Cracker Barrel with a View

(Can’t decide where this post belongs, so I’m posting on both my blogs 🙂

We see different things. It sounds so simple and so trite but I don’t know if personally I have ever really sat and reflected on this truth and the enormity (or simplicity) of its implications. We see different things because we look from different angles but too often forget that our perspective gives more space to some elements and misses other elements altogether. We become accustomed to our seat—our view—and we settle there and convince ourselves that what we see is the world, that it’s reality.

Yesterday I was in rural Missouri at a Cracker Barrel restaurant off Highway 44 on my way back to St. Louis. When the waitress came to our table to take our order I asked for clarification about ingredients used in the macaroni and cheese (because the menu warned me I should!) and told her that I’m vegetarian. Soon after she left, I noticed that a young man wearing a T-shirt that read “Got Freedom” on the front and “Compliments of the US Army” on the back had turned around in his chair to look at my husband and I and was telling his wife (I could hear him clearly) about my being a vegetarian. His parents were also at the table and all four of them spent the next ten minutes scowling and griping about vegetarianism. I was baffled; it started me thinking:

What do I assume about these four people when I look at their physical appearances, the message on the young man’s shirt, the morbidly obese and visibly angry (assumption?) father? What do they assume about me when they look at me, my husband, hear that I am a vegetarian who has pitched herself into rural Missouri for some unknown reason.

The funny thing is, on some level—and I think that this assumption is present in a lot of conversation related to language politics—I really think I expected that being in my ‘home’ culture and surrounded by people with whom I share a native language (for the most part) that I would feel connected, some common ground, a similar perspective. The fact is we see different things but easily forget that the history of events; the tragic-comedy of politics, its demagogues, its victims, and its flocks; and the spiral of ideas is not wholly contained in what we can personally grasp, experience, or even begin to comprehend. This human experience is vast—as vast as we are many—but somehow it is still one connected, continuous experience. How then, do we even begin to embark upon evaluating education—every aspect of education from teaching to learning to expectations to outcomes to policies to financing to testing to on and on—with any sort of authority when we represent just one tiny bit of perspectival real-estate from which to view this massive and wholly organic enterprise that is tied up in personalities, economics, power struggles, the bureaucratic power of social systems and the social institutions that remain dedicated to their own continuing existence…

This quarter I deliberately chose to write a paper from a theoretical perspective that I found annoying, counter-intuitive, and lacking. What I found is that the more time I spent thinking from this perspective, the more it began to make sense to me—the more I managed to fit information into its form.

(This was my final reflection on a graduate course I recently completed. During the 10 week course I moved from my house in Japan, to a hotel in Japan (for one week), to my parents house for a 2 week visit, to Maine for five days, and then–nearly on a whim–relocated to St. Louis Missouri. I am deeply culture-shocked in the country in which I was born.)


About kalisaddhu

"The Method is to Know the Mind." View all posts by kalisaddhu

6 responses to “Cracker Barrel with a View

  • Brian Groves

    Interesting article. It seems just as inclusion crosses borders, exclusion can live within borders. Fear of differences might be at the heart of much of the anger so present today in our world. From this perspective we are all excluded, yet if we were to take a step back perhaps we would see how we all add to the richness of life.

  • jorie

    Yeah, if you’re not morbidly obese and eating ham, you must be a friggin’ commie.

    Great post.

    When I first moved to St. Louis, I met a woman who made mayonnaise cakes. Butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla & mayo. She probably would have been affronted by your vegetarianism, too. Some cooler fast food restaurants in the area to avoid the Cracker Barrell crowd: Crazy Wraps & Bowls (big chain w/ drive thrus, huge vegetarian menu) and…oh man, I forget. Some place with flatbreads. It’s been a few years.

    • kmariej

      :-)…But seriously, I really am feeling incredibly dislocated. It’s a strange feeling–different from the culture shock one feels while living abroad. Have you read Milan Kundera’s Ignorance? I just finished it and can say that I found myself in so many of those chapters.

  • jana

    May your culture shock be short-lived and the difficulties it might bring uncomplicated.

    Or you know what – may it not. Perhaps being shocked by your own culture proves that you have shifted towards a different angle, a different point of view. The one from which getting freedom, compliments of the US army might not seem as liberating as it is convenient to believe.

    May your culture shock never end!

    (On a completely unrelated note: Welcome, and How on Earth did you end up in Missouri? Preco nie si na Slovensku?>

  • Nikhil Kardale

    Wonderful post. Just to realize that we are like a little kids playing on the beach (our perspective) with the whole sea of unknown knowledge and unfathomable opinions in front of us, is probably the first step to being modest. Culture shocks are bound to occur I guess, but I’m sure you’ll blend in soon.

    Glad to see you back, and blogging! Had read about you leaving Japan and planning to relocate in Slovakia, what a culture shock that would have been! 🙂

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