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更新时间:2017/7/5 19:16:35 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Going to Hooters and Seeing America

It sounds like the beginning of an uncomfortable joke: Four brown kids of Pakistani descent — from Karachi, Dubai, London and Augusta, Ga. — walk into a Hooters on a recent Saturday afternoon.


They order cheese fries, mozzarella sticks and a plate of fried pickles that will later give the Londoner (me) a wild bout of indigestion. Waitresses in the company’s trademark orange shorts flit about, taking orders and smiling at families with children. Burly men in baseball caps clink pints of gold libation. Football plays on one flat screen TV, but is muted for the golf tournament that plays on another.


In truth, this expedition wasn’t a joke, but more of a fascinating ethnographic adventure. My friends and I didn’t plan on eating at Hooters initially. We go to Princeton, where two of us are international students, and that Saturday, we craved the spicy curries and fluffy flatbreads of our pre-college lives. A new biryani joint had opened up at a strip mall not far from campus, so we took an Uber over to check it out.


Across the parking lot, we spotted a branch of the famous restaurant chain, complete with a Hooters owl and a sign in the window that read: “Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined.”


“Let’s just go in for appetizers,” one friend suggested, lingering by the entrance as she looked longingly at a hamburger through the glass. “We have to eat here at least once before we graduate. It’s so American.”


As children, we were reared on American TV: chick-flicks, Disney and coming-of-age dramas from the early 2000s. We knew all about Fourth of July barbecues and fireworks set off in red, white and blue. We wanted to see this world — the America of a country song.


Our afternoon at Hooters was, therefore, strangely rewarding. We marveled at the awkward dates, flannel shirts, frosty beer steins and greasy mozzarella sticks. John Denver played over the speakers. The atmosphere was flirtatious but also, paradoxically, mundane. This was quintessential America, we thought, straight out of the movies — a star-spangled feast for the senses. And we had found it mere miles away from our ivy-covered campus.


At Princeton, international students attend a separate orientation on acclimating to life in the United States. We were given logistical information and taught some cultural know-how, but the thing that stuck out most to me was a flowchart graphic that depicted the lulls and peaks of how we might experience the novelty of this country.


Those who are freshly arrived experience the highs of an initial honeymoon period, when everything from the Dunkin’ Donuts in the dining hall to clothes dryers (not as common where I grew up) are inspiring and exciting. Then there are the lows of homesickness, when international students inevitably long for familiarity — and, in my case, samosas.


Adapting to life at Princeton was generally smooth for me. Aside from the standoffish immigration officers that stamp my passport with raised eyebrows, and East Coast winters that still do not agree with me, I am in a state of relative bliss in the United States, tucked between leather-bound stacks at the library, immersed in the luxury of reading and thinking. Of course, it’s not like I live on an island divorced from reality. In today’s political climate, my international friends and I are all constantly confronted by the harshness of the news cycle. As a young Muslim, as a non-American, I know that the comforts of a college campus like mine cannot be underestimated.


These are strange times we live in, but mostly, you wouldn’t really know it from inside the academic bubble, and fortunately so. I love my campus — its pretty pathways lined with orange leaves in the fall, its creaky chairs and Gothic windows in the lecture rooms, its embrace of everything intellectual and of diversity. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see the America of loud Fourth of July parties, a country that, like Hooters, is both crass and, oddly, family-friendly.


Now when I want to get away from Locke or Voltaire, I know where to go. That afternoon at Hooters, slightly nauseated from the deep-fried pickles, I had one thought running through my mind: Here I am, finally. America.