8:05 Thursday morning, phone rings, "International Programs, this is Jessica, how can I help you?"
[in a very thick southern fried country accent]
"Yes, I need ta speak with sumone about them international students!"
"Good morning ma'am, this is the study abroad office, we primarily work with American students who travel abroad - but I would be happy to direct you to whomever you would like to speak with...."
"Just whoever teaches them internationals - don't y'all teach them inny manners? So rude. These Chinese kids come ta my church and have dinner with us and I cain't stand ta watch them eat."
"Oh, I'm sorry ma'am. I would be happy to help direct you to the appropriate person. There are two offices that work with international students, the English Language Institute and the International Student and Scholar Services Office...do these students speak English or do you think they are in the process of learning English?"
"They speak English okay-alright, but they need ta learn some western table manners! You know they don't even use a kniiiife? Just stick that meat with a fork and bite off it, can you believe that? Or they stick their head down there at their plate and shuffle that food in there like sumone's gonna come up an steal it frum 'em! It's just disgustin, my husband cain't even stand it no more - y'all have got ta do sumthin about it! I thought I'd say sumthin to 'em but I just cain't stand the sight of it no more."
"I am sorry to hear that ma'am. How wonderful that they've found a place to come and worship, isn't that great?"
"Well, yeah, but they've got to learn to be western at the table, it's disgusting I'm tellin you!"
"Yes, I hear your concern, ma'am, and you know if you felt so moved, you could in fact say something to them, but you would probably embarrass them because I am certain they don't mean to offend anyone...Do you want to hear something funny? I do a fair amount of traveling with my job, I work in study abroad, I mentioned earlier, and I'm sitting here wondering if I offend people where I go. For example, when I went to China I ate with my knife and fork....but I don't think the Chinese expected me to be like them, I think they could look at me and tell I wasn't Chinese, and didn't grow up in their culture among their customs. Is that silly of me? I mean, that's just the way I was raised, to use both utensils, but I don't change who I am when I travel to new places just because I'm in a new country - these Chinese students aren't being rude, their customs are just different, not wrong...."
[pause to let it sink in]
I continued, "and what's even more funny, is that I work with a lot of students at the University, American students, and would you believe some of them have some of the worst tables manners I've ever seen? Oh it's just inconceivable, and they were raised here on our American soil! Such a shame, isn't it? Maybe we should focus more on our home grown, here, let's start with Mississippi..."
[pause to let it sink in]
I continued, "I don't think our International Offices offer any specific courses on western table manners to our international students, but I do know they discuss cultural differences between the countries of our world, and how it's important to be tolerant of others. I would be happy to pass on your message to my colleagues in our other offices, was there someone specific you hoped to speak with?"
Southern Fried Country: "Alright then, you have a good day."