It is a nice change observing Americans from within their own society, rather than in restaurants, public transport and tourist sites while travelling in Europe. Here are just a few memorable encounters I have had so far with my American brothers and sisters.
A middle-aged women came in to class 15 minutes late. She explained her tardiness immediately. “Sorry I’m late, I had to finish up some military business.” Is there any better excuse than this in America? No one is going to question you once you play the veteran card. Later on when we did the tell-us-a-bit-about-yourself activity I learned that this woman was now studying to be a school counselor having just finished a 15-year career in the US Army. She received an impromptu round of applause from the class.
Helpfulness and comfort zones
Having disembarked the bus from NYC back to campus on Labor Day Monday I found myself wheeling two suitcases from bus stop to bus stop in search of a shuttle back to my dorm. A young man on a skateboard, wearing a baseball cap, and the enormous headphones stopped and asked if I needed any help. After a few minutes of talking, during which time we established that the bus I needed was not running, I resigned myself to walking back to my dorm. I thanked him for trying to help me. His reply baffled me.
“Well I just think the world would, like, be a better place if, like, people just helped others more often you know. Like for example, I just went out of my comfort zone by stopping to talk to you.”
I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. Was I that undesirable to talk to and therefore should be grateful that he spoke to me? Or was this simply an honest expression of this young man’s dream for America? In the spirit of thinking positively, I’m going with the latter.
School spirit lives on in alumni
While visiting NYC I stopped by my favorite shoe shop. A young salesman on duty recognized me from my 2012 visit to the store (when I bought 12 pairs of shoes) and we had a quick chat while I was served by his colleague. At the checkout I asked for the shoes to be shipped to me in Connecticut, as it eliminates the NY sales tax. On my way out I was chased down by the now-extremely-excited salesman who had spotted my address on the shipping instructions.
“Oh man, no way. You go to UConn???!!!!!!!!’
“Ah, yes. I just started there this week.”
“Man, that is awesome! I went to UConn. It is the best school in the country. Oh man, you’re a Husky* too. This is amazing!!!!!!!”
Long conversation ensued, mainly with my fellow Husky expressing his love for the school and its reputation for strong alumni networks. But just when I was feeling completely affirmed in my decision to study at this school, he reiterated how deeply, disturbingly, depressingly cold the campus gets during the winter.
Oh, and the shoes being shipped to me? All-weather snow boots.
*The mascot of the university is Jonathan the Husky. More on that later.