Europe meets D.C.: TV mania and too much food

Christine Amdam, of Norway, and Alina Braun, of Germany, are WTOP interns experiencing American culture for the first time. (WTOP/Melvin Chase)

Editors Note: They traveled 1,230 miles to come to Washington, D.C. — Christine Amdam flew all the way from Norway and Alina Braun from Germany. This fall, they are studying journalism at American University and working as interns for WTOP. They quickly discovered that Washington and the American culture are very different from their hometowns Oslo and Mannheim and decided to document their experiences. Check WTOP.com each weekend to read about Christine and Alina’s “culture clashes.”

TV mania

Alina Braun, wtop.com

What struck me the most the first weeks I spent in the United States was the seemingly omnipresent TV screens.

In the first restaurants I ate at, I thought, “Hmm, that is weird. It’s probably an exception.” However, I realized that at least one TV hangs in most restaurants and clubs. If it is a sports bar, I totally understand that. You go to that sports bar to watch a game.

However, I still don’t see the sense in watching TVs when you are having a nice dinner or when you go out to dance. A few weeks ago, I went to a club in Adams Morgan. People were dancing on the darkened dance floor to hip-hop and Latin beats and right in front of them, on a huge TV, “The Incredibles” was playing. I couldn’t help but smile stepping into that scene and was constantly distracted by the flickering light coming from the Disney movie.

Looking at the statistics, the difference between German and American TV usage is not that huge. According to German statistics, Germans watch 3.75 hours a day on average. Meanwhile, the Nielsen Company, Americans watch 5.11 hours of TV. Watching DVDs or playing video games are not included in that statistic.

From my subjective viewpoint, the main difference is that in Germany the TV is, in most cases, only turned on if you really want to see a program. The best movies always come on at 8:15 p.m., so many people turn on their TV exactly at that time for around two hours and then turn it off.

In contrast to that, I have seen many Americans leave the TV on while cooking, surfing on the Internet, talking on the phone and even while reading or learning. They didn’t really pay any attention to the program. It was just going, as if the constant background noise was soothing them.

Because I am simply not used to TVs being everywhere, it really distracts me from doing other things, and I automatically have the urge to turn it off when nobody is truly watching.

If I left the TV accidentally on while cooking in Germany, my mum always told me, “Turn it off right now! You are wasting electricity.” Maybe that’s why I just can’t get used to the constant presence of non-watched TVs. Are there any other Americans who love the absence of TVs in clubs and bars and the silence of a turned-off TV?

Alina Braun is an intern at WTOP this fall. She is studying journalism and foreign policy at American University for two semesters. In Germany, she is obtaining her master’s degree and studying, in which she is majoring in linguistics and minoring in psychology. She works as a freelance journalist for the German public radio station SWR.

The biggest food portions in the world

Christine Amdam, wtop.com

In Europe, we have an impression about American food. We are, of course, influenced by you Americans. We have American diners, fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King, and you can get cookies and cheesecakes everywhere.

The most American food I can think of is burgers with fries, mac ‘n’ cheese and chicken wings. And then you have the American brunch – pancakes with a lot of maple syrup and berries, and eggs and bacon. For sweets, it is cheesecake or Oreo cake. Mmm, I just love all this. There are a lot of temptations here, that’s for sure.

Before I came to D.C., I was a bit worried about finding healthy food to eat. But I must say, D.C. is a good city for that. You have, for example, Whole Foods. There are healthier food choices than I thought there would be, but I have to give myself some restrictions anyway.

When you go to a restaurant, you always get a ton of food. Are Americans eating all of this? The problem with big portions is that you eat more than you need. Even though you are full, the sight of the delicious food in front of you makes you manage to eat more. I hate the feeling of being too full and having to roll out of the restaurant.

If you order a turkey sandwich, you don’t get bread with some turkey. You get turkey with bread. I always have to take away half of the meat before I can eat. It’s impossible to open my mouth that much to bite into the sandwich. If you order a salad or sandwich for lunch, you feel kind of healthy. But then you get potato chips on the side. Why? For me, that is only for weekends. And since I don’t have that much discipline, I do of course eat it. And I feel bad about it after.

How common is it to ask for a doggy bag here? I try to do it as often as possible. I also make the waitress take the food away from my face before I eat it all. To my concern, I have noticed that I am able to eat more and more of my portions each time I go out to eat and I think I have expanded my stomach.

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WTOP’s vending machines. (WTOP/Heather Brady)

Another thing I find different is the vending machines. They are everywhere! There are vending machines where I live, all over American University and here at WTOP. We do have those kind of machines in Norway as well, but they are different. In Norway we have healthy stuff in the machines, such as yogurt, fruit and sandwiches.

I just walked by the machines here at WTOP. It only has a bunch of different types of chocolate, chips and peanuts. And there’s another one with sodas. I have seen reporters here use them a lot. There’s a long way to the closest supermarket, so it’s the only way to get something quick if you are hungry. I think it would be a good idea to put something healthy in the vending machines, next to the chocolate, of course.

Christine Amdam is a WTOP fall intern. She is studying journalism at Oslo University College in Norway. Christine is studying at the American University Washington Semester Program in D.C. for one semester.

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