At my university, I am a part of a club whose mission is to properly and warmly welcome international students to America. Often, I regret that it is a bunch of college students who welcome and entertain them.
Our intentions are great, and we do the best we can, but what we can show them is such a limited view of America. Contrary to the popular stereotypes, most of us do not live on Ramen noodles and aren’t starving. We are short on high-hospitality usually, though.
I know that America isn’t know for its hospitality, other countries are, and why should we try to claim something that isn’t our strong area? I don’t think that we ought to seek to be something we aren’t, but if we realize that something, like hospitality, is very important to some other groups of people, why not try to meet these guests in a way they understand and appreciate?
It’s a sore spot in my life that I have been unable to do this to my satisfaction. I dislike to blame my failures on circumstance, but sometimes that is the truth. It’s a rare occassion, when I can manage to find the place, the atmosphere, the means to prepare the cuisine, and the right party to attend whatever the potential event may be.
“It’s good enough” is generally the mantra of my co-international host friends, and often me also. “It’s good enough” galls me to no end. I don’t want it to be that way.
Take this example as a sample of what frustrates me. In the fall, my friends and I met some new Saudi Arabians. It was the end of November, and we decided to throw a little Thanksgiving party for them. To our credit, we did the best we could. It was so far removed from how I wanted it, though.
– We scared up a handful of Americans who were interested in engaging the few guests.
– I worked all day and didn’t have the time to find a tablecloth or to make decorations for the table.
– As inexperienced cooks we (I) couldn’t manage to make decent, unlumpy gravy.
– We had no presentation. My co-hosts didn’t see the necessity of it. Much to my dissatisfaction we decided to dice up the turkey prior to serving it.
– We had no method or tradition to the meal. We just ate. To me, the food is actually just a small part of the act of Thanksgiving, and it irritated me to no end that we couldn’t manage to communicate that to our guests.
I couldn’t help but think, “Besides the friendliness and the thought, what else are they getting from this? Here’s a great American tradition and holiday, one of our better, and they will leave here without ever getting any taste of it.” Part of this may be cultural for me as well. Apparently, compared to a cross-section of Americans, I was raised in a family that was more seeped in tradition and that placed more of an emphasis on high-entertaining than most.
I realize we can only do our best, but I hate the inability. To my international friends: American culture is not so vulgar and thrown-together as it may seem.