On our recent trip to England and the Continent I invited a number of folks to stop in and visit next time they are in the US. I forget how many, there were some rather late nights at the pub. Maybe six or seven? Enough anyway that it seems likely that a few of them will actually turn up one day on my humble doorstep. This raises an intriguing question.
What should I show them of America?
Most of them are already well traveled. But I think their experiences of America to date may not have been, shall we say, representative. New York City for instance is an important place. But is it the "real" America? The other common destination for most is Florida. But it is hard to justify that aggregation of theme parks and retirees as being typical.
And regards the depiction of America in the news and entertainment media - here and abroad - I can only shudder and note that a German relative asked me in all sincerity if we really had a big problem with the Neo Nazi militia types.
So where do we start, and what do we show our Old World visitors? What and where is the "real America"?
Well they have to get to Wisconsin first. I would suggest that they get a car and start driving on small roads. Stop at every garage sale you see. Talk to people - your accent will be your entree to society. They will surprise you. Remember that in the States it is not only acceptable but expected that you ask folks "what they do". That grizzled fellow in a seed company cap may well be a bank president. Or a bum, both are interesting.
I would encourage a daily scan of the Roadside America website. Giant Muffler Men, World's Largest Ball of String, peculiar little museums....these say something about America. I am not sure what really, but it is an odd, expansive character trait rarely seen in the Old World.
Eventually they will turn up at my door. This has happened in the past, sometimes without warning.
I won't take them shopping. Other than the garage sales mentioned above I think it would be both familiar and depressing for them. In England pubs are dying off in part due to cheaper alcohol sold in bulk by Tesco. In Germany I understand that the shops in smaller towns are now extinct, driven out by the Big Box stores on the edges. "Of course the bakeries and meat markets are still there..." I did not have the heart to say that they would be going down next.
The last time I had a young German lad stay with us a while there was an election on. He seemed very impressed that a campaign stop was scheduled for our town. "You want to go hear the President?", I asked. In Europe people do not have much contact with their leaders, most of the real work in any event being done by a permanent bureaucracy. Most Congressfolks have periodic public meetings, (at least when they don't have to talk about health care reform!), and it would be easy enough to go have pancakes and ask a few questions.
Hopefully it will be summertime. I can just pull up a list of Wisconsin small town festivals and pick one. For instance in July we could go with: Venetian Night, Strawberries and Cream Festival, Stump Dodger Bash, Door County Wearable Art Show, Sunsplash, Sawdust Days, Bean and Bacon Days, Eight Miles of Ag-Tiques, Watermelon Days, Ducktona 500, Steam Up Days, Bastille Day, Rock Dam Boat Parade, Wine in the Woods, Hodag Country Music Festival, Nabor Days, Catfish Days, The Cars that Time Forgot, Wa Du Shuda Days, Chalkfest.....
That by the way is a partial list of just the first two weeks of July, and one in which I left out the Fourth of July events and Pow Wows.
Parades, kiddie rides, tractor pulls, a demolition derby. Maybe a Polka Mass. You don't see that on BBC or read about it in Der Spiegel.
Maybe a ballgame would be in order. I favor baseball, but would avoid the Major League parks. They should see a Minor League game where young raw talent is scrapping to make it to The Show. Or better still a town ball game where guys play just for the love of the game. High school football would be ok as well, I understand that there is nothing quite like it in Europe.
But perhaps I am over thinking things. I tend to do that. Maybe they would learn just as much about the Real America by simply plopping down a lawn chair at our usual Friday evening neighborhood cocktail hour. Potluck dinner on the picnic table. A beer or two. A chance to chat with the local lawyer, the used car dealer, the young folks across the alley who just moved in. Dogs wander up to have their ears scratched.
Suggestions? Where is the Real America?