October 25, 2006
I went to college in rural Missouri, population 17,000. Interestingly enough, we had a pretty big foreign exchange community. And I had this exact conversation with a French exchange student. He was dismayed that our town in Missouri never showed any foreign films in the local movie theater, because the locals would benefit from learning about other countries. Our local movie theater had three screens. Three. I tried to explain to him that his idea was not a very sound business move for a rural movie theater, but he insisted that everyone in France is educated about the United States, so we should educate ourselves about France.
I asked him why he didn't study abroad in Finland. He got a little puzzled and said that he didn't really know anything about Finland. Well, don't they have a culture that's worth learning about? Why wasn't he interested in learning about Finland? If he wants rural Missourians to learn all about France, then shouldn't he spend some time learning about Finland? Of course it's a silly juxtaposition, but it made the point that Finland is out of his experience. Learning about Finland might be interesting in and of itself, but it does nothing to really affect his daily life or his future. He was in the US to learn English in order to hopefully get ahead in the business world. What would it help him to learn about Finland, or a rural Missourian to see a French film? Not much in a practical sense.
Everyone wants others to know about and respect his culture. It's his, right? So it must be worth learning about! But "middle America" -- Jesusland, Flyover Country, Red States, or whatever you want to call us -- are really out of the average Californian or New Yorker's experience. I can't really fault them for not knowing about us, any more than I can fault a Frenchie for not knowing about Finland, but we do make up a big freakin' chunk of the country.
I have never been to California or NYC. (Before my mom interjects, I disclose that I went to NYC as an infant, but that hardly counts for my point here.) All I know about L.A. and New York comes from TV, the same way Europeans learn about the US. The disconnect is that my entire US experience, the America that I know, comes from living in Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, and South Carolina. That's the US I know, and it's quite different from CaliValleyGirl's US (living in Hawaii and California).
I'm happy she visited my version of the US. I'd like to visit her version someday too. I think it can help us establish common ground, which would be good for all 300 billion of us.
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