Forgive my short hiatus, but I was doing a little research. Over the last two weeks, I’ve been talking to my friends in Australia, Canada, and Spain about the general opinion about Americans.Keep in mind that none of these people know each other and are in completely different parts of the world. Because of this fact, I was surprised to hear that the foreigners all used the words “arrogant, obnoxious,” and “ethnocentric” to describe Americans. Before anyone gets defensive, thereby proving the stereotype to be true, let’s consider for a moment some different aspects of their opinions. There are far too many to discuss all of them; this is a column, not a book. These are just a few.
One aspect which we discussed is that whenever Americans travel to another country, they have a tendency to expect to be able to use their native language in a completely foreign place. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard people mention that they are going to go visit a different country. When asked if they thought it would be difficult to get by, most people said no and stated that “they speak English there” or “English is the universal language.” Is it? (By the way, these interviews were all in English. I tried a little with the Spanish but the operative word there is “tried,” so don’t think I’m excluding myself when I say Americans.)
Another gripe from the outside group is that when Americans visit places they tend not to immerse themselves in the culture. One of the ways this is avoided is through eating. Many cultures pride themselves on their food. Each country has different resources because of their geography. The meals which are traditional to each culture are adaptive and produced over the course of hundreds of years, a tradition that Americans don’t seem to understand or respect. Someone I know is planning a trip to Germany but was telling me that he was worried about what he’d eat. “Uh…the food…” I said. He made some excuse about not liking bratwurst.
Last year for my 21st, I went to London with the fam. We toured Windsor Castle with it’s ornate rooms, jeweled crowns, and family portraits that dated back hundreds of years. Afterwards, we ended our enlightening and cultural experience with a traditional….Big Mac. Granted, corporations have become fused with American culture and infiltrated other countries and it wasn’t my fault that McDonald’s was right there. But I could have just as easily eaten at the pub just down the street.
Juan, my buddy from Spain, told me that Americans are loud mouths and too confident of what they consider to be the greatest nation on earth. “Your countrymen consider themselves superior to other countries,” he said, “there are many wonderful aspects of The United States. The country’s entertainment industry alone has been successful and has provided the rest of the world with some amazing art. However, that does not discount the products or lifestyles of other countries. And more so, I’d much rather have not such a productive country, with all it’s glitz and glamour, and instead feel comfortable in the safety of my country. More than 11,000 Americans die every year to guns alone. Many other countries are under 100. Where in that lies the superiority?”
Throughout Michael Moore’s documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” he ponders this question, despite the fact that everyone in the world has the same amount of guns in their homes and equal ability to attain firearms, why is America’s death rate due to guns so high? Moore never comes up with an answer.
Australia, Andrew specifically, came up with a reason almost instantaneously. American’s don’t know how to handle differences. I find this to be ironic since that is the very basis and foundation upon which our country is formed. The United States was founded on people from countries seeking an alternative to their lives in other countries. Basically, our country is the United States of Immigrants. So why now, when those who come here from different countries, do Americans act so rudely and hatefully towards them? Has our limit for immigrants been exceeded? Or is it because the lands have already been settled and things are now established? Two words: Native Americans.
Americans, according to my discussions, are also wasteful and give no future thought to the environment or how it affects those both in the direct future and in different countries. Consider all the water you waste, the electricity that could easily be cut back (I leave my computer on all the time), and paper products which we throw out. The best example of that last one: paper plates.
Last year in my Humans and Environment class, our teacher provided us with a couple of shocking percentages about the American population, the world population and how much our waste percentages differed. Unfortunately, I no longer have my notes so I can’t provide an exact number. I can say, however, that despite not having the largest population in the world, we use the most resources and produce the most waste. If I remember correctly, this is the United States compared to the entire world, combined.
Let’s get back to that language factor. One reason that children in other countries are taught different languages is because of their close proximity to different cultures. Look at Europe, everyone is next to each other, so there is a need to be able to communicate. Wait a second then.
Hasn’t America been deemed the “Melting Pot” because of all the various backgrounds and cultures that exist and thrive in the same community? Foreigners learn more than one language because there are different cultures just across the boarder. What does that say about Americans who have a plethora of backgrounds just across the street?
Because my parents lived in Germany for three years and my dad travels all over the world, I’ve grown up learning about various cultures. Because of this, maybe my position is biased. Then again, maybe progressive. In any case, with so many technologies minimizing the figurative size of the world, wouldn’t it benefit Americans to branch out? Maybe, just maybe, take into consideration that despite our amazing country, there are others out there that deserve our attention too? Talking to my foreign friends only reverberates this idea. Something to think about while doing shots in Cancun over Spring Break.
Jaylyn Bergner is a senior majoring in communication with a minor in creative writing. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.