|Here is Yumi, mastering the art of the "American S'more."|
I thought I was a pretty healthy eater until Yumi, our adorable and always agreeable Japanese exchange student, came to stay with us.
I don't eat much red meat, I try to load up on fruits and veggies, rarely to never drink soda. We've successfully weaned our family off of fast food, except for rare occasions. I do eat too much sugar, but everyone has their vice, right?
But Yumi uncovered all of my bad eating habits, exposing me as the ugly American eater that I am.
When Yumi first arrived at our house, she always sat down at the table when she ate, never snacked between meals, never asked for seconds. She ate her meals painfully slowly.
I do none of the above.
On her second morning in our house, I was inhaling my breakfast at the kitchen counter while simultaneously packing school lunches and catching up on work email. Yumi came up to me and asked, "Do I eat breakfast here [motioning to the kitchen counter], like you? Is that what is normal for Americans?"
That became a constant question from Yumi to us. "Is that normal for Americans?"
Is that normal for Americans to drive their cars through the restaurant and pick up their food? (translation: use the drive through window)
Is that normal for Americans to go to the cafe (translation: Starbucks or equivalent) every day for coffee and treats?
So much food! Is that normal for Americans?
Yes, we are freakin' fat slobs, ok? And I thought I was better but now I just don't know. Nothing reminds me of this more than when we all sit down together for dinner. Yumi chews her food in this quiet, perfect (almost eerie) rhythm, while the Americans at the table sound like suffocating horses.
Please don't mistake Yumi's "normal American" question as casting judgment upon us. She truly loves American culture and wants to understand it and embrace it with every cell in her 88 pound frame. She stopped eating french fries with a fork. By Week 2 in America, she was asking for seconds at meals. Soon after, she was catching an earlier bus so she could grab a latte before her morning university classes. She has fallen in love with everything American from 'the Gap' to '7-11' (which they have BTW in Japan, but here you can buy yourself a hot dog!) to the 'Cheesecake Factory' to the movie 'Frozen'.
When Yumi discovered the show 'Glee' on our Netflix subscription, it was all over. Every night after dinner, she settles down onto the couch with her electronic translator in hand, ready to take in all of the crazy American antics of the show choir misfits. Watching Glee, for Yumi, is an active rather than passive hobby. She frantically writes down American slang and used her translator to make sense of it. Her face lights up and her body sways when they break out into song. One evening, I made the unfortunate mistake of telling her that Cory Monteith, who plays the character Finn, had passed away the year before. She sat up quickly in disbelief and shock, then quietly said goodnight for the evening. I think she went downstairs to cry.
Tomorrow is Yumi's final day in America. Last night, I went down to her room to ask a question and found her sprawled out on her bed, listening to Lady Gaga on her phone with a Coke in one hand and crunchy American Doritos in the other. The transformation is complete.
I imagine Yumi returning home and her befuddled mother asking her in Japanese, "Is that normal for Japanese exchange students to return back from America as junk-food addicted Gleeks?"