Weird American Stuff

Especially with Naomi, we learned a great deal about how different Americans are from the Dutch. We’re old hat at it now, but if you’re an American who will be hosting here are some things that good to know.

Flat Sheets: An American Curiosity Naomi never mentioned it but Tom’s mind was boggled by the flat sheet on his bed. After hounding him to make his bed I saw the mattress in the hallway. “What were you doing?” I asked when he came downstairs.

“Making my bed!” He was incredulous. I’d asked enough times, after all.

“But why did you put the mattress in the hall?”

“To put that sheet on!”

After telling the story between laughing fits I found out from a long time host that flat sheets are very, very American.

Chit chat Especially if your kid is from a Northern European nation, known for their efficiency, small talk is not normal for them. Be sure to explain that this is a good skill to have. Especially when starting school. Naomi was great at it. Tom would practice regularly.

Patriotism + Religion = America A student told Naomi she was going to hell because she was secular. In a society that can be hyper polite, no one even flinched when he did this. It’s apparently un-American to not wear a flag and have found Jesus.

Please. Thank You. You’re Welcome Americans love to say things without meaning them. For example, people in stores ask how you are. You ask someone while walking away how they are. We have ideas of politeness but it’s really just about going through the motions. Explain to your student that we are accustomed to saying please, thank you and you’re welcome and when someone doesn’t it smacks of entitlement. Even though we say it without meaning it which is genuine hypocrisy.

Voicemail Europeans don’t set up there voicemail, never mind use it. If they see a missed call they call back. Or they text. We have had to finally make it a rule that voicemail must be set up. I communicate a TON through voicemail.

Checking In Many European teens are more independent than their American counterparts. American parents, however, baby the hell out if their teens. Explain that telling you before your student walks to the store or ATM or wherever is appreciated! Otherwise you might freak out about a missing kid.

Hygiene Some cultures don’t shower every day. Americans are not generally of this practice. I don’t care as long as you don’t stink. Make sure your student feels comfortable with their different hygiene practices. I only wash my hair twice a week. Germans love me.

Slang If your student watches lots of American TV they are more up to date on American slang than you are. It’s not a bad idea to learn the local, current slang and teach your kid some.

The N-word Is Never Okay At some point an exchange student told me they looked forward to walking down the hall and saying, “What up, nigga?” I dropped whatever I was doing for a conversation about the fact that that word is NEVER okay. The student tried to explain to me that it’s okay as long as they end the word with -a instead of -er. I cut them off and said that no, it’s not. Race is a really tricky topic. Better to handle it by explaining, early in the stay, that while the rest of the world has different views on race, America has a sordid history and it’s a good idea to stay away from racial terms.

Gender Differences Have conversations about gender. Talk about your own views on gender roles and stereotypes and also the American perspective at large (which varies by region, age and everything else). I don’t like the term “bitch” as it is inherently anti-woman. I also don’t like “dick”. Use a genderless term to insult someone.

Ablism Other countries have different views on the role people of different abilities play in society. While you should never, ever, tell your student that their cultural views are wrong, be clear about what is acceptable here. I was told, on the way to visit my mom, that “retarded people are unhappy”. My older brother is mentally retarded by diagnosis and iq. He is not generally unhappy unless I’m pissing him off. He’s my brother, I get to do that!

Accents America is huge compared to many European nations. Your student may come across accents. This can be tough. For example, Naomi kept telling me the first few days of school that she couldn’t understand one of her teachers. At all. In fact, she thought the woman was speaking with a Chinese accent. Turns out the teacher was from the south and had a thick southern accent. Explain that it may just take a while to get used to.

800 Names for Everything Because we are so vast and have a history of appropriating language, we have a lot of words for the same thing. I say soda, for example. But in Michigan it’s “pop”. Make sure you introduce the regional slang.

What have you learned about navigating America through your experiences hosting?

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