While much of my life has been spent sharing my own culture with others, certainly nobody would be surprised to find out that I also enjoy learning about other people's culture. This includes white American culture. Yes, despite growing up in this country, despite living in mostly white areas for much of my life, white people still confuse me sometimes. Sometimes so much so that I feel like I'm in a different country. Maybe it's a regional thing.
So my most recent cultural experience: tailgating.
To be honest, I have not ever been given a formal definition of "tailgating," but the word seems to derive from “tailgate” which refers to the back of a car. One hangs out around the tailgate of a car preparing for a football game. Presumably this started in the parking lot of the stadium and has become such an event of its own, that a car, parking lot, stadium, and/or ticket are no longer necessary. Incidentally, this usage of “tailgating” is separate from the same word that is used to describe a method of driving that is aggressively close to the car in front of you. “Tailgating” around a sporting event has a positive connotation. The latter has a negative one.
So I appeared on a golf course in Ann Arbor on Saturday morning dressed in as much blue and yellow as possible. As most folks do when faced with a new cultural experience, I tried to learn the social rules and trends:
[one] Drink alcohol. Drink to get drunk.
In general, I'm a huge fan of it being socially acceptable to get drunk especially if it's in the morning. This was no problem for me.
[two] Though there is a fair amount of mingling and eating going on, many folks partake in playing simple games with each other:
[a] bean bag toss – Two pairs stand about 10 yards apart from each other. Each pair has a wooden stand with a hole drilled in it. You take turns trying to throw a bean bag into the hole. Ok, the last time I witnessed this game being played was at a school fair for third graders. If any of those nine-year olds were able to throw the bean bag in, they were given a paper ticket that they could then trade in later for a piece of candy or a plastic toy that would in the next hour either 1) fall apart or 2) get swallowed. It was difficult for me to watch grown, burly men with straight faces and serious scowls play this game without cracking up. However, no one else seemed to this this was funny so I did not make a spectacle.
[b] pee in the trees without getting a ticket from the roaming police officers - I did partake in this game and I have to say I'm not too bad at it. My friend, Josh, who was kind of showing me the ropes for the morning shared with me his secret strategy: if you notice a police officer coming, immediately stop peeing. Then if they question you tell them you hadn't started yet. Urinating in public may be illegal but the intent to pee in public is not.
[c] throw golf balls tied to strings and try to get them to wrap around a three tiered bar - A quick google search of “golf ball string game tailgate” reveals that this game is “ladder golf.” I have actually only seen this game played once before in my life. I was at a friend of friend's house “up north”. It was at a barbeque and the only other game available to play was “throw this heavy metal part of what used to be a car as far as you can.” I chose to play ladder golf. Later, one of the guys throwing the barbeque said to me, “I'll run around the yard naked if you do.” On Saturday morning, I looked around the tailgaters, however, I did not see either my old BBQ host or the old car parts. Maybe because they wanted to protect the golf course grass.
[d] donate your recyclables - This game is a two player game. You can only play if you're drinking from a recyclable container. Each time you finish your drink, you become player one. Player one's role is to put your can/bottle on the ground. Player two is any one of tattered looking folks wandering around the golf course picking up your garbage and putting it in their shopping cart.
[e] beer pong - This game I had been exposed to in college so I was able to pretend that I was not a newcomer to the tailgating experience. I decided to play and teamed up with a very friendly young man named Uri. There are several social practices in this game:
1) Make sexual references. If you and your partner both sink your throws, make sure you crow, “gang bang!” If you ask for a re-rack, make sure you comment on whether or not the new rack is attractive. At this point Uri said, “I like this rack. Well, I like all racks.” At this point I noticed that he had been putting his arm around me between shots. Hoping to head off any confusion about our relationship I also chimed in, “I've never met a rack I didn't like.”
2) Make fun of the other team.
3) Always blame the wind.
4) Always make your sexual references palatable to a male heterosexual mentality.
Though I played better than I ever had in my life, in the end Uri and I lost by one cup. However, I definitely came out ahead as before the end of the game I was given the ultimate compliment by Uri, “You know, my friend says that he doesn't think Asians are attractive, but I don't agree. I think you're hot.” I had nothing else to say except, “Well, on behalf of my race, I accept the compliment. Um, have you seen my friends? Did you see where they went?” Uri was persistent, “Just tell me, do you have a boyfriend?” “um. I have a girlfriend.” “REALLY! You?! No!” “Um. Yea. You know, I just looked around and I can't see my friends. Maybe I should go look for them.” “You know, I've always thought that two women together was really hot.” “oh really? I've never heard that before.” “Oh yea. I'm really open minded about that sort of thing.”
In the end I'd have to say that, like most experiences where I learn about a new culture, I enjoyed the experience. Apparently the Ohio v Michigan game is quite an event. Maybe I should invest in my own set of bean bags.