Wednesday, October 23, 2013

COLUMN: Chris & Fabi

We've got it pretty good. The U.S. is an amazing country, and the Quad Cities is a pretty great place to live (just don't ask me on those days when it's either 105 or -5, or when I pull into the drive-thru of the local Taco Bell and am told they're inexplicably "out of meat.") But I think we sometimes get in a rut and fail to appreciate the great things about daily life in this land we call home.

I've had an interesting reality check this week, and it came in the form of a week-long houseguest and her very first trip to America.

One of my oldest and dearest friends bummed us out a few years back when he accepted a teaching job in Japan. He explained it was finally his chance to capitalize on his Asian Studies major and embark on a fulfilling career path of adventure in a foreign land. I was pretty sure he just wanted a solid opportunity to go mack on cute Japanese girls.

It turns out we were both right. Indeed, he moved overseas to a fulfilling career that he loves. And sure enough, he promptly hit on a cute Japanese girl. Interestingly, though, she turned out to be Brazilian. He speaks English, she speaks Portugeuse, and neither are especially fluent in Japanese. Yet somehow it works, and that girl is now his wife. Last week, my friend made his first return visit to the States and brought the missus along for the ride, which means I've had a front row seat to a foreigner's very first experience in America.

My goal for the week was shallow, self-centered, and simple: I would show off the absolute best we had to offer. She falls in love with the Quad Cities and I get my friend back stateside, especially since I'm now worthless at video games without him to get me past the hard stuff. I had my work cut out for me.

My first reality check happened mere minutes after I'd picked them up. "Well, this is officially your first day in America," I turned to her. "You're in Chicago. What would you like to see first? Willis Tower? Wrigley Field? Lake Michigan?" Her answer? "Wal-Mart." Congratulations, America, this is your new international legacy.

Her most exciting discovery in America appeared to be watermelon. Apparantly in Japan, watermelons come the size of cantalopes and cost upwards of $20 a pop. By the time they left, she'd indulged in watermelons, a carton of watermelon juice, watermelon gum, potholders that LOOKED like watermelons, etc. I will never look a gift watermelon in the mouth again. After this week, I might not even look at a watermelon again.

Prices on most items blew her mind. Japan sounds like an expensive place to live. According to my friend, CDs are well over $20, a DVD can run twice as much, and Playstation games are upwards of $75. But I guess it's give and take. His income is taxed at a flat 5%, and a recent visit to a Japanese dentist ended in six filled cavities, two crowns, and a bill of less than $100.

We tried our best to take her to as many American eateries as we could. We got thumbs up to: Taco Bell ("tasty!"), Arthur's ("mmm!"), Buffalo Wild Wings ("super tasty!"), Hu Hot Mongolian Grill ("super tasty!" AND three photos upped to Facebook), and Whitey's did its job and left her speechless. The only two places that DIDN'T cut the mustard? May the gods of pizza have mercy on my soul, but sorry, Harris was a strike-out ("TOO SPICY SAUSAGE!") And you know those delicious rolls at Texas Roadhouse with the cinnamon butter? She couldn't even get through one bite. ("NOT tasty. Butter should NOT be sweet!")

Worse yet was when I needed a snack and fixed myself a PB&J in the kitchen only to realize she was staring at me as though I were eating toejam. "Peanut butter with JELLY? That is CRAZY!!!!" She wouldn't try it. For what it's worth, I wouldn't try the bag she brought of something called "Tasty Squid Snack!"

She was incredibly sweet, shy, and soft-spoken for the entire visit, until one evening we had stopped at a gas station when she cried out so loud the whole store turned. That was the moment she discovered the magic of the Big Gulp. "This is a glass?" she asked incredulously. "In Japan, we would call this a BUCKET!" MANY photos ensued.

One day, I took a shortcut home. "Sorry," I said, "This is kind of a bad part of town." "You don't know what a bad part of town is," she replied scoldingly. Later that night, she showed me photos of homeless camps and a famous video from her hometown of Sao Paulo. In it, you see a guy pull up to a pharmacy and run in with a gun. While he's robbing the place, someone else comes along and steals his getaway car. When the confused robber runs out with bags of cash and no car, HE gets robbed at gunpoint by another thief who makes off with the cash. "THIS is a bad part of town." Fair enough.

I spent the week trying to tell her how awesome America is, she spent the week trying to rally for the Land of the Rising Sun. "You should come to Japan," she told. "In Nagoya, Japanese girls love American men. You could meet girls who want to date you, you could meet girls who want to marry you, or you could meet girls who will take jewels in exchange for [expletive.]" Umm. Hmm.

Eight days later, they were off again. Since all we did was eat and shop, I'm pretty sure she now thinks America is a gluttonous country full of all-you-can-eat rabid consumerism, and heck, maybe she wouldn't be far off. Still, I think we win if for no other reason than we prefer Harris Pizza to Tasty Squid Snack. I don't know if they'll be moving here any time soon, but she DID just update her Facebook status to: "Leaving the midwest. A magical place and I hope to see you all again soon."

Maybe sooner than she thinks, once I find a plane ticket and procure enough jewels.

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