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...a sweatshop of moxie

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The American Way

Remember how I said that, to the best of my knowledge, only one of my cousins had given a donation for Katrina Victims, at my Blogathon behest?

I owe my cousin Portia a very abject apology.

On the off, off-chance you are reading this, a thousand pardons, my dear kinswoman. Your heart is as large as my nature is mistrusting.

And in fact, due to her email which I read Wednesday, we bandied back and forth about a topic always at the surface of my emotions: my love of America.

To people around the world, who have an inferiority/superiority complex towards Americans, I give my unending sneers.

I find such people riddled with personality complexes; very thinly disguised ones at that.

I have no doubt they can justify their views on what they are led to believe the United States does around the world, which in their opinion, the negative far outweigh the positive.

But in base fact, all human beings (at least the cunning ones) know how easy it is to repeat innuendo and spread bigotry by twisting situations to suit their own ends.

Perhaps my own mistrust in my family has to do with this, as it's sad for me to admit this, but almost all, to a man and woman, young and old, dislike the United States.

Oh, they visit the US frequently.

They think New York City is fantastic.

They beg for Fulbright Grants to come to study in American Universities. Some have lived even here for a while, albeit at this moment, I'm the only cousin who does so.

But they continue to feel superior to the US in so many unsubtle ways.

Take, for example, Portia's recent discussion with her brother about America's "throwaway society", which she told me about in that email.

It had come to pass that when her brother was married recently, he had been given part of my grandparents' large store of family linen, delicately edged with Valenciennes lace, and embroidered in gold-thread with the family crest.

(Obviously my love of luxury must be an inherited trait)

One day, I too will be given my share of it, when I marry. And I am thankful for that.

But it had also come to pass that before he was given these fine linens for his wedding, they were sent out for repair.

You see, they are beautiful, but some date to before the 1920's. Anything that old needs regular upkeep, by able hands no longer available in one's own household.

So when this cousin remarked about this situation at a dinner party, an American guest piped up to ask, "Why don't you just buy a new set of bedsheets?".

A practical enough question, right? Dripping in honesty too, one must own.

Now, if there is anything the county set dislike, is sincerity.

Sincerity is obvious, and nothing obvious is sophisticated.

This lack of sophistication is thought to display, at best, disingenuousness. At worst, country bumpkin stupidity.

These then, are treated accordingly -- made fun of, because that's what hayseeds are there for, to mock them and keep one amused with the sure knowledge one is not like them.

And for these people, Americans are the ultimate unsophisticates.

They say the first thing that comes to their mind. They don't pause to think what kind of effect their words will have. They have no regard for delicate sensibilities in that careful choreography that is known as life.

Americans bulldoze in, expecting the whole world to have the same aboveboard, can-do attitude. Why not, they say, it's easy! Try it.

But back to the bedclothes.

Of course, the person who asked that simple question was made fun of repeatedly behind his back the next day.

"Typical Yank, really. Thinks the whole world can be bought."
"Obvious American person. Lives in a throwaway society, and thinks that's as should be."
"No solidity. No permanency. No tradition."

I don't need to be told specifics of what they said. I know them. I've heard them all before.

I won't attack them for thinking this way. But I will attack them for not having the sophistication of thinking outside their small, insignificant little worlds.

Would that they were repeated only amongst a certain class, one could easily dismiss this attitude as so much elitist claptrap.

But it's not that simple. Nothing in life is. This attitude prevails amongst all classes of people around the world.

I wonder if it occurs to them, that because Americans have a more "throwaway" existence, that is, the world of plastics, not cut crystal; the world of leased cars, not family heirloom clunkers; the world where a television set, once broken, is thrown away at the side of a road, by the hundredth-fold...

...is why Americans have an endless stream of ideas, which keep this world in their grip?

It is only a society which prizes renewability, or the new over the old, which allows the old to be redesigned, and therefore, possibly improved.

This quality feeds off of itself, too.

Wanting the latest thing, the newest gadget, the better object than one had before, leads to greater expectations of quality.

Progress, it is believed, is always bigger, better, newer, younger, more vital, less stodgy.

And obviously, unlike certain other societies who crave the latest thing, it's just not a question of making an object smaller, and reverse-engineering it by the tonne.

It's about fresh ideas, that capture the imagination, and soon become indispensible to our world (or at least attempt to).

To a society where continuity is considered sound, safe and solid (coincidentally, the mantra my old Headmistress repeated as what she expected us to become), the brash Americans, with their renewable ideas, and insouciance towards the venerable, are a bucket of cold water.

Somewhere deep down they suspect these people have it right, but oh how they hate it anyway.

But back to the bedclothes.

I know there is yet another reason why my cousin had them repaired, and didn't just register his name at Fortnum's for a new set as wedding gifts, as an American might've done in London.

Because it shows qualities of character which go unmentioned in Britain, so unmentioned that those from back home who are reading this, will be cringing soon. Dissection is never easy.

It's about thrift. It's about lack of ostentation. It's about discretion. And it may even be about simple eccentricity.

English eccentrics are known the world over, and yet, no one seems to understand why they exist in such quantities.

It's simple. I'm the not first to observe this, either, I'm sure.

Eccentricity is an escape valve for those hemmed in by societies' expectations.

And it's the singular difference between Americans and the English in temperament.

Where Americans tend to be rather individualistic en masse, in private they have a certain similar flavour, that oft-mentioned "averageness" most people come away thinking about Americans, almost as if the latter condoned the maverick, as long as there was greater conformity deep inside.

This is the polar opposite of us.

Our society favours, even indulges, quirks in private, so long as there is greater conformity in public.

Politeness, lack of ostentation, discretion. Nothing too overtly different marks each of these qualities.

These are traits of a people who are desperate to blend in the background, comforted by the knowledge they are exceptional when no one is looking.

But back to the bedclothes.

Once upon a time, I used to lie on top of them, happy they weren't kept locked away for a "special" occasion as many another family might've done.

They were there to be used, to be appreciated, to be revelled in.

No plastic covers over them, as so many people around the world preserve their objects as if to forestall their certain erosion.

And implicit in this lack of concern for the degradeable is the belief that it'll last forever, if you keep it up.

People think Americans may sometimes act as if they invented everything around them, and therefore, to whom much is owed for their brilliance, but it's the British who taught them the importance of never being satisfied with what one has.

You mend that which is threadbare, yes, but you improve it whilst you're at it -- you just don't let it go to pot.

...I wonder when I'll get those bedclothes.

I wonder if I should have them mended in England first, before they come to me here.

Either way, I think, they'll look beautiful on my new bed and mattress, as only things which are ageless can upon the new -- because they compliment each other, if only people would allow them to.

As long as I have those bedclothes, I'll never forget my past, just because my present is so pleasurable.

I think that's rather sophisticated of me, don't you think?


  • To people around the world, who have an inferiority/superiority complex towards Americans, I give my unending sneers.

    I love that line! I came to the USA as a child and I will forever be thankful to my parents for instilling in me a love of both Cuba and of the USA. Americans are wonderful people who are envied around the world in spite of any good things that they do for others. Some of the worse culprits of this are Latin Americans who live right here in the USA, benefit from American programs and yet bad mouth this country at every turn.

    God Bless America!

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Thu Sep 08, 09:24:00 am GMT-4  

  • Was here after a long pause to find some excellent substane.

    By Blogger Shirazi, at Thu Sep 08, 10:03:00 am GMT-4  

  • Ouch! pretty tough on the homies. So that is the sense you get that even Brits don't like us much? I could understand the frogs but the Brits?

    Peter from http://www.wiresfromthebunker.com/ seems to like us....

    Thanks for the very insightful read.

    By Anonymous Wayne M, at Thu Sep 08, 04:57:00 pm GMT-4  

  • I love that line!

    Thank you, Cheito. :)

    I came to the USA as a child and I will forever be thankful to my parents for instilling in me a love of both Cuba and of the USA.

    I think that's the biggest misconception down here in Florida about Cubans. People see the profuse display of Cuban flags, and think Cuban Americans just care for Cuba.

    Some of the biggest American patriots I know are Cubanitos. :)

    Americans are wonderful people who are envied around the world in spite of any good things that they do for others.

    The thing of it is, those in the Anglosphere are unduly guilty.

    You think Spaniards kick themselves over what they did in South America? The Portuguese? THE FRENCH!?? More on them later.

    No way, Jose. ;)

    Not, at least, to the extent that we do, and when you do, you open yourself to criticism based on that attitude.

    Some of the worse culprits of this are Latin Americans who live right here in the USA, benefit from American programs and yet bad mouth this country at every turn.

    A friend of mine is a recent UM Law grad. She once raised her voice at a Latin American woman who spent almost all class-time bandying back and forth with the prof (who leaned Left), about the evilness of the US.

    Finally my friend, who isn't politically-minded, told her to shut up. And if she hated the US so much, why was she in the US??

    She shut up (for a while).

    God Bless America!

    And keep her always...

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Sep 09, 12:59:00 am GMT-4  

  • Was here after a long pause to find some excellent substane.

    Thank you and welcome back, Shirazi. :)

    In fact, I went to your blog a few times, once to tell you I was back from my mini-blog hiatus, and the other more recently where you described a lyrically beautiful train journey around Pakistan.

    Actually, I was going to use that post as a springboard to a memory I have, not of Pakistan, but in similar flavour and tone.

    Stay tuned. :)


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Sep 09, 01:02:00 am GMT-4  

  • Ouch! pretty tough on the homies.

    Originally I started tough, but then I finished more charitably, I thought.

    I'm hardly likely to dislike my own, and what you are seeing has more to do with the attitudes I perceive in my own "milieu" than anything in wider British society.

    So that is the sense you get that even Brits don't like us much?

    As I said, it's localised for me.

    If I had to overgeneralise, which is always dangerous, I would say the very working classes, and the very upper-classes both have their reasons for disliking Americans.

    But the British middle-class like them. May not go around saying it, but they do.

    I could understand the frogs but the Brits?

    Wayne, although I have French friends who tell me it's not bothersome to them, I don't like calling people names like "frogs".

    When one is trying to make the point that wholesale disregard and dislike is bad for people, it helps if you don't fall for the same traps. :D

    Peter from http://www.wiresfromthebunker.com/ seems to like us....

    Oh absolutely. Again, it's relative to each person, or particular group.

    Here's one quick example.

    I had an American friend whom I invited over, when I was just a wee little girlie.

    My grandfather, who loveddddd Africa and Brazil, and absolutely decried anything American, greeted her nicely, and was perfectly gracious to to her.

    Until he pointed out that our home's foundation in Oxon was built in the early 1400's,

    "Before your country was even discovered".

    Gauche, at best. Condenscending, at worst.

    Thanks for the very insightful read.

    Thank you for returning to the blog! I will check out Qanta soon. :)

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Sep 09, 01:09:00 am GMT-4  

  • "Before your country was even discovered"

    It's not just the words. I'll never forget the sneering attitude, and look of pity given this poor American heathen by granddad.

    I loved him. But he was a pompous snob at times.


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Sep 09, 01:11:00 am GMT-4  

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