Thursday, June 28, 2007

Winning the hearts and minds

Quickly, a few things referenced in a pub conversation I had last night:
- George Carlin's seven dirty words
- According to a recent USA Today story, Tijuana's murder rate is considerably lower than I stated. It is now down to one person killed every day. And only two kidnappings a week! Book your holidays now.

The highlight of the evening was having someone look me right in the eye and tell me that she hated Americans. I thought only Germans did that. Our friends across the North Sea are perfectly happy to state things so bluntly*: "You are American? There are 27 reasons I do not like Americans. I will list them for you..."

I find that I get to spend a lot of time talking about America these days. More so than when I lived in Portsmouth, I think. The Welsh are particularly regionalist in a nation-state of regionalists. I've pointed out before how eager Britons are to illustrate their differences with other Britons living 10 miles away. In Wales, and especially within the Welsh-language community, with its multiplicitous dialectical variances, that mindset is intensified. A big part of any conversation in Welsh is where you're from. This applies to everyone, not just outsiders, and location is often very specific. For example, here is an actual conversation from last night:
SARA: "So where are you living now?"
ME: "Here. In Cardiff."
SARA: "Where in Cardiff?"
ME: "Oh, up in Danescourt."
MAIR: "It's not really Danescourt, though, is it?"
CHRIS: "The Danescourt station's, like, two seconds away."
MAIR: "But it's not Danescourt. That's across the road. He lives in Radyr Way."
ME: "No one knows where Radyr Way is, though."
MAIR: "I do."

And then a friend of a friend told me that she hated Americans. That's a little less common. Although it is exhausting to talk about where I'm from all the time, most people don't have that many bad things to say about the place. New York is lovely, Florida's lovely. Once met a person from Missouri, or maybe it was Kansas, or Idaho, or one of those places, and they were lovely, too. People have their criticisms, many of which are valid, but for the most part I don't run into too many individuals who stare at me and tell me that they can't stand me because of their perception of who I am.

I always feel stupid and false when forced to defend the United States. It's not a place I'm particularly proud of at the moment. But it's where I'm from, and in Wales, where location is identity, criticism of place is criticism of the individual.

I run into that criticism from time to time and I do my best not to respond to it negatively. Like a lot of things, it's usually misunderstanding. For example, it struck me that this girl didn't get American sarcasm. That's not to say that she doesn't understand sarcasm, but that she doesn't understand it coming from Americans. Sarcasm depends a lot on your understanding of the speaker. If you think of me as an ignorant, oversure ass-hole who revels in violence, you probably are going to miss the joke when I tell you that San Diegans take tremendous pride in the fact that their police force has the highest number of officer-involved shootings in the country.

Her question of whether I knew anyone who had killed a person reminded me of when I first moved to Minnesota and someone asked if we had cars in Texas.

But we all do that, I suppose. I have trouble accepting that French people can be funny. I base my knowledge of Germany on having met only eight actual Germans. And I sometimes find myself wondering whether people from North Wales are retarded**.

It worked out in the end, though. I got a hug as I was leaving the pub (the look on Chris' face when that happened was priceless). I'm winning the hearts and minds, one heart and mind at a time. I think the U.S. government should send me a stipend.

* I'm not the only to notice. It was pointed out in an episode of "The Simpsons" once. In this clip, a German is in a hostel, listing what's wrong with America. It is scarily familiar to an actual experience I had several years ago, when a German was telling me how the European Union would crush the United States.

**That's a joke -- put there because the majority of my friends here are Gogs (people from North Wales) and I'm starting to pick up elements of their insufferable dialect in my speech.


Kelley Cope said...

Hi, Chris! Interesting blog. I would say that sarcasm is not meant for the written word. It seems nonexistent without proper inflection!

Hope all is well with you and Rachel!

Bugail Aberdyfi said...

That's an interesting post Chris. I had the same experience of two South Walians expecting me to defend/explain the actions of someone living in Caernarfon once.
See here:

What I am trying to say is that we all get it.

Chris Cope said...

Exactly, Bugail. It's one of the more unique things about Wales, I think -- this obsession with place. I've been told that Spaniards are very similar.

Monica said...

This happened to me in Amsterdam, with a rugby player from Coventry. After telling him where I was from, he asked me where that was, to which I jokingly replied, "Washington, D.C.? The city that runs the whole world?" He literally got in my face and SHOUTED at me until I could finally explain to him that I was taking the piss. Because I'm kind of small, and he was massive and drunk, it was extremely scary. I deserve a stipend too.

Carwyn Edwards said...

Try this next time!! We saved your assess in World war 1 and 2 or the english would be speaking german by now and you taffies would be in gas chambers!!
Without the USofA you wouldn't have decent movies to watch and annoying disney cartoons to entertain your kids!
2 million of us are Welsh Americans do you hate them as well!!!

Bugail Aberdyfi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bugail Aberdyfi said...

Those people remind me of the People's Front of Judea.
"Yeah except for the Marshall Plan, defeating the Nazis, internet,computer,IPODs. What have they done for us?"

Anonymous said...

hi, it's ffion. could you please remove my name from this post, thank you.

it's nice to know i had such an effect on you however!