I am a Mountain Dew fanatic. So spending my spring semester abroad in Salzburg, Austria, (infamously known for the scenes from “The Sound of Music”) where Pepsi products run scarce and Coca-Cola consumes every cafe and grocery store, I eventually earned the comical label “Dewless” and “Dewprived.” Since I never previously purchased Coke products, being abroad would be my opportunity to absorb the culture, customs and language while being happily deprived of my everyday rituals and spending habits.
I vowed to take advantage of these cultural experiences by devouring authentic Austrian coffee. It took me several coffee shop visits and ten Euros later to grasp that Cafe Macciato was not short for Cafe Mocha. Since I did not sit in cafes and converse like Europeans, I began asking for coffee “to go.” Instead, to my annoyance, it was served in a little picnic-style plastic cup with no lid. Frustrated, I eyed all 50 coffee shops that lined the street – there had to be some place that would serve me my coffee “Caribou style.”
After much pursuit, my program adviser told me of a hidden coffee shop that would accommodate my needs. It was a little shop called The American Cup, where I found a peace of heaven.
My next obstacle was to become fluent in German. Attempting to learn the language in Salzburg was an advantageous opportunity and my German progressed. I learned many important and key phrases like “Haben Sie Cola light?” or “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” What is so great about Austria and the rest of Europe is that learning the language of English is mandatory in schools and essential for entering college. Store clerks and servers at restaurants love to speak English to you.
Despite my intentions I noticed I was not growing well-accustomed to the Austrian lifestyle. My mind wandered to thoughts of Diet Dr Pepper, People magazine and KS-95. I began to hate the United States because everywhere I went, I was reminded of my country through commercialization, clothing styles and English words written blatantly on every sign, door and menu. There was never an escape from the United States.
One day I received an e-mail from a close friend at home who had been reading my complaints and concerns in e-mails. His reply chastened me: “You know Kate, if I were abroad I wouldn’t care about any of this, I think I would just be happy to be in a foreign country sitting in a coffee shop enjoying myself.”
The statement was lurking in my mind as I stepped out of the Internet cafe. I looked up and there was the perfectly blue sky. Then I gazed straight ahead to the Gaisberg Mountain that I hiked a few days earlier. All around me I was immersed in a land enriched with character and mystique distinctly recognized for its personal enjoyment.
That night I was suddenly awoken at 2 a.m. because my hausfrau attempted to crawl into bed with me. Almost immediately, she realized what she was doing and ran out of the room. In the morning I learned that the night before she had celebrated her 69th birthday with friends by getting really drunk. I never spoke of the mishap to my hausfrau, but my roommate and I found it rather humorous. I am not sure I will ever hear a story in the United States of a 69-year-old woman getting so drunk she could not find her way to her own bedroom.
Several months later, I sat in the Detroit airport with a layover before finally returning home to Minneapolis. I had been in tears all day and was now particularly disgusted with my first impressions of Americans who were being blatantly loud and provocative in the airport. I was not used to their friendliness, continuous smiling or inviting nature. I perceived these traits as their way of screaming, “I need attention all the time because I am a special American!” But as the minutes went by, my rage turned to a smile, then excitement. My eyes wandered in amazement to all of the magazines written in English, the Burger Kings and the travelers with genuine smiles plastered on their faces. During my incredible Austrian experience, this is what I secretly craved for so long and now I was finally home.
Through my overseas experience, I discovered I will always be an American, but with a hint of an Austrian influence lingering inside.
Throughout our lives, we pick up customs and traditions from other countries and continents. This is the key element that makes individual lives perpetually evolving and fulfilling.
But at that moment in the airport there was only one thing I could think of: I went into the gift shop and bought myself a Mountain Dew. It was the best one I have ever tasted.
Kate Erickson is a psychology junior. She welcomes comments at [email protected]