IN THE TIMES, when dollars rule the world, a little irrelevant Slovak girl lives in a town where meeting a foreigner is as rare as finding a toilet paper on Slovak public toilets. But a miracle has happened - she has met an American guy, who was supposed to teach her English. Can you imagine what she felt? A REAL skin-and-bones American! She though that he would at least phosphoresce. However, her presentiment did not come true. Her new American teacher was an ordinary guy, like those who you can see in the streets and waiting in a line, you try to guess for yourself what kind of life they have, forgetting them with the ring of your mobile phone.
The little Slovak girl would never guess that her new American teacher would open her eyes. Instead of practicing the English grammar, they chatted about America and he has taught her a little bit of how to survive there, a little bit of Pilgrim fathers, a little bit of how to play poker, a little bit of American toilets (or bathrooms?), a little bit of American music, books and movies, a little bit of American sweets. She is going to miss him a little bit. Yes, her American friend will be gone by the holidays.
Ask an American what he thinks about pig killing he will say with a frown on his face: "Oh, it's disgusting!!!" But the same American goes to the shop to buy pork every day.
Ask the American what the most important thing in his life is and he will answer: "My family," but the same American only speaks to his children during breakfast.
Ask the American what his relationship with his wife is like and he will tell you: "It's perfect!" but the same American will get divorced in few months.
Ask the American how he is and he will say: "Thanks, I'm fine." But the same American is going to commit suicide the following day.
Ask the American what he prefers if either the nation or himself and he will choose the second possibility. But the same American will go to help the people dying in the ruins of the Twins. The American will be always ready to earn money, he will be always ready to fight for his rights, he will be always convinced that all doors of the world are opened to him and he will always keep smiling.
That is the way a little irrelevant Slovak girl, writing this essay, feels about the nation of the United States, nation of the immigrants. She might not be justified to judge population of about 270 million, knowing only one of their kind. But in her opinion, it is better to think that the United States are just what you can see in the movies - country of fast food, skyscrapers, Coca-Cola, popcorn, how-are-you questions, fancy cars and good looking people just like those that you can see on the front pages.
This essay was picked as the winner of a recent English-language writing competition in the secondary school category. The competition was run by the knihy.sme.sk site and partnered by the Sme daily and The Slovak Spectator weekly. The topic was 'Meeting of the Cultures', and invited entrants in three categories - secondary school, university students, and resident foreigner - to submit a short essay on an intercultural experience or theme. The work of other winners will be published in this space bi-weekly over the summer.
Secondary school category: Lívia Tóthová
University/Open category: Ľudmila Hostová
Expat category: Jonathan Gresty
The next Meeting of the Cultures column will be on stands in two weeks, Vol. 8 No. 28, July 22-August 5, 2002.