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You Are Welcome

By Maralise Petersen

My parents are visiting us for the first time since our move to Europe. And despite their appearance (my dad has been known to wear a map-of-the-world polo and a fanny pack while traveling abroad), they’re pretty culturally savvy. They’ve had enough of their children move out of the country to lose most ugly-American behavior.

Except, of course, when my dad thinks everyone speaks English. And let’s face it, my mom’s just here for the chocolate (and the kids, of course, and me too, I guess).

On Monday we were traveling on a long and winding train to get to the Alps. As we were nearing the top of the mountain where we could see endless valleys and peaks, she spoke up in her most “I’m the mom and I know what I’m saying” voice and said,

“Let’s face it folks, Salt Lake City’s got more snow.”

Thanks Mom. Come again soon.

About Maralise Petersen

(Emerita)

14 thoughts on “You Are Welcome”

  1. Maybe I am the one with issues, but I don't see the value in spotlighting the dorky things our parents say, do or wear. The older they get, the dorkier they are going to get, the more we are going to have to be above taking notice of it.

    I am sure the author was being lighthearted and intended no disrespect, but if I may, I'd like to steer people's minds toward the idea that whatever our parents are, love is our obligation –and our opportunity.

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  2. Oh, I think this post was meant in a very kind and gently teasing nature. If we can't gently tease our parents . . . then I'm in trouble!

    When my parents came and visited when I lived in England for a few months, we took a quick trip over to France, and whenever my mom would try to respond to people in the affirmative without using English, she would inevitably say "si!" (very enthusiastically) instead of "oui". Hilarious. Love you, Mom.

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  3. I know what ugly American means and I don't think its true, useful or kind. As you say, enough with the potshots. All the Americans I've seen overseas are teaching English, running orphanages, doing Peace Corps, missionary work, military, etc. Go USA.

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  4. Many of the most endearing things to me about the people I love are their little eccentricities. I'm glad that we can laugh together, and I don't see it as insensitive or disrespectful. Actually I find the greatest security in those relationships where I know people are fully aware of my quirks and accept and love me anyway. That was the tone i heard in this post.

    I guess I see patriotism in a similar way. I love this country, and I am also aware of the culture differences that set us apart from many European countries, in some ways that are good and some not so good. I don't feel disrespectful in acknowledging both sides of the issue. Many Americans do unintentionally come across as culturally insensitive to a European perspective, and I think it can only do us good to be aware of those cultural differences and seek to move beyond any negative traits on our part that are limiting understanding. That's the best way I can think of to dispel negative perceptions and demonstrate what this great country is about.

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  5. As I talked about in the comments of the "I Heart Utah Mormons" post from a couple of weeks ago, I don't think it's particularly helpful to deny that a stereotype exists. However, I do think it's helpful to be aware of the stereotype, try to figure out where it comes from, and then try to be sensitive to it. Was this post particularly sensitive to the ugly-American stereotype? Not really. And I suppose that's where the offense has come.

    Being an American living overseas, I'm very aware of the stereotype and avidly try to avoid being the person that others might view as culturally insensitive. Is that enough? I don't know, but I hope so.

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  6. I suppose it is one eternal round –trying not to stereotype other people while striving to live above the stereotypes other people put on us. But we don't have to do it to ourselves.

    In this piece, the author is acutely aware of the "ugly American" label. Her nervousness causes her to be hyper-vigilant toward her parents, they falter, and its humorous.

    Why? Why let the label set the stage? I suppose its an easy question for me, here in my nice soft chair in the USA. But I think all of us have feared a label before, especially as LDS, and we have to get beyond it somehow.

    Our tendency is to simply find someone who typifies the label more than we do –an uglier American, a frumpier housewife, a more goody-goody LDS, –whatever label we are combating ourselves, the quicker we can find someone else to pin it on, the better.

    But yes, it does make for some humor sometimes. "The pot calling the kettle black" as the saying goes. I guess that element of humor helps us deal with this part of life.

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  7. Dear Stella and TG: Please ignore the following comment.

    Dear Angela: I got a big kick out of your mother always saying "si" in France. When I lived in Vienna, my parents visited me. They came to dinner at the family I was staying with. My parents remembered enough of their college German to be able to understand what was going on, but not enough to be able to respond much. My father, who worked at a clinic in south Phoenix at the time and treated many Spanish-speaking patients, kept automatically responding "Si! Si!" to his horror and our delight. My host family thought it was hilarious and endearing and talked about it for a quite a while afterwards.

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  8. "Our tendency is to simply find someone who typifies the label more than we do –an uglier American, a frumpier housewife, a more goody-goody LDS, –whatever label we are combating ourselves, the quicker we can find someone else to pin it on, the better.

    But yes, it does make for some humor sometimes. “The pot calling the kettle black” as the saying goes. I guess that element of humor helps us deal with this part of life."

    Stella, I don't think I understand your intent. Are you making a general statement about human nature? Or are you making a statement about Maralise' feelings about her parents and also a judgement about her cultural sensitivity/savvy?

    I agree that it's sometimes human-nature to look for the faults in others in order to justify or feel better about ourselves.

    But, I think it is a leap to apply that idea to Maralise being aware of and sensitive to anti-American sentiment where she lives everyday. It's a leap even if she's overly sensitive because, again, she lives with it day-in & day-out. It's a leap even if she's amused and even embarrassed by her parents' behavior. Being amused and embarrassed isn't always the same thing as comparing yourself to others in order to feel superior.

    TG, I agree with you that we should be extremely loyal and loving to/about our parents. But, I don't think love or loyalty precludes having a sense of humor about their quirks. In fact, as they get older and have more health and even mental problems, a sense of humor could be essential to managing one's feelings about their care.

    Maybe there are differences between families in what is considered loving banter and what is considered disrespectful.

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  9. If we can't laugh at ourselves, what else can we do?!

    Thanks mara–I was amused. And I totally get that you love your mom and you were laughing with her, not at her. Snow or no snow, I think the Alps could kick the Wasatch Front's backside any day.

    That said, I have to tell you, the year we went to Finland it was actually warmer at the north pole the day we were there than it was in Provo. My husband still compares the weather between the two daily. It amuses me, too.

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  10. Maralise, what a great story. I can imagine my parents doing the same thing if they had ever visited me in Sweden.

    I think the best thing I learned from living abroad is to avoid comparisons and enjoy the place you are at for what it is and forget about what it isn't.

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