American Imperialism

Quick! What images come to mind when you think about America? If you thought of fast food, hicks, and television, then you’re not too far off from the mindset of a European.

TV

‘Merica. (Image from healthhabits.files.wordpress.com)

Despite the fact that I am nearly 4,600 miles from home (or 7,400 kilometers for the others), I still find bits of America here and there in this far off city of Maastricht, Netherlands. For example, the first place I ate at while in this city was at a McDonald’s (as you may recall). Add KFC, Subway, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza to the list of fast food joints here in Maastricht and you got a pretty good cover of American fast food joints.

fast food

I can almost feel the cholesterol coursing through my arteries. (Image from s3.amazonaws.com)

There’s even three McDonald’s located in Maastricht, which is surprising since the city itself is not remarkably big; to give an idea of size, Maastricht is roughly half the size (by area) of St. Joseph, Missouri,  but with a population density that is more than three times greater than St. Joseph.

The idea of what an American is varies from European to European, but let me hone you in with a few keywords: Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, hicks. Yes, shows such as Family Guy and The Simpsons have created a lasting impact of the view of Americans abroad, even though those shows themselves are satires of American caricatures. And some Europeans may view Americans as being largely of the cowboy rural type, though only half of that being the truth (many Americans are largely from the rural areas of the United States). As I had pointed out before, some aspects of American pop culture have probably established this (somewhat) true perspective of Americans to an audience abroad.

Peter-Griffin

An accurate view of many Americans, maybe. (Image from www.milehighcinema.com)

Now for the big question to ask: Is all of this a bad thing? You probably won’t get a straight answer from anyone, but to answer honestly, I don’t see it as being terrible. The fast food joints are visited by anyone in Maastricht, my international friends included (though we prefer to keep to cooking for ourselves at most times) and they all enjoy the food when wanted. Television shows, such as the ones listed before, are quite popular among everyone; add Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother to the list of popular American TV shows that Europeans enjoy to that list as well.

firefly-poster

Sadly, not as well-known among my friends. (Image from askthedm.files.wordpress.com)

Hollywood films are also big business in Europe, with many of my international friends here being very familiar with all of the big titles over the years. While I can’t say movie theaters are nearly as common here as in the US, they are around and people do attend the movies (though pirating seems to be the most popular way to watch movies among everyone). The only downside with American films getting a release in Europe is that they tend to be delayed from anywhere to a couple of days to several months. Some films, such as Ted, don’t get a release until months after the US release, which can only be a shot in the foot for distributors since Europeans can easily find pirated copies of the film online before they’re ever released in a cinema in Europe.

the-pirate-bay-logo

Sorry copyright holders, but these guys are going to keep winning until the system is fixed. (Image from cdn.slashgear.com)

One film I particularly apt at wanting to see is Looper, but I’m going to have to wait until December if I want to see it at a theater, despite the fact that it has already been out in the States for nearly two weeks.

And where do I fit into this imperialistic-apparent juxtaposition? Well, for one thing, I know I’m here to get a viewpoint that is outside of the States, though I keep finding myself coming back to it from time to time, and not by my own doing. Sometimes I probably put on the look of an American a little too well, at my dismay at times. I am easily larger than your standard European, both in height and bulk. I speak loudly and talk about my love of barbecue a little too much. I even tend to wear a sleeveless shirt that reads “USA” in big bold letters, which often leads to laughs among my friends (and I’m totally cool with this as well, it’s all tongue-in-cheek anyway).

america

Not this much tongue-in-cheek, however. (Image from totalfratmove.com)

With a little over two months left in my tenure in Maastricht, it will be interesting to see how things develop, especially with the looming presidential election in the United States. I’m commonly asked about my views of the candidates by other Europeans, who do take a very keen interest in the proceedings of an election that they have no sway in. Even the long arm of American politics has found its way into the minds of others abroad…

A Dinner for Many

Last night, in the midst of much food, music, and dancing, I could feel only one emotion, that of overwhelming happiness. Last night proved to be one of the finest that I’ve ever had.

To begin, I had this thought brewing in my head the moment I arrived in Maastricht to have an international dinner night with my compatriots in Avant Garde. I discussed this time and again with others, with no one shooting down the thought of doing this. So in one of our many gatherings in the commons room, we affirmed that we were going to have a dinner party for all.

The Commons Room

The Commons Room, everybody.

So I grabbed the bull by the horns with this dinner party concept, threw out a date and time on Facebook and told everyone to make it happen. And man, it happened all right.

My initial thoughts on the meal were that a few us were going to pitch in a couple of dishes, have little dinner, and chill. But things got decidedly bigger (and better) as more and more people became interested in participating in some way. So when Friday, September 7 rolled around (the day of the dinner party), the kitchen on the second floor of Avant Garde became abuzz with a flurry of activity.

Making Sushi

Latvian-native Michael (pronounced “Mee-sha”) preparing sushi.

Nearly two hours before the official start of the dinner party, floor-mates Michael and Bea were both madly prepping dishes to share for everyone that night. While sushi is itself a Japanese cuisine, according to Michael it’s quite popular in his native Latvia. Bea herself was working on making a Spanish tortilla, a popular dish from her home country (yes, Spain).

Making tortillas

Bea, seen here diligently making Spanish tortillas.

And in the midst of watching food get made, I decided to go out and begin setting up in the small dining room found on the second floor, but Michael was quick to say that we should move to the hallway on one end of the floor where there was plenty of more room. So the two of us quickly gathered up the tables from the dining room, as well as my desk from my own room, and made a nice long table. Before too long, table clothes were out, chairs were getting set, and lights were being placed.

Setting up

Our dinner table, in the process of getting set up.

So I returned to the (quite crowded) kitchen and got to starting my dish: chicken with Gates BBQ Sauce (yeah, the same sauce that I fought to keep with me before even leaving the United States).

Cooking my chicken

Manning two skillets, as well as a pan for my special butter and onion side dish.

Making salad

Mag making a favorite of hers: salad!

The kitchen became a whirlpool of people coming and going. Others from the third floor were coming down and bringing their dishes; others were moving in and out grabbing plates and silverware. This was surely to be a beautiful dinner.

So as I finished up my chicken, I began the process of making sandwiches: cutting the bread, placing the meat, pouring the sauce. It admittedly took time, but before long it was ready. So with sandwiches in hand, I headed out to our impromptu dining hall and was greeted with the  delectable sight of many dishes set and waiting. All that was left were my sandwiches and one more side (courtesy of the third floor I believe).

Our dining hall

Our dining hall(way), almost ready for the feast to begin!

We soon gathered around the table and patiently awaited for the arrival of the last dish. Many of us drew cameras out and took many upon many pictures of our table. All of us felt so immensely proud at what we had accomplished that we nearly did not want to eat the food, it was just too perfect. But this was a feast and the food was made to be eaten and shared by all, so we waited.

Waiting

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

And continued waiting for what felt like an eternity, though it was probably closer to 5 minutes.

FOOD

With a big table filled with food that you’re forced to wait and watch, the Hunger Games suddenly becomes more literal.

But without further waiting, the final dish arrived, so we preceded to dive in and eat all that could be had. My chicken and BBQ sandwiches quickly vanished within minutes of starting, with nearly all approving of the meat and/or Gates BBQ Sauce. All of the other dishes were equally appealing and easily delicious!

Perfection

This was perfection.

With bellies getting filled, appetites satisfied, we then decided to hit up a playlist and dance and sing the night away, courtesy of a large amplifier provided by Italian friend and floor-mate Federico.

Dancing the night away

Everyone’s on their feet. I can say that this was the perfect night.

And that’s the way it is.

A Night in Athens

We were sitting in our apartment the other night with some of the other study abroad students and we were trying to decide how we wanted to spend our night. My roommate turned to me and said “How about we go have dinner in Athens?”. I still can’t grasp the concept of being able to just go into Athens for the night. A city that is one of the oldest in the world and has been inhabited for thousands of years is just a subway ride away!

Speaking of the subway system…

The Metro Station

I’m guessing this is one of the main reasons Greece is in an economic crisis. It is, by far, the cleanest and best ran subway station I have ever been in (being from Nebraska I haven’t seen many, but I’m also referring to “While You Were Sleeping”). The Metro subway system (pictured above) was newly built for the 2004 Summer Olympics. Not only is this system an extremely efficient way of public transportation, it is also a free museum for all its passengers. The walls leading you out of the tunnels are lined with pictures of how it was constructed (pictured to the right). During its construction, many artifacts of archaeological interest were discovered. They took these historic items and made them for all to see. There are exhibitions of the ancient artifacts and/or their replicas that line the walls at many of the metro stations. You can see anything from pottery to fossils as you follow the tunnels (pictured to the left). There is even a part of the station that is built around an ancient city that was dug up during construction and left in its place (pictured below). Some amazing artwork and sculptures are also placed throughout the system for you to enjoy as you wait for the next subway. The people of Greece really brought a whole new level to public transportation! I found the system very easy to use and am thankful it is in such good shape…even if it did put them in debt for who knows how long!

Our first order of business when we arrived in Athens that night was to find somewhere to eat. The streets are lined with adorable cafes that each have an employee whose only task is to convince people to choose their restaurant over the others. We were quickly persuaded to stop at a pleasant cafe with garden seating and amazing seafood…not to mention the free shots of ouzo. We decided to be adventurous and try the seafood sampler platter (pictured to the right).This is where I first tried octopus and anchovies, and quickly came to the conclusion that I am obsessed with octopus but don’t particularly like anchovies.

We sat eating, drinking, and talking about anything and everything for close to five hours. We were never rushed or bombarded with waiters. This is one of the things I like most about the culture in Greece. Everything is so relaxed and simple. People enjoy each other’s company and make the most out of every occasion. People actually spend more time conversing with each other than they do looking down at their cell phone…I find this extremely refreshing. I have experienced some of the best hospitality while in Greece and it still amazes me that you aren’t even expected to leave a tip. They let you enjoy your meal and when you are ready for your check five hours later you just wave down the closest worker.

As we stepped out of the cafe we were greeted with the most beautiful sight. I looked up and saw the Acropolis glowing on top of the hill (pictured below). The sight was truly breathtaking. Time had flown by during dinner and we didn’t even think it would be dark out. Seeing this ancient monument lit up in the night sky for the first time will be something I will remember for the rest of my life.