If a book promises to educate me about the delicate nuances of a foreign culture and help me believe I can understand the group think of a people then I will read it. If I loved it, I’ll push it upon everyone whom I share a book lover’s comradeship. Understanding different cultures is one of my passionate pursuits, it’s something I cannot help myself from learning and it often is a contagion I’m happy to pass around, but if necessary I can enjoy it all by myself, happily, endlessly.
This passion fell upon me when we were expats living in Wales for a year. It was a quite unexpected discovery of myself, this love for foreign cultures. We travelled thirteen countries in Europe with our three small children during that year. I learned so much about how cultures differ that I was captured and driven by my own curiosity. After that experience it wasn’t long before I desired to know Asia and walk a bit of it with my own two feet. There was even a time when we prepared to expat to Shanghai. I had the boys enrolled in a school already when the company Craig worked for changed its mind. (major disappointment) So then I turned my attention to South America, and it bit me. Next came Africa, well we know what happened when I visited Uganda for the first time, I came home and began arrangements to adopt our little girl who is there now waiting for us to get a court date and come hold her. Each place I visit becomes a part of me that I won’t let go. My fascination for the different ways people live, dress, eat, speak, and practice life seems as endless as the sea. If I could I’d dive in and never come out.
When we lived in Wales I gained a fresh and surprising opportunity to have insight on our own culture as Americans. I was eager to hear from foreigners their opinions on how we, Americans, are perceived. We are considered enthusiastic, superficially nice to everyone all the time, ambitious, time conscious, fat, friendly, and rich. Those are stereotypes of course, and every culture has their own long list, such as the Latin Lover, the demure Japanese geisha, the copycats of China, the uptight Brit, the eco-conscious Costa Rican, the French snob, and the pasta slurping wine guzzling Italian. So we are rich, fat and friendly here in America. I think there’s another term for us and it’s becoming an epidemic, we are consumers. The capitalists who want our hard-earned cash have manipulated us into becoming professional shoppers and in most cases it’s a competitive sport.
If I were living in another country and looking in on America today the phenomenon of black Friday would be a curiosity for me. As I live here I refuse to go out and shop today. It’s a scene quite like carnivale in Venice. There are too many crowds, the parking is impossible, and the desire to get the best deal on an item,whether you need it or not, brings out the worst in our natures. Really I believe you could risk your life being trampled for the last cashmere sweater at 75% discount. But if I lived somewhere else and I thought I’d like a good dose of America at its nitty gritty, then I’d skip a starbuck’s eavesdropping adventure and go shopping on Black Friday. As a foreigner, it would be an event never to be forgotten. Where else could you go to Kohl’s at three o’clock in the morning for the absolute lowest prices of the year? And then to the mall at six a.m. to finish the Christmas shopping list? And the amazing part is you’d be in company of throngs of people, victims to their inability to resist a good bargain, whether they need it or not. We should be embarrassed by our excesses.
Why do we do this? Because the retailers know we as a nation are powerless to the best deal. They want to make the most money of the year TODAY so they will manipulate us into shopping maniacs. We received an extra newspaper bundle of just advertisements for the sales today. My email box tripled its load with companies begging me to visit them either on line or by foot with a fat wallet and a greedy eye. If I were a foreigner it would be quite an education in the American way to go shopping today. But since I’m American, I’m going to stay home and read some more books about Morocco, and perhaps wonder how I’d ever find an artist there to tile a wall in fantastic mosaic while I extracted from him all the secrets of his culture. Not one American business is getting my money today. I object to being manipulated by the retailers.