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Music, Music Everywhere, Concerts and 24-Hour MTV--and in America It's Practically Free

DIARY OF AN EXCHANGE STUDENT: Portuguese exchange student Helena Goncalves arrived here in the summer and now attends Grant High School. This is her second column about life in the San Fernando Valley.

December 17, 1987

Another month of my American experience has now passed. It began with my first homecoming at Grant High School and included the U2 concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a trip to Knott's Berry Farm, the celebration of Thanksgiving and preparations for Christmas. All of these activities have shown me differences and similarities between Americans and Portuguese.

First, before our homecoming football game against North Hollywood High (which, unfortunately, we lost), everyone sang the national anthem. I think Americans in general are extremely patriotic and give much more importance than we do to the symbols of their country.

Americans also think a lot about personal popularity, as I noticed during the coronation of homecoming king and queen. At school, in politics--everywhere here--a person is regarded as successful if he or she is popular or famous. In my school back home there are students who are more popular than others, but we don't have popularity contests, which, I think, can hurt people who don't win.

Then there was the homecoming dance. I enjoyed it because it reminded me of dancing with my friends in Portuguese discos. Over there, dancing is much the same as in America, but the music is a little different. We don't hear as much rap music in Portugal, and we hear more European groups--especially British, but also Norwegian, French and Italian groups that no one knows here.

But some groups, like U2, are popular in both countries. I will never forget their concert at the Coliseum, the excitement of seeing in person the group I had known so long only through records and pictures. Very few rock stars go to Portugal because people can't afford the ticket prices.

Here, people are so lucky, and they don't even realize it. There are concerts somewhere every week at affordable prices. There are places like Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm (where I went recently for an exchange students' meeting). On television, Americans have 20 channels to choose from, or MTV at any hour.

In Portugal, we have two television channels that only show programs from 5 p.m. to midnight. Although teen-agers complain a lot, we have only two hours of music video per week. If there's nothing on TV, we read a book or go to the cinema or just window-shop on the streets of Lisbon.

At Christmastime, those streets are illuminated for the holiday, but not the way they are here. Having gone through my first Thanksgiving--which was notable for all the turkey and stuffing I ate with my family--I'm enjoying watching all the colored lights people put up on their houses. In Lisbon, we can't do that because we live in apartment buildings.

I do notice that the commercialization of Christmas is universal, but here, it happens on a larger scale because everything is larger. In spite of this, I'm buying some presents to send back to my family. I won't forget the candy, so they can understand where my five extra pounds have come from!

Over the holidays, I will be skiing for the first time with my host family at June Mountain near Mammoth. I'm a little scared, having learned that my Portuguese friend Marta, who's spending an exchange year in Colorado, broke her arm ice-skating for the first time.

But like everything else in America, skiing will be an experience, and I couldn't go home having missed it.

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