I had a moment of complete shock yesterday when I discovered in Skyler’s (my adorable Au Pair charge) classroom, the small kindergarteners were learning about America: via McDonald’s. Hanging from the ceiling there were small McDonald’s fry boxes, with miniature yellow french fries they had cut from yellow paper. McDonald’s cups stood against the window, sporting crayon colored American flags. The only aspect of the lesson that was not McDonald’s oriented seemed to be the english words written on the board. No parents, teachers, or children appeared to be shocked by this, but I could not help staring at the display with my jaw open, eyes wide in disbelief.
I asked my host Mom about it, and she said simply, “this is how the Dutch portray Americans.” I couldn’t believe it. There were no maps of my country, no history, no pictures of important figures; only french fries, hanging innocently in the air. Through my frustration and disbelief, I came to realize that these stereotypes Europeans have about Americans come early, and they stick. We are perceived as the hamburger loving capitalists who brutally killed the Indians and took over a wild country, only to turn it into a fast food nation chock full of credit card debt. Hmmm. I thought the Dutch were better than this. They know more about the States in terms of politics, music, and history than many other European countries. They are obsessed with New York City. How could they just throw us under the bus like this?
Part of me thinks it’s just too late to change the public opinion. However, this portrayal really hits a nerve (an entire country with a past, present and future represented by a dirty, unhealthy eatery?) I miss America, and I don’t like seeing it so misrepresented abroad. It’s true that we do have a ton of McDonald’s, but not everyone eats there, and not everyone agrees with what they stand for. We can only hope that as these children become more educated, they grow to see that there are two sides to the story. I’m personally hoping the flying french fries will soon be taken down, and replaced with something more meaningful and important for a 5-year-old. Perhaps colors, shapes, and numbers? Just a thought.
p.s. I do not condemn all eating at McDonald’s. I occasionally indulge in a hot fudge sundae with peanuts, if I’m having a bad day.