Tuesday, July 19, 2005

An Anti-Anti-American Sentiment...

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I was recently in a pub with friends... an Irish pub in Kilburn that’s usually populated by very old men slurring their speech, and stumbling around the bar with pints of Guinness and the Racing Post. On the neighboring table to me three American students were quite boisterously discussing international affairs: the march of globalization, American Imperialism, etc. Subsequently, amongst the people I was talking to, a similar conversation began about terrorism and the role of Bush and Blair.

One particular friend began an aggressive, drunken diatribe about the United States, knowing full well that the table of US students were close by. In essence he blamed the stupidity, and ignorance of Americans for the terrorist bombings on the 7th of July. Americans were isolated, hamburger eating, religious zealots, and their ignorance, and election of George Bush, alongside Tony Blair’s unconditional support for the war in Iraq, was ultimately responsible.

The US students finished their drinks and left offended and shocked by what I think they perceived as a personal attack. I was on my sixth pint and in no condition to express myself lucidly so I sadly watched them pack up their things and exit onto the busy street… feeling rather ashamed of my companions, and disappointed in myself.

I’m not sure what Anti-Americanism really amounts to. Is it a sincere concern for the way a superpower wields its influence in the world? Is it insecurity? Is it jealousy?

The first thing that strikes you as a foreigner in the US is just how vast a society it is. The kind of pretentious cultural assessments you've grown up with are inherently flawed. States as large as most European nations comprise their own identities and values... where I lived in California was a world away from Montana, or New Hampshire, or Mississippi for example.

I lived in the US for two years and I considered it my home.

I fell in love with the perpetual optimism and enterprise of the people I encountered. I fell in love with the ubiquitous lust and drive for living. I fell in love with its deep sense of national identity forged in fundamental human ideals like freedom, individualism, self-determination, and self-reliance.

I loved the fact you could drive for a day and see settings so disparate... Desert lands, snowy mountain ranges, sky scraping cities, and a beautiful oceanside.

I loved that Americans were smarter, more thoughtful people than the rest of the world gave them credit for. I loved that in any public venue you would randomly find people discussing, with an enlightened intricacy, investments, business, foreign policy, healthcare, community... in terms of how it affected the vastness of America, rather than the relative smallness of my native country, and our thinking (in spite of our claims to be more internationally aware).

I acknowledge that the U.S. isn't perfect... after all, I'm a man who supports Kyoto and the ICC :)

But, I miss it a great deal. There's something about being surrounded by cynicism, pessimism, and negativism in the UK that ultimately wears you down. I miss hearing people's grand ambitions to start their own companies, or their determination to ascend to a better job. I miss listening to people dream without fear of incredulity, or people's perceptions. I miss that energy...

I only wish young people in this country, like my 22-year-old sister for instance, could experience that freedom, and license to dream, and the opportunity to try. After all, it's our individual pursuits, whether they are altruistic, or otherwise, that drive us forward together as a society... that allow us to keep people in work, to invest more in our infrastructure/schools/hospitals, and to keep our economy growing.

The United States is so much more than the two-dimensional stereotype it is so often reduced to. Some of the greatest minds have grappled with its immensity in some of the world's greatest novels... I miss the little part of it I experienced, and can think of few other places in the world I'd rather make my home in the future.

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23 comments:

Keith said...

Thank you. The America you describe is the country I love and wake to everyday. We aren't perfect, and we have our own internal struggles, but we are a compassionate, creative people. I have never really understood the animosity against my country, but I lack the perspective of those outside this country.

Vulture 6 said...

Thank you,

It's nice to know that some one elses sees us as we see ourselves. Your more than welcome to come visit Texas sometime where you will learn that Texas is even better than Amercia. ;-)

Em said...

I don't understand really anti-US sentiments. You can be critical of aspects of a country's psyche or administration (I am an Aussie and I can't stand some of the stuff that goes on there but I am still proud to be from there)but bearing in mind the stuff that has just happened in London (I live there as well)it is scary to think of the hatred people have for countries.

The Commentator said...

As a Canadian, I am appalled at the short-sightedness and ironic parochialism of anti-Americanism. America is a remarkable society that has many complex dyanmics. More than most countries can appreciate. Pigeon-holing (as many in the media do) America is a fools game. I visit various parts of America often (Vermont is a mere 2hrs away, Boston 5hrs, and NYC 7) and I am always astounded by the spirit, and as you mentioned the sheer breadth of its population, of America. It's nothing like the perceptions so often depicted. America's communities engage and integrate better than most socialist/welfare states. The only advice I freely give America is to not give into the recent interest in socialist policies. Once upon a time Canada was a free, self-reliant and rugged individualist society with similar traits to early American pioneers. Then, the 60s came and the country has struggled ever since. Same for Britain, they should beware of the stagnant EU. Canada is lucky, despite what some shockingly misguided leftists think, to have them as neighbours. Europe, another place I visit (specifically France and Italy) is a beautiful and sophisticated (on many levels) place but alas has given into its jealous and cynical side. America represents more of how I define myself. God bless America for real.

Eban Crawford said...

That was really cool Graham. I believe that I actually needed to hear that, without realizing that I did. Sometimes I do feel a bit beat down here in Littlehampton because I am American. These smaller towns are less cosmopolitan than London, Brighton, and the like.

People here are for the most part nice to Faith and I, but they never miss a chance to point out to us what is wrong with us or our country. I do think part of the problem, in Littlehampton that is, is that this is a somewhat rundown, economically depressed town and they know that Faith and I are pretty afluent in comparison.

Either way, it gets rough to deal with sometimes, especially when I got cornered by an irate Turk and was asked to acount for my countries deeds.

Anyway, I really appreciate what you said in your post, even if you are a liberal;) (sorry, I could not resist the jab, lol)

The Complimenting Commenter said...

That is a great assessment of the situation. Many Americans agree there are flaws but that it is the people that make it grow. I hope that your own touch with optimism helps you and those you come in contact with. Excellent post.

Ann Weaver Hart said...

A lot of us here in the U.S. agree with your friend that the problem is a bunch of arrogant religious zealots. Unfortunately, they are in power and "liberal" has become a dirty word here.
The public here is discouraged from thinking deeply about issues. That's what lies behind the funding cuts for public broadcasting. Public Broadcastiing news gives more than sound bytes. It makes us think. The neo-cons don't like that. Join the war on critical thought: Vote Republican!

ParaTed2k said...

One thing I've learned in my travels (13 countries in 4 continents) is, everywhere you go you learn that no people seem to match up to the 2 dimensional stereotype generally accepted by them everywhere else.

Glad to hear America is no different in that respect! ;~D

Franklin said...

Graham -

Thank you, I needed so desperately to hear those kind & honest words. These days I find myself feeling either ashamed/embarrassed like the young Yanks in your story or entirely disheartened with the international community.

Though admittedly, my country is stumbling thru a bit of an awkward phase in its history, I still do believe that it is a great country. I think too often anymore America and its Americans have become the targets of criticism simply because it’s all too easy. It's so very simple to point to the superpower and blame for all life's sorrows, but what so many people forget and you kindly remembered is that the government of any nation does not equate the complexity of its society and peoples. And further, that America is but 1 of 191 countries in the world.

Yes, comparatively, we are wealthy and powerful; but collectively so too are our European & Asiatic neighbors. The difference, I've always felt, is our entrepreneurial sprit -- at least we try.

And as a young America, who does still hopelessly believe in the patriotic ideals of equality and personal liberty instilled in him as a young boy, who tries, and will continue to try to better my country and my world in the future; thank you.

- Franklin

Graham said...

Am glad people liked the post. It's like most things really, anti-americanism isn't, at its worst, my friend in bar being abusive towards Americans, it's the subtle notion of superiority that is based upon flawed generalisations and stereotypes.

I don't know if I am perpetuating such things by saying I blame it all on the French.

yon ayisyen said...

I would also blame it all on the French

NYgirl said...

I can't tell you how heartened I am to see someone who understands America so well. Even some Americans lack the depth of understanding about their own country that you do.

I think that the French anti-Americanism is really there is deflect critisim about their own actions.

Graham said...

Thanks NYgirl. I do love everything your country represents, and still struggle not to think of it as my home after three months away.

Your blog is very cool, I'll check it out properly a little later... thanks for writing on mine, btw :)

Keith said...

Graham,

I have posted this -with links- on my site. i also added you to my blogroll.

Graham said...

Thank you Keith I'm flattered that you used my post. I obviously feel very strongly about the US.

I'll also add your blog to my blogroll :).

NYgirl said...

I am glad to hear you liked my blog. You have been added to my blogroll too.

You can always consider America your home: it's where you're heart is.

Sophia said...

What a beautiful post.

I struggle with global perceptions of the USA too, and I often think I'd be better off in Europe. :) I do, however, see much of what you speak of - the idealism, the individualism, the "dreaming big", the intelligent conversation - in American culture. At first, I thought it was only a minority of Americans who held these values, until I realized that the majority of people I've encountered do think about issues bigger than those affecting their immediate surroundings...And, they are willing to act on such convictions, too.

America definately has its problems, but it also has its strengths, as well. Interestingly enough, I think it's our nation's strengths that directly correlate with its weaknesses (i.e. - indivuality can lead to loss of a sense of larger [global] community...etc.).

Thanks for writing this entry, Graham.

daftyank said...

Dear Graham,
As an American who has lived in the UK for 7 years, I've heard just about every 'daft Yank' joke going for years. It rather disturbed me after 9/11 when the jokes all suddenly dried up, everyone was so kind and sympathetic and wonderful that after about two or three weeks of it I was ready to scream. For Godsake, please! No more! Just talk about the weather! And, of course, the anti-Yank jokes finally did creep back in, to my relief. And, as an American, I've seen a vast change in my country over the past decade that has made me infinitely sad. But I shouldn't worry too much about offending us Americans; we're pretty tough. But thanks, we love you guys, too.

Gert said...

The "anti-American" feelings which Graham made the centrepiece of his characteristically uncritical post, are never directed at the American people, its culture or values.

Although I've never lived in the US, I've visited twice and loved every minute of it.

What many Europeans like myself don't like about the US is what we see as a series of Foreign policy blunders by successive administrations, including the latest, GW II.

The US is also practically the only nation that has the power to make its ally Israel put an end to the Jewish/Palestinian conflict but the US constantly falters in its efforts which to us appear more "cosmetic" than anything else. The US has no qualms about acting (sometimes frighteningly) decisively but not when it comes to Israel. We see that as double standards.

Being critical of aspects of American realpolitik doesn't make one "anti-American".

In Britain some feel we should slaveshly uphold "pro-American" feelings because of the historical special relationship and the fact we too speak English (try learning another language, it changes your perspective on life).

I'm sorry, but I feel in no way obliged to approve of many aspects of America's role in the world. That doesn't however make me a "Yankee hater".

And where I'm from, things like the Lewinsky affair simply make us roll about laughing... But you guys nearly impeached "fellatio Bill"!

Graham said...

My feeling is that the petty last comment of this post negates a great deal of its intent to demonstrate that what most people perceive as anti american sentiments are purely political disagreements with US foreign policy. I do not think that equates to culturally ridiculing an entire nation because of the Lewinsky scandal.

Whatever said...

As an American who's visited Europe in Sept 04, I've felt the anti_american feelings of some. I enjoyed reading this post. Sadly, our foreign policy isn't always the wisest, it's best on good intent usually, but in retrospect doesn't always turn out the way we wise.
Interesting is the noting of America's backing of Israel. Israel exists as the result of failed British mandate policy of the post WW1 era! I wish someone wuld come up with a rational solution to that conflict. Throwing stones is without merit.

feral cat said...

I think the idea that there is a prevailing anti American sentiment in the UK is wholly wrong, there is like some commentented above a widening gap in terms of the difference in the British publics support of US foreign policy and the UK governments. The problem with the US stereotype and I quote from your friend “isolated, hamburger eating, religious zealots” tend to shout the loudest, even as I check these blogs I am shocked by the amount of worryinggly hard right wing sentiment, that often borders on zenophobic, homophobic, rascist propergander prentending to be conservatism and/or christianity. I do love the postive spirit of many americans and do think its something us in the UK should take from, we do tend to be a nation that likes to hold people down instead of boost them up, something ingrained in society by the class system. I don’t agree with a lot of current American policy, but one can disagree without being anti american, after all the abilty to respectfully disagree is one of the fundimental building blocks of freedom. I think if I was to critisise the US, there does seem to be this prevailing idea that if another nation disagree’s on foreign policy, they are anti amerercan, but sometimes the best friend is the one who speaks out when they feel your making a mistake and not the one who keeps quiet while you mess up.

kitkat1107 said...

thanks soo much. I am an american currently studying abroad in Germany and I too am often very hard on my own country. But at the end of the day I am proud to be where I am from and I aknowledge the potential for good and progress i see reflected in the faces and hearts of my friends, loved ones, and peers. It is simply frustrating sometimes to see the direction in which we head. We do have our problems but I heartily thank for you enjoying our country and seeing its good qualities. I am sincerely glad to hear you felt at home.