Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Express Lane: America, in 10 Items or Less

T-minus 3 weeks til departure.

Apparently it's traditional to present host families with a few small gifts from America--small tokens of gratitude for opening their home to me for four months. Right now I'm trying to pick out gifts that I can talk about in Arabic, which is pretty limiting. But the whole process got me thinking: the gifts I offer will reflect substantially on me, my family, and my home country. Whatever I pick should be something memorable, positive, and uniquely American.

So without further ado, I created the following top ten list of gifts that represent America in a nutshell. Obviously I won't be able to bring these gifts with me to Jordan because of financial, practical, or cultural concerns, but it's fun to think about anyway:

10) A Double-Double with fries.

Fast food is the quintessential American dining experience. It's nearly-instant culinary gratification loaded up with fat, sodium, and cholesterol. You can get it without even having to leave your car. But if you do choose to go inside the restaurant, you can see the mini-assembly line that is a fast-food kitchen in all of its hyper-efficient beauty. The hamburger itself was invented in New York state by German immigrants, and today it remains the backbone behind corporate giants like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and the White Castle so beloved by Harold and Kumar. Any one of these upwardly mobile burgers has a little bit of America in every bite. But if I had to pick one chain burger to represent the USA, it would be In-N-Out's succulent Double-Double (obviously, with onions and secret sauce).

9) A replica of the US Constitution.

Because republican government is the best gift anyone could receive.

8) A pair of Air Jordans.

Air Jordans bring three things to the table: first, they're built for the uniquely North American sport of basketball (sure, the NBA is expanding, but the rest of the world still lives for soccer). Second, they're historical--one of the first products designed for, named after, and endorsed by a big-name celebrity. Finally, Jordans are an outstanding example of how consumerism makes us equal--thanks to Nike, every pickup league player can wear the same shoes as MJ, if they want to shell out $80.

7) Barbie dolls/GI Joes.

I played with Legos growing up, but these two toys are icons of pop culture. Apparently they also promote ridiculous standards of beauty and a new American militarism, but I don't see it.

6) A Gibson Les Paul guitar.

Quite simply, if rock music is a house, this guitar is its foundation.

5) A set of poker chips and playing cards.

Maybe it's because I just read Cowboys Full, but I think poker and gambling is part of the American spirit. From the author:

"From the kitchen-table games of ordinary citizens to its influence on generals and diplomats, poker has gone hand in hand with our national experience. Presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama have deployed poker and its strategies to explain policy, to relax with friends, to negotiate treaties and crises, and as a political networking tool. The ways we all do battle and business are echoed by poker tactics: cheating and thwarting cheaters, leveraging uncertainty, bluffing and sussing out bluffers, managing risk and reward." --James McManus

4) The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I figured I should include a book on here. It was hard to choose, but I think Gatsby is the most American thing I've read (besides the immortal works of Glenn Beck).

3) A 1970 Ford Gran Torino.

As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed." The Gran Torino is probably what she was talking about. Not only was the Gran Torino a prototype NASCAR stock car, it's a shamelessly muscular, gas-guzzling beast, made in Detroit and made immortal by Clint Eastwood.

2) Designer denim.

When the Cold War was at its height, Russians weren't jealous of us because we were free or because we could vote for our leaders (well, they were jealous of that, too). They just wanted our Levi's. American icons from cowboys to Brett Favre to half-naked Abercrombie models have made jeans famous, and no list would be complete without including some form of denim.

1) Rocky IV on DVD.

Speaking of the Cold War, this movie single-handedly won it. It's well-documented that the first cracks in the Berlin Wall appeared when Sly Stallone finally stood up to Drago and uttered the immortal words, "If I can change, you can change." On a serious note though, the fact that this movie got made (and that it was the highest-grossing of the Rocky films) says quite a bit about the bottomless well of American pride. In high school, when we had to say goodbye to our Chilean exchange student Andy (a good guy and a great central midfielder), we got him a copy of this movie in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart. I'm seriously considering taking a copy abroad, since there's very little that's objectionable (no sex scenes, since Adrian's not really involved in this one; and no modern political messages). I'll keep you posted.

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