Last night we went to this fabulous Spanish restaurant and I ate something I’d never had before that has a name I can’t even begin to figure out how to spell even enough to look it up on the internet, but my god, it was fabulous–rice, peas, meat, some sauce–and I had this salad with tomatoes so good that it made every other tomato I’ve had in my life suddenly better in retrospect.
And as we left, the guy who took our money at the garage spoke English until the driver spoke Spanish to him and then he smiled sheepishly in that way men do when they suspect you’ve overheard them talking about you when they thought you wouldn’t know.
As I was laying in the tub, trying to coax my ankle into bending again–hot, cold, wiggle, wiggle, hot, cold, wiggle, wiggle–I thought about how much I appreciate that my parents traveled with us when we were growing up. We learned by experience that the whole nation was much larger and much different than the small towns we were growing up in, and that our experience was not the only kind of experience one could have in this country, that on down the road there’s always something new to try–new foods, new smells, new people–and it’s all open to you if you’re willing to search it out.
I sometimes think of how people complain about how homogenized our culture is, how no matter where you go, there’s a McDonald’s and a Tiger Mart and a Hilton and a Walmart; how all the songs on all the radio stations are all the same. And I have to tell you, I wonder if they ever actually get out and about in the places they accuse of being all the same, because these places all seem amazingly different to me.
Which makes me wonder what we mean when we talk about preserving “American” culture. We talk about losing it like we’d be losing something distinct and uniform, when really, what is distinct about us is how many different experiences can be encompassed by the idea of the “American Experience.”
I mean, yes, things are changing and it’s a different nation than the one you grew up in, but all you had to do was drive a hundred miles from where you lived and it was a different nation even then.
Is our culture really threatened or is it just your understanding of our culture, which was already too small to begin with?