Of the many eccentricities found in everyday social media, one that may ordinarily faze the socially supersensitive is a tweet about irksome frustrations or trivial challenges of the “people living in rich or developed countries”. Such casual discussion has come to be opprobriously known as First World Problem. Try sending a Twitter query using this trending topic of #FirstWorldProblems. Boom! Your screen is bathed with memes, videos and tweets about “peanut butter allergy”, “jetlag”, and “how to survive the task of packing bags for a vacation”.
After two months living in the United States, I have come to realize that #FWP is a temporal reality, albeit of relative insignificance when compared with starkly serious problems being experienced by majority of world population, who happened to be less-privileged, development wise. But my most important finding so far is what has been least discussed in Twitter referrals— the far more fascinating oddities of the so-called First World, as boldly represented by the US. Now since there is more to every story, I invite you to take a closer look at a few freaky facts I discovered about the United States.
If you are a gourmet with some academic bias for history, there is this American landmark restaurant in U Street, DC. Ben’s Chilli Bowl has its own historian, a PhD for this foodie matter. In case you decided to visit this professor during his office hours as posted in the restaurant’s walls, on Saturdays 10:am-12pm, and you were still unimpressed, what if a tell you this same eating house had served President Obama free lunch the week of his inauguration? Sorry if you find this too outlandish because you came from a land where diners look for eateries serving food that tastes closer to their grandma cooking.
Since not all that is freaky is fancy, what if I now tell you that this famous American Football team, Philadelphia Eagles once had (and technically still has) a court and jail system in a stadium? This NFL team once had a courtroom and a jail at the old Veterans Stadium. Reason? their fans were so “frigging rowdy”.
The next odd worldly fact of the US may not seem so bizarre if you have not pandered much to the history and culture of the Eastern World. But if you are like me who loves James Clavell’s convoluted series of Asian Saga, or any similar historical reading of the Far East, you must have learned that Sakura or cherry blossom is the national flower of Japan, and that Japanese love to picnic under the bloom of these trees in the spring. Beyond this, there is a huge peacefully crazy cultural attachment to Hanami, the celebration of this blossom in Japan, which may reach the point of meditation and enchantment. Now, how does America come to this traditional mix? Whether you call it an alliance of civilizations, it seems weird that deeply modern and exceptionalist Americans had gone crazy when the local weather channel updated this year’s forecast for cherry blossoms’ peak bloom in DC to March 25, after a bout of snow storm. Yes. Americans celebrate cherry blossom as though it had something to do with Lincoln or Jefferson, and they don’t wanna agree it is a First World bling.
Before that sinks in with you, what if I remind you that Americans (at least in DC) actually looked forward to a possible 18-inch snow storm when the same weather channel announced its imminent coming early March. On every standard, I think a storm implies an extreme weather, and it is for this simple reason that for instance, Emiratis in Dubai don’t look forward to a sand storm. Whatever happened to American exceptionalism, the concept of weather features so prominently in American everyday conversation, such that my cultural adaptation coach, Dr. Gary Weaver once taught me that “what a nice weather” is a common conversation opener among Americans. Isn’t it interesting if I tell you I have now realized that aside political swing states, there are weather swing states where the thermometer records have shown a 50-degree variation within the span of 2 minutes?
As the years run by, I have so far witnessed Super Bowl, Pie Day, and March Madness. Yet I have learned that life in the US is not all about debating Samsung versus Apple and tiramisu versus carrot cake, or meeting men with bejeweled teeth, and zoo panda on pregnancy vacation, or even hearing exotic myths like the shrinking Washington monument. After surviving its winter, I must live American summer before I could say as the Irish PM said, “we came and became Americans”. However, before you call me a spunky interculturalist or conclude I am attaching false importance to these discoveries, wear a think-and-do hat by seeking an out-there explanation from “a local friend”, as Dr. Weaver would advise. I cannot make more of Dr. Weaver’s lessons. Adieu professor Gary Weaver!