O’ America!

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Who hasn’t heard or read at some point in their life that America is the land of opportunity? J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, in his book What is an American? (1782), sees America as the land of “fair cities, substantial villages, extensive fields . good roads, orchards, meadows and bridges.”

I, an exchange student and foreign language TA, see it-on top of what Crevecoeur said-as the land of the most unique, crazy scenarios ever seen!

“Free hugs,” read a big sign on Grand Boulevard one day when I was on my way to work. “Oh my gosh!” I thought, “What’s going on with the people here? Are they cuckoo?” But, after a couple of days, I got my hugs for free. Amazingly, the power of cultural adaptation works wonders in people’s lives. Not to mention the greetings here! Just the first weekend, after trying to greet a person the Argentinean way, was enough for me to learn that my Argentinean habit of for kissing and hugging was best left aside; here it’s all about shaking hands-even if you’re a girl. Thank God that from time to time there is somebody with the “Free hugs” sign on Grand!

I cannot forget to mention an episode that I witnessed in a bar with some friends. Going to the bartender for some drinks, we encountered two ladies in their late 70s, enjoying Martinis-such a fountain of youth. Isn’t that cool? I think that, so far, I could be the second Christopher Columbus!

The language in America deserves some discussion as well. If you want to sound exactly like an American, you should pack your sentences with as many adverbs as possible-and by no means forget to use the f-word. If you don’t believe me, eavesdrop for a minute or two on some conversations, and you will find out that this is abso-f-ing-lutely true! Also, you will learn that in America you are not exhausted, but “f-ing tired” or “your brain is taxed” and “you feel like crashing.” Isn’t this so in-f-ing-credible? Yeah, it definitely is! Absolutely!

Another thing you definitely need to learn here is that sometimes when you say “I would die for a beer,” you might mean it almost literally! One Friday night, I was about to have dinner at home with a friend. Suddenly, I said, “I’m dying for a beer.” My friend suggested going to the gas station. It was too late to walk there alone, however. I decided to head to the nearest place, but when I was there, I realized that I did not have my ID with me. So, I returned home, and, by that time, my desire for the beer had become frustration.

When I came back to the bar and presented my ID, they started looking at me as if I were a member of the mafia and returned it to me. They say that it was the first time they had seen the Argentinean ID and had to search for it in a book of different countries’ IDs. Of course Argentina’s wasn’t there.

I did eventually get my beer, but, by that time, I had mostly lost interest in drinking it. I started heading out of the bar with my Corona, happily thinking of how much I was going to enjoy the chicken breast with macaroni and cheese, in company of a good friend and a good beer. When I was about to step outside, however, I heard a voice say, “You cannot go out with your beer. You gotta’ drink it here.”

The next thing I heard, of course, was, “I’m sorry. It’s the law.” At this point, I was just determined to find a table, sit down and “enjoy” my beer.

When I sat down and started drinking the beer-I wanted to finish it as fast as possible-a guy came and sat right in front of me, shook my hand and said, “Hello, nice to meet you!” I thought, “Where is the nice, funny part of this pick-up line?”

I just told my would-be suitor what had just happened to me, and he said, “You should have another one!” and laughed.

I, as politely as possible, just said, “My friend is waiting for me at home to have dinner.”

Finally, I was back at home eating my chicken breast with macaroni and cheese-and drinking mineral water. What is the moral of this story? Especially if you are a foreigner, do not think that having a beer is as simple as going to a bar, having a bottle cap removed and letting that fascinating liquid fill your mouth and warm heart. At times, the process can take much longer here in the United States!

So, friends, isn’t America the land to have one-of-a-kind, intense adventures and to meet fascinating, exceptional people? I am definitely having a great time here, and I am particularly thankful to my housemates for helping me feel a sense of community, to the people at work for their patience and assistance, to my Spanish-110 students for surviving their teacher and to my classmates and instructors for making my semester go smoothly-so far!

Bel?n Gauna is a graduate student at Saint Louis University.