Happy New Year! w/addendum
01 January 2009 | Brisbane, Australia
Happy New Year and best wishes for 2009.
What's on my mind as we start the new year? Well, a lot.
You might be sorry I finally decided to write. Maybe I just needed to put some things in print. So...
The following views are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of the rest of the crew of the s/v Radiance.
Addendum to previous posting:
I do not profess having perfect manners.
I think good manners can suffer when one becomes defensive.
To show good manners even when one is defensive is probably a sign of good upbringing, training, or breeding, possibly mixed with an even temperament.
I feel I have been put on the defensive by those I have met who carry definite assumptions about the United States and about Americans. I'm inserting here a key issue in international affairs. (Is the United States a sum of it's citizens, and is an American necessarily representative of the United States? In other words, what is the distinction between personal identity and national identity?) Another blog posting.
I sometimes make them even though I know they rarely stand up to close scrutiny.
I do not believe, however, that I would make statements like the following: "Don't most people in your county carry guns?", or "We have heard that Americans do things 'over the top'".
Like one, like many?
Steen, Malou and I went to a social gathering last month. I won't say what gathering because it might not be fair to that 'group of people' we went to see. Anyway, as Americans visiting Australia, we were guests, in a way, at this gathering. Within twenty minutes of our arrival, a man from the club told me the following story.
"I knew someone who worked in America. He came back (to Australia) with some stories... none of them good. He said while he was working there he met a woman from Boston who seemed educated; she was doing the New York Times crossword; and she said to him, 'So, if it's summer in Australia when it's winter in the U.S., then what month is it there now?'
Then he told me another story about one of his friend's American business contacts from Houston. The man from Houston was going to be moving to Australia with his wife and children for business reasons. The American apparently said on the phone to the Australian, that he hoped his kids would be able to pick up the new language ok.
The man telling me these stories thought they were very funny and for some reason assumed I would also. I didn't. I told him I would be quite surprised if either story had even a hint of truth. I thought to myself... even if they had been true, I fail to see why anyone would begin a conversation with a visiting American with such insulting material. I lost interest in conversing with this person after that.
Out and about:
Steen, Malou and I went out looking for a really good hamburger. We walked all over downtown looking for a promising restaurant or café. There are at least two McDonalds downtown, probably more, and I sometimes like McDonalds, but this day we were looking for what you might call a serious burger. Lunchtime was slipping away and we finally found a little café, with a counter inside and seats outside, that had burgers on the menu at a fairly decent price. I went in alone and ordered two cheeseburgers, a coke and a mocha. (Malou had fallen asleep on Steen's lap outside.) The girl behind the counter taking my order looked at me a little too long, so I clarified by ordering two hamburgers with cheese. (The menu board said hamburgers... and near the bottom said for cheese, add 80c.). Then another woman behind the counter came and stood beside the first girl and said to me with a very serious look, "We don't make McDonald-like cheeseburgers here."
I just gave her a blank stare back. Okay, I'm thinking, why would you say that to me?
All I could say was, "I'd like two of Your cheeseburgers", as if that hadn't been quite obvious since I had just ordered them. The place was full of customers waiting for their order. Apparently I was the only one speaking with an American accent, which apparently told the woman behind the counter that I would only like McDonald's cheeseburgers. And, no she wasn't trying to be friendly or funny. She was quite serious. I was glad we were eating outside because this minor little episode happened one week after meeting the insulting gentleman at the social gathering, and I was not really in the mood to be stereotyped. The burgers came and were gorgeous; exactly what we had wanted. At least that bit turned out all right.
You see, it's these little remarks, over and over, along with statements I've received from some cruisers that go something like, "Yes, I've known boats who've tried to stay away from the anchorages where the Americans were."
Can you imagine that remark in reverse; an American cruiser saying anything like that about boaters from another country? I can't.
So, I apologize for my bad manners. Everyone displays them sometimes, but I haven't recovered from the hurt I've received, (and I've left out the bad stuff), from careless and callous remarks about my country and my countrymen.
Is this a cyclical phenomenon, this Anti-Americanism? Maybe, but that doesn't justify it and it doesn't mean that when the cycle turns, if it does, that those interacting with Americans will be any more unbiased.
To end: of course, most of the cruisers and locals we met in the islands and elsewhere were positively wonderful. Should I just ignore the rest and not be affected by their words? No. Because this current Anti-Americanism is not based solely on our foreign policy, on our national stance on the environment, on Guantanamo Bay, on Iraq, on Israel. No, it's more overarching. Some of the negative remarks I've received have had nothing to do with our foreign policy. They touch on our culture, our television programs, our food, our physiques, our social policies, our educational systems, our clothing, our holiday traditions, and on and on.
I haven't quite worked out my thoughts on the possible dangers of this type of stereotyping, but I think it's dangerous.
Personally, I know the United States has some problems. What country doesn't? I know that we use more natural resources than we should. I have fought to change that. I could list many examples of national policies that I don't agree with, and of course, many that I do.
But, my words to those from other lands: Don't insult me; talk to me. Don't pre-judge me; get to know me. And don't think that just because I may not agree with every action of the United States, that I will think it's ok for anyone to insult my heritage. Simple manners would suffice.
So, what do you really think?
That's all for now.