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Jewish World Review Oct. 19, 2001 / 2 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Phil Perrier

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Consumer Reports


White trash exchange program


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- ALL they wanted was to host a German foreign exchange student. Is that so Wrong?

Harry and Brenda Greene of tiny Buchanan, Georgia volunteered their hospitality to 15-year-old German student, Stefan Sipemann. The 40-year-old security guard and his wife even went to the expense of buying a new box spring and mattress. The couple looked forward to meeting Stefan, they thought the experience of hosting the boy would be "enlightening."

The meeting was not to be. Hours before the Greenes were to meet young Stefan at the airport, they were contacted by the agency and told that the boy could not stay with them because their home was a single-wide trailer. The company explained that in Europe mobile homes are considered "holiday homes" and not permanent housing. The Greenes have since told reporters that the agency treated them like "trailer trash."

Apparently, the agency feared that living in a trailer park could expose the student to more than he bargained for.

Someone failed to explain to the Greenes that foreign exchange programs are designed for Upper-Middle-Class suburbanites -- doctors, lawyers and such -- who want to feel good about themselves by telling their golfing buddies "You know, Carol and I are hosting a foreign exchange student this fall."

So rich spoiled brats from other countries come and live with rich people in this country and they compare the quality of the two countries video games.

Meanwhile, Harry and Brenda Greene, oblivious to the socio-economic underpinnings of the process, rode their Hush Puppies into an office and said they'd like to host a student from another country. Seemed logical to them.

The agent looked at them, then looked at their car, figured it would never happen but gave them an application anyway, hoping they would skip the part about filling it out and bringing it back. The Greenes did fill out the application and they did return it. But then, they didn't know they were up against a rigid caste system.

At the last minute someone at the agency bothered to read the Greenes' application and realized they lived in a trailer park; panic ensued, "We can't have some German kid living in a trailer park!... my G-d, when he gets home with a shaved head and 'N.W.A.' tattood on his neck his parents will sue us!"

The decision to reject the Greenes is contrary to the true spirit of a student exchange program; an actual cultural exchange. Taking a kid from Germany and plunking him down in a trailer park in Georgia --- that is an EXCHANGE! A space alien who crashed landed in the trailer park would feel no more out of place than the teutonic teen.

Does the average foreign exchange student get to eat possum? Does he get to marry a girl named Amber, sire a child and get divorced, all in one semester, back at Dusseldorf High? Do teenagers in Germany sneak beer into tractor pulls then shoot street signs on the way home?

This kid would have really LEARNED some things. Like how to lash a muffler to a 1976 Camaro using a wire coat hanger, and how to hunt for deer at night on other people's property, using a flashlight.

While enjoying his stay in manufactured housing Stefan, or "Ricky" as his new friends would call him, would learn such American phrases as "Can you smell what the Rock's been cookin'," "Gimme a beer," and "Jeff Gordon can kiss my a--!"

And he would have learned words like "commode," "sweet tea" and "onliest."

Sadly, none of this will happen. Stefan will be rerouted to the home of some podiatrist somewhere. He will stay with people with names like "Bob" and "Candy," and he'll have to pretend he likes their annoying yappy little dogs, and they'll have pictures of themselves wearing expensive sweaters on the mantel piece.

And if you tell them "Jeff Gordon can kiss my a--!" they'll say "Who is Jeff Gordon?"



JWR contributor Phil Perrier is a Los Angeles-based writer and stand-up comic. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Phil Perrier