The past two weeks have been full.First there’s been the wonderful blessing of chaos brought on by the privilege of having some much-needed work done to our home. It was completed last week, and my main job now is to sort through clutter we unearthed in the process. I left it sitting in the family room, to force me to deal with it. For the record, I am so grateful! I really am humbly grateful. It was indeed a privilege to have the resources to get it done, and I don’t want to take it for granted or make light of it.During this time, as I mentioned in a recent post, we’ve also had a 15-year-old girl visiting from Paris. Her parents are friends with The Belgian Wonder’s family, so that’s the connection. She was hoping that the visit would improve her English as she enjoyed the United States.Although we couldn’t travel, we tried to give her a taste of America. Is there such a thing as a typical American experience? I suppose all we could offer was our typical suburban midwestern American experience, because that’s where we are and who we are.I told you all about the Chucks and how excited she was to find them at what was, for her, a reasonable price. So she shopped. That’s American.We took her to the big-box stores like Target and Wal-Mart. “Wal-Mart is very American,” I said. She only bought a plastic storage container for her mom and a pack of Oreos, but took note of the American-ness of it.One day I took her on a fast-food french fry tour. We have several fast-food restaurants close to each other, so we drove through the drive-through at Wendy’s and bought a pack of fries; then through McDonald’s for a pack of fries and some drinks; then we ended at Burger King, which she was very interested in visiting, and bought one more pack of fries to sample, along with some hamburgers and nuggets. And then we did a taste test. She taste-tested the fries and some of the drinks.In case you’re interested, here’s the conclusion: if I understood her correctly, the Wendy’s fries tasted more authentic, like real fries made from real potatoes; the others tasted more artificial, but even with that, she liked Burger King fries best.The sweet tea I got from McDonald’s was her preferred drink of those selected. She tried an orange drink, but didn’t like it. I can’t remember why. And she tried a Dr. Pepper, which was extremely bizarre to her. (Related: on another night, my kids made a homemade root beer float and offered her a taste. “What do you think of this very American dessert?” I asked. She said, “Oh, it tastes like medicine!” )She loved chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and cake. She loved Mexican-style food, so I cooked up a lot of ground beef with seasonings for her to make a taco or burrito for lunches and dinners. For variety I made a southwestern crockpot chicken recipe to add to the repertoire. The super-simple recipe came from a friend of mine. I’ll post it later.All the while, I was recalling a conversation in which she quoted her dad. She said that he warned her, “Now, just know that they eat very differently over there.” I could be wrong, because my French isn’t that great, but I understood that to mean, “Watch out — Americans eat a lot of junk food.”So I felt guilty introducing her to doughnuts, especially because we don’t get them very often. As it turned out, she loved them. In fact, as she made the universally understood, cross-cultural “mmmmm” noises while consuming one, she said, “Whoa. It’s too bad that don’t make these in Paris.”All those croissants and baguettes just around the corner from her apartment in France, and this girl was lovin’ the American doughnuts! As she washed it down with a glass of milk, I kept thinking about her dad’s warning. In reality, we rarely eat doughnuts, and I felt the urge to make that very clear. In fact, the kids often request doughnuts on their birthdays because they get them so rarely otherwise. “When you get home and you’re telling about your adventures in America, please make sure you tell your parents that we don’t eat doughnuts every other morning like we are right now. Promise?”She laughed as she licked bits of the chocolate icing from her fingers. “I’ll make sure they know.”She seemed to love the warm weather, the neighborhood swimming pool, and even Goodwill!Yes, I took a risk and introduced her to Goodwill. You never know how that’ll fly with someone. I’ve known people who are disgusted by Goodwill, and others who think it’s shopping heaven. Our guest fell into the latter camp. We went to two different Goodwills, and at one she found a pair of ballet-style black flats that she loved (probably originally from Kohl’s or Target) for the Goodwill price of $2.99. At the other, she found a soft lavender sweater. She came over to me and held it up as she explained, “There’s a store in Paris that sells sweaters in this material, and they are very fancy and cost maybe 80 or 100 dollars. And here it is for $3.99!” She also bought a couple of cute blouses and a T-shirt. Two of them were half price, so she was even more delighted when the price came down so dramatically.”With the exchange rate, it’s like getting things for free!” she exclaimed, giddily.She went home with her suitcase bulging not only from the Goodwill clothes, but also an assorted stuffed animal or two picked up as a souvenir from the zoo, three pairs of Chucks (two for her; one for her brother), a pack of Oreo cookies, some Kraft macaroni and cheese (she loved it–and yet could make us boulognese sauce from scratch!), chocolate chips, a bag of bagels, and some cream cheese.Today was her last day.We had to say good-bye.Cute shoes lined up next to Chucks for a brief farewell and photo op:Then I asked if I could photograph her wearing the T-shirt that she found at Goodwill. She stretched it taut so the words could be read clearly. I explained the message, by the way. I translated it clearly. I wasn’t sure how a girl from France would feel about it. She seemed to understand its meaning and chose to wear it proudly, with delight.Keep in mind that in a few hours, she’ll be stepping off the plane at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France, wearing it:We don’t have a beautiful beach or majestic mountain in our part of the country. Ours is not a big city with world-famous landmarks. I don’t know how effective we were as country hosts; in fact, I was afraid that a girl from Paris, France, who looks out the window of her school at a view of the Eiffel Tower every day, would find her visit to Indiana and her stay with the Kroekers to be dull and disappointing.But I’m pleased to report that from what I could tell — and I think we have Goodwill, Burger King, Oreos, bagels, and doughnuts in particular to thank — she seemed to think that America is pretty awesome.
Oui, les Etats-Unis est vraiment excellent! Merci de partager une si grand histoire, et la chance de voir a’ travers quelqu’un d’autre les yeux. Et qui savait que les frites et les beignets pourraient être ainsi le changement de vie ?
Oh I love that she responded in French! Now I can put my HS French lessons to the test…
I always wanted to do that kind of exchange, but we couldn’t afford it. Now I’d like to be a host of some sort when my kids are older. I think we could have so much to learn from each other!