay on the test…”

I guess I'd really have a reason to be offended if I was from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, or some South American Country starting with a "D." Then I would only be part of a continent that was able to be studied in one single day!

About this time, they walked out of eavesdropping range. I hope that they do not ask the Year that Walt Disney World opened on this test. The poor kid will get it wrong. I remember them celebrating their quarter-century in 1996 which would mean that the park opened in ’71 not ’73. I do not remember what year it opened, but I do remember passing it on vacations as a kid as it was under construction. Oh well, I guess I had best post this and get to work.

I hope you have a wonderful day wherever you are!

Don Bergquist – 14-March-2005 – Thames Ditton, United Kingdom

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