I say tomato, you say tomate

Americans have long had a stubborn streak when it comes to foreign experiences. Sure, we'll go overseas for a look-see at classical architecture or venerated statues. But don't ask us to eat a lot of local cuisine.

Or speak the local lingo. We're funny about foreign languages. It's not for lack of exposure: Many of us hear a virtual Babel of tongues each day, depending on what corner of the US we inhabit.

But learn them? Most students take a foreign language in order to graduate from high school. Yet by the time they've mastered asking for the location of the train station and the US Embassy, they quit.

We seem to assume others will learn the English way of saying things. Or they'll understand if we speak more slowly or shout a little louder. Some habits die hard.

But that doesn't mean attitudes aren't changing. Many camps and summer schools fill up each year with people determined to gain credible language skills (see story, page 15). And a record number of college students are studying overseas (see story, page 17).

Doing so without language skills has certainly gotten less taxing, given how much other nationalities study English. And of course there's McDonald's. Much of the motive may be all that talk of the global economy, and an understanding that some awareness of life beyond US shores can offer a competitive advantage.

Whatever the reason, the trend helps erode the lingering parochialism of Fortress America. Of course, some of us used to like being the only American for miles in a foreign town. But those days are fast disappearing - and that's a good thing.

*E-mail newcomba@csps.com

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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