I ran across this article in The Atlantic earlier today, and I found it quite interesting. The article itself gets its content partly from interviews with immigrants on the radio show This American Life, and partly from a thread on a public question site, Quora. The topic of discussion: What surprises first-time visitors to America. You can read the full list of responses on the Quora website, but The Atlantic pulled some of the better answers to include in their article.
While some of them seem a bit obvious (we all know the U.S. is crawling with fast food restaurants), others really made me stop and think. People in other countries really believe we live without any poverty? Someone on the public thread said he was shocked to see a homeless person while visiting Central Park because he didn't think there were homeless people in the U.S. As much as I wish we didn't have poverty in this country, I found it baffling that people think this doesn't exist in America. I guess pop culture and television really do a good job of giving the impression of wealth and abundance for all.
Other things, like how we actually follow traffic laws when driving, were so true they made me laugh out loud. Even though I haven't lived in another country yet, I have traveled to plenty of far off places that really made me question how their citizens got a license. I mean, stop lights are there for stopping, right? Well not always, apparently. This is the bit made me giggle out loud:
"If you go to Cairo and rent a car (side note: don't rent a car in Cairo), you're obligated to follow the standard every-man-for-himself style if you want to get anywhere; drive like you're back in the U.S. and you'll never leave the parking lot."
So, as a newly minted foreign service officer, S will be representing American interests and America abroad. And as a family, we will be representing our country's culture, beliefs and common practices among various cultures and people who may never get to set foot in our country. They will only know what the read on-line, or see in movies and television. And because of that, we will hopefully be able to dispel some of the bigger misconceptions out there. So maybe when or if they ever get to visit the United States, they will be more prepared for what they will find. Because no, not everyone in New York lives in a fancy penthouse apartment like Ross and Rachel from Friends and yes we do love and respect our families.
At the same time, living abroad will also give us the opportunity to cleanse ourselves of the preconceived notions we have about other cultures and people, and educate ourselves in the process. We can't wait to get started.