Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Question One: Describe the perceptions of the U.S. in your host country. Are there a range of perceptions or are they general? Are they what you expected? Do host-nationals ask you about the U.S.? What do they ask? What do you think creates these perceptions?

Réunionese perceptions of the United States seem to fall into a few main categories: our money and our language, though I have had one interaction which involved who we are rather than what we posses. The single interaction that reflected more on our culture happened to be more of a joke than anything serious. I, after a few weeks of living here, decided to pursue a very cultural activity in my dorm: that of the whiteboard. The comments I received both about and on my whiteboard (besides being confused as to why there was a whiteboard on my door) were surprisingly of the same general vein as that I am used to receiving in the U.S. (therefore notes from my girl friends, dumb comments from my guy friends, and picture of penises from strangers/the dumber of my guy friends). I did however receive a few strange comments the first being a picture of a girls face and the words “Do the pretty girl rock,” and the second being “OMG I'm beautiful!” This second comment was a huge surprise, mainly because when the writer began writing it I happened to hear him and then watched him through the peephole of the door. The perpetrator of these comments happened to be my neighbor from across the hall. I found this strange because after talking with him a few times he didn't seem to be the kind of person to write rude things on someone's door, especially someone he had only had a few short conversations with. After having talked with him more I discovered that his Réunionese friend (he is from Madagascar) wrote the first comment. He owned up to the second comment but claimed it was because he wanted to write on my whiteboard rather than actually having anything to say to me. I believe him, but the fact remains that the first thing that someone from another country decided to write on my whiteboard (knowing I was from the U.S.) was “OMG I'm beautiful!” indicating, if nothing else, that we are perceived as superficial (even if they claim it's unconscious).

Our language: English seems to be a valued commodity in non-anglophone countries, or at least this one. In my first month here more than twenty people have told me they wanted to speak to me to better their English. I work in elementary schools teaching English to school children, and may potentially work in a high school doing the same. A girl I've become friends with who is from Mayotte told me that in her high school English was a required language. It's relatively common here to be asked if you're willing to get paid to speak English with someone's son or daughter. In fact, English is such a commodity here that I feel like it's something I posses rather than a part of who I am. This has opened an entirely new way in which to see my native language. Before coming here I would never have considered English as something I owned, but after seeing another culture's reaction to my language I've come to feel like it's another product that the U.S. has made marketable.

Our money: Most people I've met in my life are not rich, they do not see themselves as rich and they do not spend money like I expect a rich person would. I perceive “rich” as a sort of wealth that allows one to buy almost anything pretty much whenever. I don't ever expect to actually meet anyone that is would consider rich (though perhaps my chances are a little higher than most other people's because I go to Willamette University and I'm sure that some people have parents who can pay the exorbitant price tag). But since the U.S. is so big and seems to wield so much international power people from other countries think everybody and anybody from the U.S. is rich. The most outstanding example of this is that I've managed to run into was when I started chatting up a nice lady at the supermarket who was giving out samples of cheese. I was looking for provolone for a provolone-proscuitto-fig-jam sandwich (yum!), and she seemed to know something about cheese. In the process of figuring out that provolone was not sold in stores (pun!), she learned that I was from the U.S. At the end of our chat she insisted that I wait for her while she got me a pare-soleil, at the time I had no idea what it was she was getting but I was willing to find out. She returned with a sun shade, that thing that people put behind the windshield of their car in a useless effort to keep from baking alive when they get inside it (though I sound rather sarcastic about the overall benefits of sun shades I will definitely be taking mine back with me and using it at every possible occasion in order to boast about getting it from a nice lady in Réunion). I tried to explain to her that I didn't have a car and therefore wouldn't really be able to use it. She replied by telling me that my not having a car wasn't a problem, I could just buy one. After trying a few times to explain that I wouldn't be able to buy a car here even if I wanted to I was defeated by the certainty of her perception. Despite being outmaneuvered on the subject of my bank account I was able to conclude that conversation one sun shade richer and with a clearer concept of how the U.S. is viewed by some Réunionese.

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