October 25, 2006


CaliValleyGirl is back in L.A. after living nine years in Germany. And she just took a trip to another planet: Alabama. You must go read her post before you keep reading mine. Go on, git.

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.

Posted by: Sarah at 05:28 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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1 Several years ago we took a trip up Hwy 1 in California, Oregon and Washington. Most the time while we were in California, until we reached extreme Northern California, my husband kept saying, "I feel like I'm in a foreign country". I just recognized we were in California, and I didn't realize how much discomfort he was feeling about it until we reached extreme N Calif and he told me how relaxed he was and felt he was back in the USA. I get the same feeling when in Boulder, CO. We've lived on the East Coast in a couple of different areas, and several on the Gulf Coast all of course, in the South.

Posted by: Ruth H at October 25, 2006 07:37 AM (Y77sF)

2 million... 300 million...

Posted by: Will at October 25, 2006 10:56 AM (QRBGL)

3 Whoops. What is this, China?

Posted by: Sarah at October 25, 2006 04:20 PM (7Wklx)

4 You and I have sooooo much common ground, Sarah...but my boyfriend and I also always make a big deal of the little differences. For example, before saying goodbye to me in Germany, my bf sat me in front of the computer and made me read some personal safety website about how to identify and avoid dangerous situations...I think he would feel best if I had and carried a gun. I think he really thinks that I would need it 24/7 here in LA. Anyhoo, America is great...loving every minute being back home!

Posted by: CaliValleyGirl at October 25, 2006 09:32 PM (deur4)

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