At nearly 11pm last night, my family received an unexpected phone call from a unknown number. The caller had a low voice—almost a whisper—and demanded that we come to a parking lot in White Marsh at 2:30am. The caller then hung up and we frantically rushed around to gather our things.
Okay, so the phone call actually wasn’t that dramatic. And we actually knew the mysterious caller—it was our Chinese exchange student that my family hosted two years ago. Jane had called us a few days ago, explaining that she was in the states and would like to come see us. We weren’t quite sure when exactly she would be coming, but we definitely weren’t expecting her to arrive last night.
Once I knew she was on her way, I couldn’t help but think back to an assignment that I completed during my senior year of high school, when Jane was last in Maryland. This scene clearly depicts my relationship with Jane…read on.
“I’m going to a big American grocery store, Jane. Would you like to come with me to get a few things?” I asked very slowly.
“Okay!” she eagerly replied.
I pulled into the closest parking spot in front of Giant. I detangled a large shopping cart from the long chain.
“I have a list,” Jane said while gesturing to the small piece of wrinkled paper in her hand. “I want to buy pencils, ink, cookies, and suh-wet bread.”
“What kind of bread? Sweat bread?” I asked confused.
“No, no, suh-wet bread.” She repeated, pronouncing it the same exact way as before.
“Sweat bread?” I asked again. What in the hell is sweat bread, I thought.
I had no clue what she was saying. Instead of attempting to butcher the word again, she showed me her handwritten list.
“Oh! Sweet bread!” I finally realized. “Do you mean like cinnamon?”
“Uhhh…I don’t know. Swet bread. We have in China.”
Here we go again, I thought to myself. I decided to take her over to the bread aisle to avoid even more miscommunications.
“How about this one, Jane?” I asked as I pointed to Pepperidge Farm’s cinnamon swirl bread. “It’s really good and very sweet, just like you wanted.”
“Uhhh…no. I will just get ink.”
“Ooookay,” I sighed.
While making our way over to the school supplies aisle, I suggested a few other foods that I thought she might like.
“Jane, I’m going to buy some yogurt. Would you like to buy some?” I asked as I picked up a container of vanilla yogurt and placed it gently into the cart.
“No,” she said simply.
“Have you ever tried yogurt?”
“No. I don’t like yogurt,” she replied without hesitation.
“Okay then, we will just stick to the non-edible stuff,” I muttered under my breath.
I was ecstatic when we reached the school supplies aisle.
“Here are the pencils; would you like to buy these?” I asked as I held up a pack of Bic mechanical pencils.
“No. I like this kind,” she said as she picked up a pack of pens.
“Jane, those are not pencils, these are.”
“Oh, okay. I will get those. I need ink.”
“Grocery stores do not usually sell ink; I think you can only get that from a specialty store. Can you just buy pens instead?”
“No. I like ink.”
“You’ll have the get that somewhere else. Let’s check out now,” I said as my irritation began to grow.
We headed to the shortest check-out line. After several minutes of arguing over who would pay for Jane’s items, she insisted on paying herself.
“Your total is $10.74,” reported the bored looking young teenager working at the register.
Jane fished out a crisp one-hundred dollar bill from her embroidered wallet.
“Jane! Don’t you have a smaller bill? That is way too much,” I tried explaining to her.
“No, it’s okay. I don’t care. I’m in America,” she said as she smiled.
I took a deep breath as she received eighty-nine dollars and twenty-six cents back from the cashier.
“This is going to be a long two months.”
And a long two months it was. We actually hosted a second exchange student last year, and compared to Jane, she was a nightmare. Jane truly is a sweetheart and knowing that she would be here for two days—instead of two months—I was actually looking forward to seeing her.
Jane came to the kitchen this morning just as I was fixing myself a snack, so I was more than willing to force my healthy crap down her throat offer her whatever she wanted. I remembered Jane had gravitated towards neon-colored, sugary cereals when she was last here. Much to my surprise, she actually liked the cinnamon Puffins that I presented to her. I was fixing a Fourth of July bowl and she even asked for some strawberries. Imagine that! A fibrous cereal and an antioxidant boosting fruit?! My ploy worked.
Now let’s see if I can convince her to try my hot dog frittata (which is seriously beyond delicious!).
I know this post was a little different, but I’m working on a few blog-related tasks tonight and I thought it was a funny story to share. I promise I’m really not that ignorant and this was simply a humorous take on hosting a student from a foreign country.
Have you ever participated in an exchange program?
How do you deal with cultural differences? Any funny stories to share?