Our ex-student’s breathtaking life at university part 2

I have spent much time thinking about the second part of my American road trip. During the last few days, I spent quite some time trying to find the right way to describe it. I am known for my sharp tongue and trying to write a captivating story, I could offend someone I met on the road. Hopefully, it will not be the case. (If so, there will be no third part of this story. Just sayin’.)

Anyways, it’s time to cover my experience with three U.S. states – Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Many Americans would probably tell you that you could skip these states because “there is nothing in there” – as we heard from the airport clerk in the previous chapter. I disagree. There are Americans. After I left Chicago, I spent 5 days observing their daily life. It was different from what you would expect from a trip to the U.S. No sightseeing at the Times Square, but living the mundane life with real, flesh and blood, Americans.

 

So… what are the Americans like?

They are willing to rescue you from the Milwaukee bus station at midnight, drive you to their university, and smuggle you into their dorm for two nights.

They change plans every five minutes. It is advised for you to be open-minded and to go with the flow.

Even though American universities are truly expensive, they can take you into one of their lectures and you can enjoy it for free. After watching scenes from Star Wars, you feel sad you cannot take the course.

The films don’t lie. Many things in the life of an American are just like what you know from their Hollywood portrayal. The school cafeterias with the cool kids greeting each other loudly so everyone could see them. The yellow school buses. (“They are real!” I shout. “You didn’t know they were real?” my friend laughs. “Of course, I knew! But I can finally see one with my own eyes!” I reply.)  The shopping malls with really convincing shop assistants.

  • Shop Assistant: So… how often do you fall in love with a pair of shoes?
  • My friend: Well… like every other day.

Eventually, it took a dose of proper Slovak stubbornness to decline her offer.

And yeah, they are obsessed with ice-cold water and serve it in restaurants for free. They look at you with well-hidden distrust when you order the smallest size of a coffee – which is still too big for you to finish. You wonder… how are they even able to drink the biggest size?

They may argue over a very particular sofa and be accused of being insane and having a thing for stealing furniture.

When you enter a small-town history museum, they ask you for your ZIP code.

  • Me: Well… actually, I’m from abroad.
  • Lovely old lady: Alright, darling, so I’ll write down your country.
  • Me: Slovakia.
  • Lovely old lady [visibly shaken]: Sorry… could you spell that for me? It’s been a long time since I left school.

I believe she must be confused about me to this day. Because… why would someone from so far away visit a Houdini exhibition in the middle of nowhere?

They may secretly take all of their things from their dorm and cram them into their car – including a giant teddy bear. You feel guilty when you find out that on the way there he got to sit in the front seat, and you are occupying his spot.

While driving, they entertain themselves counting roadkills by the road. (“We saw 3 coyotes and a skunk.”) Or, they sing a never-ending song. (“Some people started it / Not knowing what it was / And they’ll continue singing it forever just because / This is the song that doesn’t end / Yes, it goes on and on my friend…”)

They can be used as a good example when you’re learning conditionals. You see, I was supposed to drive to the wedding with my friend. On the day of the trip, she told me she wanted to bring her mom with us so she could have a company for the way back. Then she continues: “But my mom doesn’t know what to do there during the wedding. She will go if she can bring her friend. And the friend will go if she can bring her son.” Luckily, the son didn’t have any conditions because there was no space left in the car. We already had a dog in the trunk.

They may have their car repaired on the day of an 11-hour-long road trip. When you leave the house at 3:40 PM, you don’t really know whose fault it was. But you certainly know who can be blamed for the stops on the road when one of the passengers decides to keep a journal and write it all down. “Stop 2. We forgot the dog food. Marie’s fault.”

The road from Sioux Falls to Rapid City is a straight line and nothing would probably happen if you fell asleep – you would wake up in your destination. They still manage to hit the only skunk who dared to cross the road at 1 AM. If you want to know how a dead skunk smells, well… it is not a pleasant odour, especially if your car stinks the next 3 days.

They insist on you having a breakfast of your choice and convince you to buy a very healthy protein bar because the walk to the Mt. Rushmore is quite a hike. (Not really, but please, don’t tell them.) And they take pictures of the four presidential heads from every angle possible.

And now, the final part of my journey through Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota. Obviously, the wedding.

What is an American wedding like?

  • Family friend: How many guests did they have?
  • Me: Around 100.
  • Family friend: Well, it was a small wedding then. If I had to do mine once again, I would definitely invite fewer people.
  • Me: How many guests did you have for your wedding?
  • Family friend: 300.

I am pretty sure that if the wedding had taken place in New York City or California, it would have looked different. One knows what to expect if one watches shows like Say Yes to the Dress from time to time (or is forced to watch them with one’s mom). Or any rom-com. Canon in D being played while the bride is walking down the aisle with her father. Three bridesmaids, groomsmen, a cute flower girl and a ring bearer. Reception tent, speeches, dances, catching the bouquet. What indeed was different was the length of the ceremony. The minister managed to pack the reading, sermon, vows and blessing into 14 minutes. (Trust me, I kept track.) With the newlyweds walking away accompanied by the Star Wars soundtrack, you are left wondering – how is it over already?

Even though my friend and I went there without a plus one, we still had a blast and spent most of the night on the dance floor. (At this point, I want to say hello to my high school friends who had the chance to go there with me but refused despite themselves being “great people and admirers of America”.)

My grandma once said they had a thunderstorm during their wedding, and they were told it predicted a happy marriage. I recalled her words at this wedding when the lightning ominously illuminated the tent.

  • They are going to have the best of luck. But WE are going to die here, and the last song I hear is “I Will Always Love You”?!

It wouldn’t be a proper wedding without relatives. All the aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws who travelled cross country to enjoy the important day with the bride and groom. Including a determined 90-year-old grandpa, a war veteran who decided to come because it might have been the last chance to see his seven children together. And who demanded a photo with all of them but vehemently refused one with his in-laws. At his age, he surely knows what he wants from life…

What I have realized is that the American wedding is not so different from the Slovak one. We also have the tradition of the first dance and dance with one’s parent. The Slovak men loosen their ties and wrap them around their foreheads with a certain amount of alcohol – and at a socially acceptable hour. Americans wear tennis headbands. While we have redový tanec, they have a one-dollar dance – you pay one dollar to the groomsman or bridesmaid to get the right to dance with the bride or the groom. Your comment “in Slovakia we pay 20€ and more” might not be appreciated… And when you hear the American (and original) version of Když si báječnou ženskou vezme báječnej chlap, you are left thinking – I feel like I am back home.