They thought America would be like it is in the movies.
Boy, were they surprised.
Four foreign exchange students at Hamilton's Badin High School have discovered there's a world of difference between reel life and what's real in America.
They spent a Lunch with Cliff telling me about those differences. Over school cafeteria fare - mostly McRibs-wannabe sandwiches and blobs of tasteless mashed potatoes - they shared their findings. ''In the movies, you do whatever you want in America,'' said Michael Opgenoorth, a 16-year-old 11th-grader from Kevelaer, Germany.
''Now that we're here,'' said Kristian Larsen, a 17-year-old 12th-grader from Tvedestrand, Norway, ''we've found out you can get punished for everything. I'm playing CYO basketball. I have to sign a book of forms to get permission to play.
''In Norway, we just play. Nobody worries about being sued.'' Welcome to America, the land of the free and the home of too many lawyers with a license to sue.
''Americans are so conservative,'' chimed in Justyna Walaschek. The 17-year-old 12th-grader from Hildesheim, Germany was visably shaken using the words ''Americans'' and ''conservative'' in the same sentence.
''When we go to friends' houses in Germany,'' she continued, ''no one asks: 'Are their parents going to be home?' Here, they ask all the time.''
We are an inquisitive people. Nosy, even. Protective, too. ''American students don't care much about politics,'' noted Marco Sangati. He's 17 and a 12th-grader from Padua, Italy.
''Students in Italy go on strike when the government doesn't spend enough money on schools.''
Justyna stopped eating to protest: ''But, you have to take an interest in politics to go on strike.
''Everybody here just thinks government classes are bor-ing,'' she said, uttering the last word in the accent of a stereotypical American high school student.
The quality of schools in the states and the education students receive concern Michael.
''We look up to America,'' he said. ''You helped Germany after the war. But your school system is going down.''
He supplied two examples of our descent. One had to do with curriculum. The other concerned classroom participation.
In Germany, he read the Sherlock Holmes' novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, in English in the eighth grade. ''They're reading it here in the 11th grade.''
In Germany, your grade depends upon how often you raise your hand and speak up in class. ''Here, you don't have to pay that much attention. You can even fall asleep in class.''
Michael admitted he's become Americanized. He's nodded off in Spanish class.
''I'm living the American way of life,'' he confessed, as he peeled the label from a bottle of Mountain Dew. ''It's not bad.'' As the lunch ended, I asked these young Europeans to pick a movie that reflected the life they've found in America.
They threw out a few suggestions - Menace II Society and Kids. Kristian mentioned Home Alone. ''People are crazy about Christmas in the movie, just like they are here.''
But they agreed no one movie captured what they have seen and experienced. Just like the life they left behind in Europe, life in America has its fair share of boredom.
Justyna even joked about it - in English. If anyone ever made a movie about real life, she said, ''nobody would watch it.''
Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.