See it again, Uncle Sam

With immigration being such a hot topic in the news lately, it got me to thinking. What must America look like to a foreigner?

I had the opportunity to see a nation from just such a vantage point in 1998, when some friends and I took a whirlwind tour of some parts of Europe around our Memorial Day weekend. I saw Paris, London and Amsterdam in about one week. That’s not much time to really absorb the culture, but it was just enough to see the biggest tourist attractions; the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Arc de Triomphe in Paris; Big Ben, Westminster and the Tower of London; and … well, let’s just say “Amsterdam” and realize that those who know, know.

Anyway, one thing that has really stuck with me from that trip was one of the more mundane sights. As we cruised through the French countryside headed for the Chunnel, I gazed out the window at the terrain. It didn’t look terribly different from Wisconsin; rolling pitches, farm fields. But somehow the farmhouses looked different. They looked like they had housed generations under their quaint roofs. They weren’t like our houses, with wooden and vinyl siding and looking like they were built sometime in the last 50 years. These French homesteads were built of brick and stone. It struck me that some of those houses could have been older than my home country.

It made me wonder what kinds of conversations went on in those houses. Probably idle chatter about the crops, maybe school, maybe the local soccer team. Hell, maybe even sneering at the ignorant American tourists who were probably breathing on the glass gazing out at the French countryside from that damned Chunnel train again.

I also think about my honeymoon in Greece in 2004. As the tour bus wound around the treacherous hillsides, I could scarcely take my eyes off the seemingly endless fields of olive trees, the rocky slopes, and the occasional sheep herds that moved among it all. I wonder now, what would Greek tourists think about a ride along a long, straight stretch of country road in northern Wisconsin. “Ooo, look, honey; cows!”

Perhaps my points is that, in both cases, what was so everyday and mundane to them seemed new and fresh and fascinating to me. It’s that mind-set that I try to adopt sometimes on my way to work in the mornings. Sometimes I’ll take a different route. Oh, sure, the highway is faster. But like in the movie “Cars,” that faster route can sometimes take you past things you’ll never otherwise see. I cruise through the American countryside, ride the crest and trough of each rolling undulation on the paved strip that guides me past cornfields, cow pastures and American farmhouses.

And I try to see America again through a fresh set of eyes.

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