Friday, March 18, 2016

Foreign Relations

Ulla got in the back seat of my car, she turned to Ricky and said, "Give me a cigarette." Rick shook a Marlboro Red out of the box, Ulla took it, Rick lit it. Ulla took a long drag, she French inhaled, settled back in the seat and relaxed. I watched her smoke in the rear view mirror. I listened as she began to unload her troubles, it came out in a torrent of frustration and anger. She talked non-stop on the way to the University, on the walk from the parking lot to the to the student union. We were early for the lecture, we had time for coffee, Ulla never stopped talking. For a girl who seldom talked in school, Ulla had a lot to get out.

Ulla was our Foreign exchange student my senior year in high school. She was usually dressed in black or other dark colors, Ulla wore glasses with heavy, black frames. Ulla would not look out of place in hipster Brooklyn in 2016. Ulla was from Finland and for her year in the US, she lived with a local minister and his family. The minister's daughter, a year younger, may have been the most uptight girl in our school. The standing joke was the only time she'd ever been kissed was when she played Marian the Librarian in the Music Man.

Lucky for Ulla, as seniors, we had events and activities that were "seniors only". This enabled Ulla to escape the minister and his family who as she said, "we're constantly dropping to their knees in prayer."

Ulla loved hanging around with normal American kids, we smoked, we drank, we loved rock and roll, thought a lot of our teachers and parents were idiots and we swore like sailors. We were just like her friends at home in Finland. Imagine that! I think we left her with a favorable impression of America and when she thinks of us, we bring a smile to her Finnish face. I hope she tells stories about the Kegs Drive In, cruising and just hanging around with a bunch of American teens in the 60's.

I related our experience with Ulla to our sales rep in Seattle, she had her own Exchange Student story. Her family hosted a sophisticated girl from Paris in their suburban Seattle home. The young Parisian was an only child, her parents were both lawyers. The girl was model thin, dressed like she stepped off the pages of a French fashion magazine. Her lifestyle in Paris was typically French, she walked everywhere. She stopped on the way home from school at the butchers, the bakery and the vegetable market. She and her parents would have a light healthy, late supper, talk, read and go to bed. She drank coffee and wine. In suburban Seattle she seldom walked, ate fast food and pizza after school, had a big supper and then snacked and watched TV with her American classmates. The young Parisian gained 27 pounds during her year in Seattle. Her parents barely recognized her when she got off the plane in France.

We had a Dutch foreign exchange student when I was a sophomore in high school. Hans was a great guy, big, funny and he wore ties and sport coats to school. Hans was another smoker and drinker. Hans was astonished that American kids couldn't drink beer and wine at home or in bars. Hans was a world class bull shitter and he would go into a liquor store at 16, dressed in a tie, coat and hat and come out with the goods. Hans was disgusted by American beer and I don't blame him.


  1. Any foreigner would have been disgusted by American beer (of the day). Nowadays, craft beers are everywhere and much better than your Miller Lite's.

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