Confusion Corner: The politics of international relations begin at local Wawa

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April 1, 2011

3:57 AM

What lies beyond those hallowed brick walls lining Jamestown and Richmond Roads? In the immediate vicinity, probably some delicious sandwiches at Wawa, philanthropic banners in Sorority Court, and a ton of churches. But let’s look further, out past Williamsburg, James City County and Virginia. Let’s look across the Atlantic, to Ireland. A good friend of mine, an 18-year-old student from National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Stephen Greene, has been staying with me for the last couple of weeks. Rejecting the doctrine of isolationism, I decided to get his take on a couple of the most beloved College of William and Mary institutions. I wanted to probe the mind of an Irishman in America.

Naturally, I had to begin with Wawa. What would he like about it? Would it be a novelty to him? It turns out, he likes the exact same thing about it we all do. “I like that it’s 24-hours; they’ve got food when I’m drunk.” Fair enough. What about the food itself, Stephen? “It can be a little crap, but I guess that doesn’t matter, does it?” And what about the beloved Wawa staff that patiently puts up with our antics? “Most of them are grand, but that little old woman that works there is the saddest thing on earth.” While I do not necessarily share any of these assessments, he seems to have a pretty solid handle on things.

What about two of the other great culinary establishments at the College, the Marketplace and the Cheese Shop? “[The Marketplace staff was] hilarious. They wouldn’t stop calling me baby. I also didn’t know you could melt cheese over so much stuff!” His review of the Cheese Shop is a little more glowing. “Oh it’s savage. It’s the only place whose lettuce is made of actual plants.” For the record, Stephen has been to the Cheese Shop nearly half a dozen times since his arrival.

Enough about food — let’s not act too much like Americans. What about the most beloved and reviled, depending on your deadline, of all College buildings: Earl Gregg Swem Library? “Here’s my thing about Swem. I go upstairs, and I’m like, ‘They could have fit a lot more desks up here.’ How are you supposed to study on couches? It’s like working in a coffee shop.” Apparently the Irish are ruthlessly efficient and have no patience for creature comforts. Duly noted. We’ll be installing the cold iron bars next week.

So we’ve covered academia and gastroenterology; what about leisure? What do you think of the units, Stephen? “I didn’t think the buildings were that bad. Then I went into Barrett and had something to compare it to.” He continues, “It’s a place to live. I guess it’s not completely horrible, I suppose.” Ah, my friend from across the sea, I hear you loud and clear.

Stephen did do a little sight-seeing, taking a tour of the College — led by yours truly — and a late-night ghost tour. “I tried to summon a ghost but it didn’t work.” Nice try, Irish kid. No ghost for you. He did learn something interesting, though. “I learned Virginia schools weren’t integrated until like the ’70s. What the hell?” It was actually the 1950s, but I suppose his point is still valid. What the hell, South?

Finally, I asked him which aspect of William and Mary, college and American life in general he enjoyed the most. After some thought, he responded, “The parties. It’s just like out of American Pie. The movie image of American parties, that’s what it’s actually like. You’ve got a bunch of guys shouting, ‘Yeah bro’ and using words like ‘brosef.’ And high-fiving. There’s a lot of high-fiving.”

To be fair, I did then ask him his least favorite part of American life. “The ridiculous amount of politics you all talk. You hear about Americans and their views on things like Planned Parenthood, and then you find out they’re taking this whole-heartedly and you’re like, ‘Oh my God.’ There’s not a single person in Ireland who doesn’t want free health care.”

We forget too often that our country is foreign to 95 percent of the world. Stephen’s told me that he loves it here. Not for the food, or the buildings or the colleges, but for the people. “The people are very friendly to me. They’re so welcoming. I’d love to come back.”

Cheers to that, mate.

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