Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Yanqui pontification

Cardiff University's student newspaper wrote to me the other day because they are doing a story on whether US citizens encounter any prejudice over here. I was amused by my response and since they almost certainly wouldn't use all of it, I'll put it here:

"I personally have not ever experienced anything that I would describe as prejudice. Britons hear the American accent and it's an instant conversation starter. It sets me out as different but not too different. They tell me that they've been to Florida (seemingly all of you have, or are planning to go), and suddenly I've got a new friend who's buying me beer. No complaints.

Part of the reason for this is that the connection between the United Kingdom and the United States is much stronger and closer than most Britons care to admit. Have you ever been to Sioux Falls, South Dakota? There's no need, because it looks just like the Talbot Green retail park in Llantrisant, which looks like the Silverlink retail park in Newcastle. Cardiff Bay looks just like Mermaid Quay in Portsmouth, which looks just like the bay area in San Diego, California. This similarity extends all the way down to the individual: with the exception of the perception of America as a Bible-thumping nation, most criticisms of the United States can be applied to the United Kingdom. You are also consumer-driven over-eaters who enjoy making fun of Germans.

To some extent, the wide-brush perception of Americans that Britons hold comes from Americans themselves. In fact, if Wales is different from England, along the same ideological lines, the United States could be broken into hundreds of different little nations. I was born in Texas, which itself could probably be split into at least six distinct groups. But the "melting pot" mentality still holds for us -- we are a single people because we say we are. And to many Americans, members of my family among them, to suggest that all Americans -- all 300 million of us -- are NOT the same from shore to shore runs dangerously close to treason or communism or some other bad thing that they warned us about when we were kids.

The perception of Americans at the moment is a negative one, but it's a perception that's not entirely undeserved. In retrospect, Iraq has not been nearly as much fun as we thought it would be. And we show a frustrating lack of respect for the environment, dissimilar cultures and people without money.

All that said, I will occasionally spot a certain eagerness here to throw down the "The United States Is Fucking The World" card. George W. Bush is not Hitler. He's a silly man who makes bad decisions and keeps bad friends, but he is not the evil that Queen Street kids with clipboards would have you believe. And from time to time, I think that people have trouble hearing the words coming from my mouth because they hear them in an American accent. What they hear me saying is based on their assumption of what they'd expect me to say as an American. It is assumed that I am somehow incapable of understanding certain things because I know the lyrics to "Star Spangled Banner."

But I don't feel prejudiced by it. People will sometimes take the piss or misunderstand me, but I take it all in stride. You're only jealous because Jesus likes us more."

10 comments:

bryan torre said...

Trying not to laugh out loud in my client's office...

Annie Rhiannon said...

Brilliant.

Carwyn Edwards said...

I'm going to over generalize here.
They seem to me two types of Americans. The ones with passports (Mostly Democrats!) and ones who don't (Who believe it's unpatriotic to go on vacation overseas - Republicans!)

The anti American Brits hate the US government and it's foreign policy but love Disney and Hollywood!!
and As a Welshman over in USofA I have had no prejudice comments as a foreigner here, mostly because they don't understand what I say and have no idea where is Wales!!! You do feel like a consumer over here not a citizen and if you not spending money and getting into debt then again your not a good Uncle Sam supporter!!!

Peggi Rodgers said...

Well you're doing better than me, Chris, I couldn't remember the words to the Star Spangled Banner whilst I was over there. LOL

I think Carwyn pretty much nailed it - that expresses my feelings exactly.
But I'll add that I don't think the commercialism in the UK is anywhere near as bad as it is here in the US.

Annie Rhiannon said...

I hate it when the statistic "90% of Americans don't have passports!" is used as mileage by Brits to prove that "we" are somehow less ignorant than "them".

We need passports to get across the frigging channel, is it any wonder we have them? And most of us have never left Europe anyway!

Curly said...

Which part do you think they'll use?

"I don't feel prejudiced by it"?

Chris Cope said...

Chris -- Probably. Gair Rhydd isn't exactly the gold standard of journalism.

Crystal said...

i am shocked. how come when i go to new york and open my mouth, they are a-holes to me?

i need to visit cardiff instead.
could use some beer today.

Jim Downey said...

Spot on. Trackback for you here: http://www.brentrasmussen.com/log/node/1366

Jim Downey

virgomonkey said...

I don't know... I get as pissed off at Americans who stereotype the French and says crude things about them as I do for being an American.

I am automatically thought to be a typical, nationalistic, paranoid, arrogant, fat, lazy, greedy, racist, spoiled-rich, slutty, ignorant, stupid, humorless, vulgar, loud, obnoxious, gum-chewing, carbon-emitting, baby-killing, flag-waving, and self-centered Neanderthal American - just based on my place of birth alone.

With that said, I do find bigotry, collectivism, and stereotypes of any kind unjustifiable and undeserved. You have a good attitude about it, but for some reason, it irks me.