For the most part, the European teenagers that my wife and I have hosted through EF over the last five years are not very demonstrative when it comes to expressions of national pride.
We were told by our regional coordinators to expect this.
It is not that Europeans are not proud of their homeland. Quite the contrary, they identify very strongly with their home country. Particularly when they watch episodes of “Fake People embarrassing some US city,” which most of the students tend to watch in marathon sessions in the afternoon, and just can't believe adult Americans act that way.
"We would never be like that," they say.
But where most American country singers can make a pretty good living composing an old-fashioned patriotic song, and there’s a seemingly endless market for slapping an emblem of the Star Spangled Banner on a t-shirt or a denim jacket patch, Europeans tend to be more reserved and a lot more cynical about their home and capital.
Except when it comes to chocolate.
On other subjects, our exchange students are prepared to concede that, maybe, the French or Belgians have the best cooking and, perhaps, there is better skiing in the Swiss Alps than in the Italian Alps.
The subject of chocolate, however, is a source of constant and heated debate. It may sound playful, but it is only a masquerade. It is war. And like any true war, at the end of the arguments there are no winners, just a declaration of a halt to hostilities. No quarter is given and there is no peace in our time.
Pam and I have two German hostdaughters and one each from Finland, Norway, and Switzerland. Each has declared the absolute perfection of their national chocolate brands.
There is only one moment when my hostdaughters are united and that is when I have the gall to suggest that maybe, just maybe, American chocolate is the best.
It is in this arena that there may be hope yet for the future of the European Union for nothing unites my hostdaughters more completely than my suggestion that Hersheys is the superior world chocolate.
The outcry is immediate and their rejection is universal. And as further proof of the error of my ways, they all immediately write emails to their parents requesting care packages of their home chocolate as definitive proof of their chocolate superiority.
I am upping the ante this year with Rebecca Ruth Bourbon Balls and handmade candies from Cynthiana’s own J.J.’s Sweets. That’s right, I’m taking this debate out of the realm of “USA, USA” and into the heart of My Old Kentucky Home. Everyone wish Josh Jenkins good luck.
But, do I imagine that, this time, I’ll win? That my darling and lovely hostdaughters will concede that Cynthiana chocolate trumps the very best that Europe can produce?
I’m not holding my breath.
But each and every holiday season, care packages arrive at my doorstep from all over Europe loaded with contraband Milka and Moser Roth bars and Kinder eggs from Germany, Karl Frazer bars and bags of Salmiakki from Finland, Marabou and Daim brand chocolate from Norway, and from the Swiss: Toblerone, Lindt, Nestle and Ferrero Rocher.
...And I’m proud to be an American...