|© Courtesy International Neighbors|
by Dale Magee
“What has surprised you most about life in Ann Arbor?” I ask the women gathered in a small, drab classroom on North Campus.
“The man next door mowed his lawn without his shirt!” exclaims a young Japanese woman in dark pants and a fitted white shirt. The others—from Japan, Korea, Israel, Chile, Venezuela, Uruguay, and China—laugh, and several nod in agreement.
For the last five years, I have led a “conversation group” for International Neighbors, a group of volunteers who welcome women from other countries to Ann Arbor. Most of our “guests” are here because their husbands are studying at the U-M or have a job in the area. And they find a few things about American life surprising.
“The portions at the restaurants are so large,” another woman says. This time, everyone nods in recognition.
“Workmen come into my house with dirty shoes,” complains a young Japanese mother. Back home, they would either remove their shoes or cover them.
“My son says that Japanese lunch is so different. He wants American lunch for school,” another mother shares. This leads to an animated discussion about what constitutes a Japanese lunch, what a typical American lunch is, and what others eat for lunch.
Back to surprises: “In the grocery store,” says one guest, “people eat the food before they have paid for it.”
The woman from Israel laughs and says that none of these things surprises her: “That is the way it is in Israel, especially eating in the grocery store. We do that!”
International Neighbors has operated for fifty years without an office or a telephone. Most of the women in my group are quite independent—they speak English well, have studied American customs, and drive cars. But longtime members tell me things were very different when the group was formed. Back then, foreign women were often isolated and lonely; most spoke little English and did not drive. Six women attended the first tea party. For the second, the guest list grew to seventy.
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