Wednesday, January 26, 2011

America Bashing

Usually it's subtle. Sometimes it's unintentional.  Other times it's justified (sort of).  Living in another country has exposed me to some good old-fashioned America bashing.  Let's skip the big prologue and dive right in.

Exhibit #1. My neighbor Natalie's Facebook page (her original posting is the first thing here):

Natalie: Lady to me: Do you know Americans are so dumb, they don't know where the Cook Islands are?

 After she left, I googled - Location of Cook Islands... 

This is what I call Kantoi...
16 hours ago · Like · Comment

Jeff: haha actually I think I have to go google that now. Never did bother to find out for sure. :p

Natalie: The thing is... This lady is too much la.. If you say.. Americans don't know where Brazil is.. It is dumb but I just checked.. Cook Islands.. isn't exactly you know... Big....

Jeff: Just checked.. I think it's as big as all the islands in East Coast Malaysia... LOL

Me: I love when we are all lumped in together! She sounds pretty bright herself...

Stef: apparently some Americans still don't know where Malaysia is but know about Singapore. I still have to do the whole "peninsula north of Singapore" thingy with them.. *faint

Natalie: Then educate them.. Or be the next Michelle yeoh!!!!

Nika: I can add something as well :) The Americans don't know where the Czech Republic is but they know about Prague.. so where do they think Prague is then.. :D the country isn't called Prague :D The same goes for Vienna :)

On one hand:  Natalie's original post and her comments are really funny and not offensive at all.  Her friends Stef and Nika, however, are complete idiots.  Stereotyping an entire nation of 300 million people based on one or two people is asinine.  Secondly, we may not all know where Malaysia is - I couldn't pinpoint it on a globe before I moved to Hong Kong (I knew the general vicinity), but so what?!  Most people have no reason to learn where Malaysia is; memorizing where all 196 countries are located seems pretty useless, no?  Twenty bucks says Stef and Nika can't find Deleware or Puerto Rico on a map.  

On the other hand: When the Mumbai bombings happened and I commented on it, a family member of mine said, "So what? I don't care what goes on in India."  This doesn't help our cause, people.

Exhibit #2: A Scottish couple seated at our table at a recent black tie event

These two chose the slickest approach in the book - start off light with things I can laugh about and then really dig the knife in.

Wife: "I've found that New Yorkers live in a bubble.  They don't really care or know about what goes on in the rest of the world."  

Me: "I can see that and was definitely guilty of it when I lived in New York.  In a city like New York, you just feel like you're at the heart of everything, so it's easy to slip into that mindset sometimes. They don't call it the Capital of the World for nothing!"

Husband: "Yeah, Americans are not that bright.  When we were in Boston, people kept asking us if we were from Texas.  I mean, never in my life have people thought my accent was Texan."

Me (laughing): "Wow, now that is funny.  I can't believe that happened.  A Texas accent sounds nothing like yours.  Have you ever realized, though, how similar Boston and Aussie accents are?  They pronounce certain words the exact same way."

Wife: "Americans think everything is theirs and started with them."  Then she starts rattling off all these examples of people/things that are English and NOT American.  The list was hella long, but the only example I can remember is this:  "What about Winnie the Pooh - you think it's American, don't you?  Well, it's not, it's British."

Husband: "I mean, our house in Scotland is older than America."

At this point - and because V is strangely never by my side in these situations, I had to excuse myself from the table before I screamed "Get the f*ck over it lady.  The Revolutionary War is over.  We won it and are the super power of the world.  Scotland is not. That's just how the cookie crumbled."

Exhibit #3 - A British man I met at a party
Let me preface this by saying that the only place this man had ever been in the States was Memphis!  For this, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.  Since there was drinking involved, I don't remember exact exchanges but it basically boiled down to how "Americans can't fit in a normal sized airplane seat."

Having had my fill of him AND the Scottish couple, I couldn't restrain myself.  So I said, "Well, that's like saying that all Brits have ugly teeth.  I know plenty of British people who have lovely teeth, but you also see quite a few whose teeth are black, missing or too far gone for a visit to the orthodontist."  He was completely taken aback and I believe truly had no idea that this was a stereotype of Brits.  This guy said A LOT more, but it was a few weeks back and, for the life of me, I can't remember them now.

To be fair these are extreme examples; the overwhelming majority of people I meet in my travels are wonderful and don't harbor ill will to Americans (or if they do, they have the decency not to tell me!)  And I do see why certain American stereotypes exist around the world.  (Let's be honest, I'm probably pretty good at perpetuating a few of them!) But at the end of the day America is an awesome country - and I'm damn proud to say I'm from there.  In that same vein, Americans have to realize 1) other countries are pretty damn awesome, too, 2) being completely ignorant and disinterested in other countries doesn't win you any friends and 3) our days of being on top are numbered.  

OK, I'm stepping down from the pulpit.  

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