On (some) anti-americanism & thoughts on the idea
May 2, 2005
|On the morning we finally leave the Prickle Patch we skip into Hastings for one final look about and some breakfast. Sitting at our cafe table, sipping coffee as we await our eggs, a not strange thing happens which is of little consequence but offers a chance to think about a particular subject.
A middle-aged couple occupies the table behind us, and like us they are sipping their hot drinks when an associate of theirs come to join them. I, with nothing better to do, make eye contact with this gentleman and for whatever reason he maintains the eye contact in a strange fashion as he pulls up a spare chair to his table. "Where are you from?" he asks me. "Oh," I respond, thinking this is a nice guy who doesn't mind chatting up fellow cafe patrons, "We're from the States. Maine."
"Good heavens." He says, makes a pained face, and pulls his chair around squarely with its back to us. End of conversation.
In the next moment our eggs arrive. As Mandy and I exchange quick looks of 'what's with this guy' we enjoy our breakfast in more or less silence. It is not as though the behavior of this man has dashed our illusions of a humanity in love, nor does it ruin our pleasant sun-soaked breakfast, but it does get under my skin a bit, this small gesture of distaste for us. The man's need to pull his chair squarely around and show us his broad back. As I sit there, within arms reach of this man with such obvious opinions concerning our nationality, I wonder how to engage him in some discussion on the topic. I want to ask him where he is from, exactly, but realize that I don't care particularly, and don't think that it matters. I wonder what his response would have been to us if we had conjured an Italian accent and answered, "Rome." What if we explained that we were born in Canada, raised in South African, went to university in Kabul, and spent our early twenties teaching Mongolian peasants how to speak German? Or this, what if I had said simply, "Oh, us? We're citizens of the world. Just like you. Pleasure to meet you all."
Well, anyway, this man's simple rudeness got me thinking. Certainly US foreign policy and certain common values and attitudes attributed to Americans deserve disdain from people who hold a critical view of those policies and attitudes, but I wondered how he had attached us to those so quickly. I won't say too much about the whole thing, and I admit that my complete thoughts on the subject aren't at the point of refinement to establish a clear and succinct thesis for this entry, but there may be those of you reading in on this who might find this topic interesting.
Part of our goal for this trip was to better understand the world beyond the borders of the places we've already been. Also the idea was there somewhere to expose the world to who 'we' are; that is, a specific 'we' - Mandy and Jon - and not as a pair of ambassadors representing the usa, but as two people who exist and have thoughts, perspectives, senses of humor, passions, histories, and opinions of our own. Intertwined with who we are, of course, is the influence that the nation of our birth has had on our development, but what does it mean to be American? I am sure that I don't know. Most Americans don't agree with me on a great many subjects, but I assume that most Mongolians don't agree with me either. And I assume that this man, although he barely got the chance to experience my dry humor or hear my thoughts on neoliberalism and global geo-politics, would disagree about a number of my thoughts as well.
In Guatemala, we meant a very astute Oscar who observed, "How funny are the Americans. They dress like tourists so they won't be mistaken for Americans." He was referring to the khaki, multi-pocketed vests, the convertable zip-off pants, and the ultra-comfortable walking shoes. We go out into the world to discover it, "to tour" it, but we can be very ginger about letting the world know who we are and what we're about. I guess I found myself wanting to turn this guy around in his chair, slap the coffee out of his hand, and tell him that he was a rude bastard and that I, as a representative from the Great Satan, was a bit insulted for his honesty. I would be quite a Patriot, I thought, if I did this, but anyway, I was eating my eggs by this point and they were getting colder by the moment.
Our experience of out-right anti-americanism has been small and this man's simple "Oh, heavens," is the most direct assault on decency yet, but there is a bit of it beneath the surface of a good deal of our contact with foreign nationals. Few are rude enough to attack us on this basis, but there stands a hint of 'yikes, americans' in their initial voice. It bothers me more than I thought it would, but that's not very much. I believe in good people, not good nations.
So this entry won't have a dramatic, articulate conclusion on the subject I myself brought up.
I guess I could say this in the end:
We love New Zealand. That guy was an asshole.