Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Don't Want to Follow Directions from a Jumbotron!

Every September I help out with the International Student Retreat for Belmont's incoming exchange students.  The relationships I've built with our international students have been some of the most rewarding and enriching of my college career, and I am always amazed at how much I learn from them every day -- not only about their countries and cultures, but about my own as well.  Their observations and remarks about American life; the things they find strange or downright weird; their stories (of both horror and joy) -- they crack me up and provoke some intense reflection on our own beliefs and habits here in America.

Belmont International Student Retreat 2011

Tonight I had dinner with Ahmad (from Germany) and Yann (a half-Swiss, half-French student).  This weekend Yann and Ahmad attended the Tennessee Titans' first home game at the stadium in Nashville, and I was eager to hear their report. As my friend Whitney explained to me when I first moved to Tennessee, "Football is a religion in the South."  
Nashville's LP Field - Home of the Tennessee Titans
(photo from eseats.com)
Yann said, "Yeah, I really liked the game!  I've seen American football on TV before and never really liked it, because they spend half the game in time out, but WOW! - the atmosphere!!"
Ahmad agreed; overall they both really enjoyed themselves. Yann continued, "You know, in France, if I go to a match I show up just five minutes before kickoff," (talking about soccer), "but here, it's more than a game for Americans. It's the whole experience; it's like camping!  They get there early in the morning, set up their picnic, start eating, drinking a little..."
"Yeah, the game is their whole Sunday," Ahmad piped in. "We pretend we're too busy -- we go to the match five minutes ahead and then return home straightaway when it's over, but for them, they just know - if there's a game on Sunday then that's what they're doing all day."

Then came the funny part.
"But you know, there's one thing that kind of bothered me", Ahmad continued.  "There's that screen that always tells you what to do.  Make more noise! Cheer for your team! And all the Americans do it! I don't want to do what the screen tells me!  It's so predictable. Every five minutes it's going to tell you Make more noise!  In Europe we don't have those.  There's a guy down at the bottom of the bleachers with his back to the field, and you imitate him.  He has some creative yell that he says, and then you yell back a little and cheer for your team.  I just don't like this screen thing."
I was laughing inside the whole time he was explaining this, because I've had the same negative reaction before myself.  Although I haven't been to a pro football game (I know, I know, half of my readers just disowned me), I LOVE going to the Nashville Predators (NHL) games whenever I can get tickets. The only thing I don't like is being bullied by the jumbotron.  I agree with Ahmad; it's a little impersonal. I would be much happier if some guy with a microphone was goading the crowd instead.

I was going to mention this to Ahmad, but he wasn't finished.
"You know, I think this is really pretty normal for Americans, though. They're used to getting instructions. There are instructions for everything! And there's always an expert....You should listen to me, trust me, believe me, I'm an expert and I really know, I've had so much experience in this...Just do this and you'll get rich, I promise...."
The conversation had taken a new turn.  It was interesting to watch it evolve, to follow the train of thought from all-day sporting events to authoritarian jumbotrons to expert "advice" and a nation of people who follow directions. The guys had to run to class and the conversation kind of dwindled down from here, but I was intrigued by the conclusions they have drawn from this American football experience.

Thanks, Yann and Ahmad, for an amusing new perspective.

New friends relaxing poolside on the Retreat in early September
2011-2012 President and VPs of Belmont's International Business Society
Carolina (from Brazil), Rami (from Jordan) and me (the token American) 


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