Wednesday, November 30, 2005

That is so American! OK, folks, get a load of the size of that burrito. I've gotta say it again--that is so American! Don't worry, Elia took half of it home with her.

That is so American! Here's me and my friend Angela (faithful blog reader and promoter!) at our favorite Mexican restaurant. Europeans generally haven't discovered the wonders of this cuisine. I would say 99.9% have never known the joys of sitting down to a free basket of hot greasy chips and spicy fresh salsa.

That is so American! This is a "cheesecake wheel." Only in America do you find this kind of variety. But the fact that we could choose which flavor we wanted wasn't even enough--we wanted a bite of each one!

That is so American! Check out the size of that ketchup bottle. It's a two-handed job! Impressive really. Even more impressive is the fact that we'll empty it and buy another one! Also very American is that I'm eating Thanksgiving leftovers. The leftovers are really part of the holiday.

That is so American! Free-refills? Yes! Huge cups full of ice? Sweet!

That is so American! Ah, at last, half-price appetizers at Applebees. Here's my friend Josh, middle schoolers' pastor, shoving his face with nachos.

That is so American

Over the past week I find myself frequently exclaiming "That is so American!" When you leave your own culture for a while and adapt to a different one, you're able to come home and see things through new eyes. What used to just be normal I can now identify as being American. Over the coming weeks I'll be sharing some thoughts and pics of these US quirks.

For starters, here's what I noticed at the grocery store:

1. Low fat dairy products. In Switzerland the low fat milk was 2.7%
2. A zillion brands of peanut butter with various options in each brand: creamy, chunky, unsalted, reduced fat, all-natural, all-natural no-stir, chocolate swirl, etc. In Switzerland there is one brand that comes in creamy or chunky and it says on the label "Made in the USA!"
3. Gargantuan bottles of ketchup and other miscellaneous flavors, brands, and sizes of ketchup. They have this to some extent in Switzerland too, but it is definitely considered American.
4. The Swiss chocolate is expensive and there's only a few choices. In Switzerland it's relatively cheap and you can choose from about 100 different flavors.
5. The cereal and chips take up an entire aisle.
6. People bag up your groceries for you in bags that the store provides and then they take it out to your car!! I felt like I was being pampered at a health spa or something after 8 months of bagging up my own groceries in my own bag and then hauling it half a mile back home.
7. The cheese comes in huge blocks and only takes up a little section. In Switzerland most cheeses are bought in small portions but there's about 4 dozen varieties filling up an entire wall.
8. There are bagels of many flavors! No bagels at all in Suisse.
9. Icecream comes in amazing varieties like mudpie brownie chunk and coffee mocha fudge. In Switzerland the choices are more basic, like vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate, and it comes in smaller containers that cost about 7 bucks.
10. Stuff is cheap. In Switzerland stuff is expensive.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The fam! My 4 year old nephew is not pictured here because he was running out of the room screaming. Classic. From left to right: bro Casey, mom (holding Earl, my bro's new dog/pig), sis Cathie Jo, sis-in-law Nancy, dad, me, bro-in-law Darin.

I love holiday meals in our home. The napkin folding skills I learned in Switzerland added a nice touch.

Ah, traditional Thanksgiving dinner. A great way to kick-off my time in the States. For my non-American friends, clockwise from the top: Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey, bread roll, sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans, salad.

I came home 3 weeks early and surprised the socks off my sister. She thought she was the one with the surprise--she has dreadlocks! And it was my mom who did them for her. My family is cool.

Blame it on the turkey's tryptophan

OK, OK, enough already. Sheesh, you think it's swell to develop a nice readership, but your fans turn on you in a heartbeat if you start slacking off. Here's the scoop: I moved home to Oregon from Switzerland! Ate a great Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, so I'm blaming my blogging sluggishness on the tryptophan, that great sleep-inducing chemical supposedly found in turkey.

I am going through reverse culture shock at the moment, so expect some great blogging on America in the days to come.

Monday, November 14, 2005

This weekend I went by train a couple of hours to the canton Valais with my friend Florence. Her dad is a pastor and the church had some special events celebrating their 100th year! It's a very mountainous region.

This picture was taken from the top of a tower by a castle. It was really cool!

The light over the valley at dusk was lovely

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Here's me and Nathan today at Hermine's, a lady who invites us over for a delicious meal every Friday. She's also the one who helped all of us missionaries find our housing in Neuchatel. We love her!

Every week Rob lays on Hermine's floor. This isn't exactly culturally appropriate but Hermine likes it because it reminds her of a previous missionary who did the same thing and would say "You cushion the culture shock for us." It's very true.

I've enjoyed going to the university's Christian group that meets on Thursday nights for a meal and a message. This is where I got the inspiration for my most recent post about time. After the message we enjoyed some singing with great instrumental accompaniment. The people in this picture from left to right are Swiss, Irish, Ecuadorian, Swiss, French, and American!

Here's me on Monday morning thinking about meeting with my organization's French study coordinator for an interview to varify that I've attained the necessary proficiency for my job in Congo.

Here's me and Nathan all happy after our interview with our supervisor Ric. He said we're at a good enough level to go work in Africa now! I can't believe I've completed my French studies!

Blog Sloth in a Time Warp

Sorry for my blogging slothfulness these days! I'll try to be more inspired. But really I'm starting to think that it's not my fault that so much time keeps passing between posts. Somebody seems to have pushed the fast forward button on my life and it's cut about 3 days out of my week. You may have been told all your life that there are 7 days in a week, but it’s a lie! I mean, is it just me or are there only 4 days in a week lately? I'm sure I'm not the only one to have noticed because everybody else keeps mentioning to me how quickly time is flying. It's really starting to freak me out. I think I've fallen into a time warp.

Exhibit A: Went to visit Gertrude, an elderly lady, today, and she asked me, "What day are we now? Tuesday, Wednesday?" "Thursday," I replied.

Exhibit B: I'm speaking at a small group from church next week. They asked me to speak two weeks ahead of time so I thought "No problem, I've got plenty of time." Somehow I now have only 5 days to prepare, but I swear it was just a few days ago that they asked me.

Exhibit C: So you know how I just went to Thailand? Yeah, that was two months ago now.

Exhibit D: A friend recently wrote "Can you believe it's almost the end of the year?" What?! Not only does time pass too fast, we have to speed it up even more by looking ahead. The other day I actually had to pause to think whether it was really still the year 2005 or if it was '06.

Exhibit E: When I flip open my agenda I end up in September. Is anyone else having this problem? Every single time I’m surprised at how much the year’s calendar is already filled up.

Exhibit F: Tonight the topic at the university Bible club was "The Notion of Time." I feel like I've got that notion coming at me from all directions! It's like time is this evil enemy who has taken over the controls of the universe and he laughs menacingly as he looks down on us scrambling around trying to keep up with his pace.

But I was reminded by the talk that was presented that it is up to me to manage how I live in time. We can be free from its frenzy! Rather than fighting against time, always trying to "save" or "gain" it, we can live in it seeing each moment as an opportunity given. The speaker said when we fight against time we're fighting against ourselves. And it's a losing battle. Do you know anyone who thinks that they've been a great success in "time management"? It seems to be the desire of the age to be a master of time. But in that very pursuit time has become our master!

"Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You turn men back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, O sons of men.’ For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of morning—though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered…The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty if we have the strength…Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a hear of wisdom…” Psalm 90

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

What are we gaining when we rush around to pinch a minute here and there? Where’s the bank account to put all of our “saved time”? Our age puts on a pedestal the one who knows how to cram productivity into every breathing moment. But the wise person is the one who simply knows the right moment for each activity…and who is willing to let activity cease…and who isn’t afraid to be with himself in stillness…and who seeks God in everything.

In the morning sometimes I already feel defeated knowing that I won’t “accomplish” what I should that day. When I lay down at night sometimes I feel remorse for not having been “productive.” There’s this constant stressed feeling that doesn’t come from any real pressing matter. Today I had a full day. I woke up already tense about all that I had to do, but as I reached to open the bedroom door and begin my tasks I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I simply had to do each thing as it came and not worry about what was coming next. We can choose to rush around with our minds perturbed and our watches set 5 minutes ahead, or we can live each moment to the fullest as it comes. I’m going to stop praying that God will help me be more productive and start praying for discernment to simply know what to do with each moment that is given to me. The end result may not look that much different, but it will make all the difference on the inside.

I could go on and on about this topic of time. Our society really has a problem in this area. God definitely has another way of doing and seeing things. I’ll reflect some more and see what else I should share.

In the mean time you can do an exercise that we did tonight. What is the first animal that comes to mind to describe the way you approach your work? What does that image tell you about yourself?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Wrongest ideas I've heard about language here in Switzerland

5. "German is a very difficult language": It's hard to learn any language, but truth is that for English speakers it's one of the easiest. Maybe it's harder for my francophone friends, but still, let's consider languages like Chinese or Russian before we start talking "very difficult."

4. "It will be easier for you to learn an African 'dialect' than French since they are much simpler": Yeah. OK. First of all, French is hard, but it's one of the very easiest languages for anglophones to learn since we share so much of the same vocabulary. Second of all, African speech varieties deserve every bit as much to be called "languages"; I detest the perjorative use of the word "dialect." Thirdly, African languages are quite different from European languages, which will make them difficult for me to learn. They often use tone (like Asian languages) which is not something I'm familiar with at all and they have sounds which which can be hard to pronounce.

3. "If you speak the language Berber you can pronounce correctly any sound in any language": I tried to explain to this misinformed Algerian man that this is not linguistically plausible, but he simply "proved" his point by making me repeat Berber words, telling me I did it incorrectly, and thus concluding that if only I spoke that language I would be able to pronounce anything. This has got to be ethnocentrality at its best.

2. "Americans don't know how to learn foreign languages or they're just too self-centered to care": As a linguist and a language-lover, I will be the first to declare that American monolingualism is a shame. However, I can defend it just the same. First point: all the Europeans I know have learned other European languages; I haven't met anyone fluent in Chinese or Arabic. I think it's highly probable that if every state in the US spoke a different language, as is the case among the European countries, that Americans would be about the business of learning to speak Californian, Texan, New Yorkian, etc. We simply don't have the same opportunities and the same needs for speaking other languages.

Second point: We lack some of the main motivations for learning language. Globally, financial gain is one of the main motivators. Swiss francophones learn German because in Switzerland you need it to get a job. Latin American indigenous people learn Spanish because that's the language of power. Around the world people are starting to study Chinese because of that country's newfound economic importance. In the US, however, most people don't need another language in order to make money. Even in international business English is the common language.

Which brings up another motivator we are lacking--the need to communicate. Americans simply don't find themselves in frustrating situations where they can't communicate because a) practically everyone in the US speaks English and b) around the globe enormous quantities of people now speak at least some English. When Americans do confront situations where they can't communicate in English I find that their desire to learn another language increases--for example, many people at church are passionate about learning Spanish because of mission trips they've gone on.

My third point of defense for American monolingualism is that it is a stereotype. Stereotypes are indeed based on morsels of truth but not the whole truth. The truth is that there are Americans who speak more than one language and there are many more who at least have the desire to. In sum: I feel monolingual Americans are more victims of the circumstances rather than self-centered bigots who refuse to reach out to others.

1. "There are more songs in English because it's an easier language to put music to": Linguistically, I actually don't know if this is true or not, since it does seem that certain kinds of languages fit better with certain kinds of music. But this seems like a strange way to describe the proliferation of English songs considering there's pretty much more of everything in English these days.