The Midwest is assumed by most French people to be a culturally-starved, hopelessly-homogenized region. As in, you poor thing, you come from there? You know, if the States were the afterlife, the few elect would go to New York and San Francisco, while the multitude of sinners would languish in the vast stretches in between those venerated cities. Case in point: we chatted with a guy in a bar near Bastille the other night who had studied in Wisconsin as a teenager for three weeks on a study exchange. While his well-intentioned host parents planned his visit to the minute to take full advantage of their corner of the globe, the 17-year-old was high (okay, probably in more ways than one) on dreams fueled by Jack Kerouac. Somehow downtown Madison just didn't do the trick.
Still, we Americans tend to pride ourselves on our country's status as a "melting pot". And I must say, it's true. After six weeks in Minnesota, I am still relishing in retrospect a smörgåsbord of experiences that would shush any Parisian into respectful silence in a hurry.
For starters, I clapped and cheered as my little brother earned his next belt in Japanese martial arts. We attended our friend's milonga, an Argentinian tango party, meeting fascinating dancers from the world over. We watched in delight as our friend Ledung belted out the eighties to the last hangers-on in a Vietnamese wedding. Karl made his new fancy Swedish keyboard wail the American blues on several happy occasions. And fabulous French, German, Italian, Vietnamese, Spanish, and countless other culinary influences kept popping up in both fancy dinner parties and casual suppers.
And then there was the Minnesota State Fair. Heck, we didn't even make is to the "International Bazaar"- our experiences were already plenty diverse as it was. We were reminded of the importance of dairy consumption, principles of hot dish, proper handling of firearms, and the joys of polka-ing to Norwegian airs played by a traditional accordion band. You just never know what you might find in Minnesota - if you go looking for it, that is. And this, I believe, is the key difference between life in the Midwest and our life here in Paris. In the States, one quickly becomes bogged down by everyday suburban life where everyone kinda looks the same (thank you Target) and complains about same things (i.e. gas prices). You have to go out of your way to find something different.
Here in Paris, "something different" tends to come and find you.
We arrived back a week and a half ago to live with a family from the States - a Japanese/American couple with two great kids. They are hospitality incarnate, so we weren't the only houseguests involved. A mutual friend of ours from Malaysia had recently come back from studying for six months in Sweden and was ready to introduce us to as much Asian cooking as we could handle. Which turns out to be quite a bit. As a Malaysian, Thomas is also from a "melting pot": his home country is a mix of various influences, which comes out in language, religion, cooking, and outlook. All week has been a tasty and fascinating introduction to a continent that we have yet to explore. This all culminated when we all went to a Chinese family's house for the mooncake festival.
This holiday usually involves small children carrying lights around in the dark streets, singing, and eating mooncake. Despite a lack of small kids at the party, we still enjoyed the barbecue, conversation, traditional folklore stories, dessert brought direct from Taiwan, Karl's improvised hymn to mooncake ("my little mooncake...where are you?"), and the glow of the pretty red lanterns. And for this joyous meeting, we sang "thank you Jesus"...in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Malaysian.
I guess we'll stick to whatever melting pot we can find.