We’ve just returned from our trip to Texas and we are pooped. Thomas, my in-laws, my husband and I are all lounging in the living room watching the World Cup – an activity that wouldn’t have taken place a couple of years ago but is now part of our European way of life. And I’m betting the very fact we’re watching the World Cup is helping Thomas’ mind to take a pause from all the American culture in which he’s been immersed. It’s nice to take a break.
In just these four short weeks, our Austrian visitor and friend, Thomas, has seen and experienced a solid amount of American culture. From the large and loud city of New York to the crawfish boilin’ ways of Mississippi to the ever-proud Texan-ness of Texas back to relaxed and homey Oklahoma, it’s been a busy vacation filled with hilarious surprises, modifications in perception and lots and lots of accent change-ups. Because Thomas is awesome (and likes being talked about on the blog), he sat down with me and listed experiences that he loved, hated, found amusing, or found very, very different.
For the most part, Thomas has loved our food just as much as we love Austrian food. (I miss Schnitzel so much!!) We always know when Thomas really, really likes what he’s eating by his eyes. If his eyes roll into the back of his head, then he’s madly in love with whatever he’s eating. If his eyes kind of squint, then he’s not a fan but tries to eat (or drink) it anyway. He absolutely loves the burgers – duh – and his favorite burger places so far have been Five Guys Burger & Fries and Shake Shack. His top favorite restaurant though out of all of the places we’ve been to is Buffalo Wild Wings. This is how we know he’s allowed to come back to the U.S. He almost got kicked out of the country (by us) because he doesn’t like Coke floats, but we allowed him to continue sleeping here. He doesn’t like Root Beer either, but neither do I, so I have no problem with that.
And he did very much love any and all the home-cooking from the moms.
One thing about the food that surprised him, even though we told him like 500 times beforehand that this was true, was that it is possible to eat healthy in the U.S. Before he came here he assumed every portion was the size of the Amazon and every meal was made up of burgers, burgers and more burgers. I think we were in NYC when Thomas saw his first salad restaurant and he literally did a double-take. He couldn’t believe Americans willingly eat salads and fruits and vegetables. Our feelings were mildly hurt, but… to be fair, we do really like our burgers. And there’s nothing wrong with that!
Also, it’s important to note that he found the McDonald’s in the States to be just as unappetizing as the McDonald’s in Austria. So… winning?
NYC rocked his world a little bit by how expensive the city was in general, but that was at the very beginning of our trip and ever since then he’s been pleasantly surprised by the prices he’s encountered in other states. When we were in Atlanta visiting my parents, Will took Thomas to the Mall of Georgia. When they returned home from their mall adventures, all I saw were bags of all shapes and sizes from stores of all kinds sitting at the bottom of Thomas’ feet. He may have bought out the mall. A week later we were on the way to Oklahoma and we stopped at a gas station to fill up and get snacks. It took Will and me several minutes to convince Thomas that yes, a large fountain drink is indeed 49 cents and that he wasn’t stealing extra amounts of Coke for a lower price.
Since Will and I don’t drive in Vienna, we’ve rarely needed to visit a gas station. But apparently the gas stations in Europe double the prices of items in the store making each trip more expensive than necessary. With that in mind, it makes sense that purchasing a large drink for 49 cents feels unnatural the same way purchasing a coke for 4 euro would feel unnatural, and really crazy.
He loves us! He’s met a wide variety of people during his stay and has so far encountered very friendly ones. A beautiful example of this is while he was in Philadelphia. Will and I were a little worried about his time in Philly because we didn’t know anyone there with whom we could put him contact, so we hoped he’d have stuff to do and find the place interesting. He wound up meeting a 65-year-old woman who not only has lived in Philly her entire life but is also a retired city tour guide. After finding out (via his accent) Thomas was visiting from Austria, she and her little dogs took him on a tour of the city – for free. Thomas was completely blown away by her immediate generosity and kindness. She must have felt the same way about him, because right before they parted ways she said, “I wish I were 40 years younger, but I have to go back to my husband.”
Love her honesty.
He has also been a little blown away by our patriotism, or rather our vast amount of American flags. Our flag not only flies in Washington D.C. or government buildings, but it flies on or by people’s houses, in the aisles of our grocery stores and home improvement stores, along our car dealerships, on our speed boats, even at the top of our street lights. The flag is everywhere down to our clothes, and in comparison to Austria, it looks like we’re kind of obsessed with it. I used to never really notice where the American flag flies or is posted or worn, but now I’m hyper-aware of it, and it really is everywhere.
And he was of course taken aback by our accents. He’s used to mine and Will’s, and we don’t really have much of an accent to begin with. But when we got to places like Oxford, Mississippi or Dallas, Texas, he had a much tougher time understanding what was being said to him. Most of the time Will and I were around him and those with thick ole’ accents in case we needed to translate for him, but there were a few times where we weren’t around and Thomas would later admit to us in private that he had an entire conversation with someone he didn’t understand at all. Frequent head nods and the occasional “That’s awesome…” were what he used to get through these difficult conversations. We told him we just hoped he didn’t accidentally use his “That’s awesome” in response to someone’s grandma dying or something.
We only have Thomas around for just two more days before he leaves us for Chicago. He’ll hang out there till Friday stuffing his face full of deep-dish pizza then head back to Vienna. We’ve loved having him here – not only because he’s a good friend, but because we’ve learned so much from him as he’s experienced our culture. You’re welcome here anytime, Thomas! (Even if you don’t like Coke floats.)
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