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The family that generously hosted me during the Christmas vacation was quite large, with family members, distant relatives, friends, and even friends of friends constantly present in and around their home.
One evening, after a delicious dinner, I found myself in the bustling living room, surrounded by more than ten people. As the only Japanese speaker in the room, conversing in English with so many people at once was quite challenging, to say the least. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I decided to bid everyone goodnight and retire to my room.
As I was about to leave, my host mother kindly said, “If there’s anything you need, please don’t hesitate to ask.” In that moment, I mustered the courage to make a somewhat unconventional request: “Can I have a can of beer?”
My host brother, a teenager at the time, reacted immediately with surprise, “Beer? Before going to bed?” His mother, however, quickly intervened with a reassuring gesture and handed me what I had asked for, adding, “Is there anything else you’d like?” as if nothing unusual had occurred.
This scene from more than forty years ago still lingers in my memory. It serves as a reminder of the complexities of cultural interactions and the importance of understanding the values and behaviors of the people around us.
The United States is often seen as a nation that values individual choice and freedom. While this is true, especially among young Americans, there can be instances where individuals act contrary to these values, just as my host brother did when he questioned my choice of a bedtime beverage. In such situations, the reactions of the adults and those around them become crucial in shaping and reinforcing cultural norms.
The way people respond to your actions and words can significantly influence the development of national characteristics. In my case, the young man’s discouragement from commenting further on my behavior reinforced the importance of individualism and freedom of choice, aligning with American values.
PS. The families who hosted overseas students asked for nothing in return. Their kindness moves me still. They enabled many overseas students, including myself, to make it in the United States. Thank you, America.