Prior to leaving for this semester abroad, I was granted innumerable departing well-wishes and reminders. “Have a beer for me!” “Don’t bother coming back!” “Stay safe!” “Make good decisions!” “Remember, God is watching!” You can imagine who said those last few. However, by far the most common send-off was, “Have fun, it will go by fast!” Now, ever since JK Rowling revealed that Albus Dumbledore is homosexual, I’ve been a pretty skeptical person. I mean, Dumbledore, really? I just don’t see it… Nevertheless, I took these comments with about a pound of salt. Sure, I’d be out gallivanting across Europe with no one to answer to but myself. At the same time, though, I would be maintaining a grueling schedule of five classes, full of math (yuck) and engineering courses. I was quite sure that this semester would progress just as slowly as past semesters at Lafayette. Wrong. I was so wrong. You know what happened? I blinked. Three months disappeared as quickly as the sum in my bank account. Unfortunately, I don’t have David Blaine here to make either of those things reappear.
Although I have spent a lot of my free time visiting other countries, I’ve probably learned the most about the world’s cultures right here at Jacobs University. Now I’m going to be, as Paula Abdul would say, straight up with you. Jacobs University really isn’t the best. A lot of their processes and administrative practices are outlandish. Some professors cling to antiquated teaching styles. The food leaves much to be desired. The extra fees tacked onto things like use of the gym lead me to wonder where my tuition is going. Overall, it’s a significant step down from Lafayette. Again, they aren’t paying me to say this. Aren’t I nice? However, Jacobs does offer a level of diversity to which even Lafayette can’t compare. To quote the university’s website, “…our multicultural campus is home to students from over 90 countries.” That is almost half of the world’s 195 countries.
This diversity enables me to understand and experience many different cultures at an up-close and personal level. As a result of this close proximity, it has been easier for me to pick up on trends among the students. I like to imagine that if Jacobs University were picked up and dropped in the middle of the American northeast, how would the students be perceived? One glaring tendency among the student body is to carry themselves in a way that defies American standards of proper etiquette and “good manners”. Here are some examples:
Now, I understand that America has a reputation for exercising a little bit of overkill when it comes to bathing. However, the numbers don’t support that stereotype. In terms of showering on a daily basis, America is middle of the pack. In fact, in this category, America sits behind Columbia, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Spain, the Middle East, France, AND India. This leads me to believe that my standards for the personal hygiene of my peers would also be middle of the pack. Apparently not… In a majority of my classes, there is no place in the room that one could sit and escape the haunting aroma of body odor, commonly known as BO. Walking through the dining halls, I am often caught off guard by a plume of the stuff, making me consider investing in a one of those doomsday gas masks. Joking aside, these conditions make for an uncomfortable atmosphere. I always wonder how the BO perpetrator doesn’t notice. This may be on the same level as the Tootsie Pop question. The world may never know.
Saying “Thank You”
This is a mannerism that I have difficulty attributing to cultural differences. This may be narrow-minded, but I would guess that almost all cultures expect some kind of expression of thanks when a person goes out of their way for another. One way or another, this transaction does not take place a majority of the time here. Too many times I’ve held the door for people who barely glance up at me.
This one is a big pet peeve of mine, and, in America, it is widely considered rude. Anytime I am at a school-organized soccer game or just walking through the dining hall, it seems like whenever I look up, there are at least one or two pairs of eyes fixated on me. Usually when this happens, you can just quickly look back at them and they will break their gaze. Here at Jacobs, though, the students just have too much intent and willpower. I mean you would think either my hair is dyed green and on fire, or Miley Cyrus is reenacting her 2013 VMA performance right over my shoulder. I don’t know maybe it’s just because I’m so darn handsome.
The importance of table manners is something that follows a type of bell curve. Generally, they are considered something that become more important as you age until you reach a certain point in which no one expects you to handle yourself properly at the dinner table. It starts with the first meal with your girlfriend/boyfriend’s family. If you eat like it’s your last meal on Earth, you’re as good as gone. It ends when you’re marooned in the senior living center, gumming on various food purées, hoping you’re not missing your mouth. It peaks sometime in your 40s when you’re attending fancy galas and business dinners. However, some of the Jacobs students have yet to employ proper table etiquette. Often, I can’t hear the person sitting next to me because students at the adjacent table are maniacally laughing at the top to their lungs and banging the table.
Keeping Shared Space Clean
I think this story basically sums up my point: Friday night, a student was carrying her tray of food to her room from the dining hall. Along the way, she dropped her two cups of ketchup on the floor. She looked down at the ketchup, now smattered across the linoleum, and kept walking. I had assumed she would put down her tray and return to clean up the mess. Nah. That ketchup remained on the floor all weekend, until the cleaning staff had the pleasure of mopping it up the mess on Monday. This wasn’t an anomaly either. A very similar event occurred with half of a cup of coffee being spilled right in front of my door recently. Shared public space doesn’t get any respect around here.
It’s always a good idea to end things on a positive note, so here is something that all Europeans do better than Americans: wait at crosswalks. You could put a pot with a million dollars on the other side of the street, but as long as the crosswalk light features a red man, no one will move a muscle. This is true on the busiest of streets and the quietest of streets. This is a huge departure from the norm in American cities where pedestrians will cross anywhere, at any time, at any speed they feel like.
I would say that these trends in no way represent the German people. I have had much fewer personal interactions with Germans. Also, this is not, by any means, meant to imply that the Jacobs University students are rude. The reality is quite the opposite. Jacobs students are overall very warm and welcoming people. They are eager to learn about your native lifestyle and to share with you their own. The tendencies that I have described are simply manifestations of the differences between American culture and the students’ respective cultures. That is why it is important to consider cultural differences before making judgements.
If you would like to see my sources, let me know. Make sure to check out my past posts at the following link: http://voices.lafayette.edu/category/james-onorevole/
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