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January 02, 2006


Eh... not so much

Well, I think Janet was rude and presumptuous to assume you felt exactly the same as she did. And as someone who now has in-laws living in the flyover states, I can't stand people who assume Midwesterners are all Fox-watching mouth-breathing idiots. Sure, some are, and so are some people who live in "blue" states like New Jersey and Philadelphia. And some are diehard Democrats.

I think her Bush-bashing was more trying to impress your other traveling companions and "rise above" what she perceives as typical American mouth-breathing Fox-watchers.

When I did my junior year abroad in the UK, one of the environmental students tried to debate me, starting off did I know that Bush 41 was the only world leader to not sign the new environmental standards bill? I said yes, and I thought it was shameful. That sure took the wind out of her sails. There are Europeans who see Bush and think he represents all of us. I'd be happy to disabuse any non-USAian of that notion.

That said, I probably would only do it in response to a direct question, not just bring it up over Corn Flakes at breakfast.


My first thought is that Janice is of that particularly annoying breed of native Californian who has never been outside a big coastal city, and assumes that all worthwhile human beings live within a hundred miles of the ocean. I invite her to take her big mouth and pea brain to Orange County or Modesto for a while, to learn about how 'liberal' all Californians are, and then to spend time in 'flyover' cities like Chicago, Austin and Madison.


In this instance, it seemed like you followed Mark Twain's advice: "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

The thing is, is being outspoken about America's faults a trait that would endear citizens of other countries to us, in spite of what citizens of those countries think about our current conduct in the world? I'm not sure that's always the case.


(I pressed "Post" too fast.)

What if some outspoken conservative was on the same trip and started bashing other countries for being too socialist, too liberal, too anti-Bush and the like? That would've been way too ironic.


I rarely follow that bit of Twain's advice, Rhesa, in my own land. Or my classroom!


Gee, I don't like hearing such anti-Americanism here on our on soil, probably even more so than had I heard it overseas. Loudmouthed ignorance never truly finds a home. Opinion is always just opinion only.

Emily H.

Oddly, for me the situation's a bit reversed, as a very liberal Canadian living in the US; I feel much more guarded about my dislike of the administration than my equally liberal friends, because I feel that their criticisms are coming from a fundamental place of patriotism, and while I like the US fairly well, I don't have any patriotic feelings for it; and that makes me feel very awkward about criticizing the country.


Eh: "Well, I think Janet was rude and presumptuous to assume you felt exactly the same as she did. And as someone who now has in-laws living in the flyover states, I can't stand people who assume Midwesterners are all Fox-watching mouth-breathing idiots. Sure, some are, and so are some people who live in 'blue' states like New Jersey and Philadelphia. And some are diehard Democrats."

Nice job. In trying to dispel a stereotype ("Midwesterners are all idiots"), you merely succeeded in perpetuating a different stereotype ("Pro-Bush people are idiots").

Kudos to Hugo for not believing he's above people who happen to hold views disparate from his own.



"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

Here's a good exercise for you teachers out there: contrast the above saying with THIS one:

"The person who asks a question is a fool for five minutes. The person who never asks a question is a fool for life."



I lived in the UK for a number of years and got tired of the constant America-bashing I endured every time I opened my mouth and exposed my North American accent. I had to patiently explain that simply by being American did not mean I was crude, rich, or eager to bomb the middle east and that our country represents and welcomes a variety of opinions. There is a certain brand of left-wing in the UK for which America is the evil empire and they pissed me off. So I can share Hugo's sense in wanting to defend my country when I am overseas and wanting also NOT to be the "ugly American".

Janet may have gone too far in trying to explain that she is NOT represented by the current Administration's policies,and I think she did, but on the other hand, I can understand her defensiveness in trying to distance herself from a government that currently practices torture and spies on its own citizens and that has lost a lot of its shining-city-on-the-hill image abroad. In her way, she was also trying to point out that the government's policies are not necessarily hers.

In this, as iin all things, a middle ground is preferable. Somewhere between "Amurika, right or wrong!" and an anti-Americanism that rivals the most loony of Britains left wing fringe.

Roz, from London

My US friends - the ones I know in person - speak up and distance themselves the administration. I'm glad. It stops me from being unutterably depressed, and speaking to them acts as a reminder not to unthinkingly condemn anyone just for having a North American accent. "Hey, some of my best friends are gay - er - I mean American" ;-).


I agree with Hugo - people traveling abroad should be far more careful what they say about America to non-Americans than what we say when debating amongst ourselves. America-bashing Americans provide cheap entertainment for America-hating or America-envying Europeans, but they don't do much to help matters.


I think in attempting to somehow 'protect' the US abroad by not speaking ill of it, you're perhaps ignoring the worldwide impact of your governments foreign policy choices. The reason that people across the rest of the globe comment so heavily on America is that what your government does affects all of us. If Mugabe's actions had as much impact in the UK as Bush's, I'm sure we'd be accused of being Anti-Zimbabwe. As it is, we shamefully ignore the human rights tragedies there, cos they don't impact us.

The influence that the US carries abroad is actually terrifying to a lot of Brits - perhaps because it reminds us of the British Empire and we're only too well aware of our own history of profiteering from murder, genocide and slavery. We see the same kind of international conquest happening, only this time it's within the jurisdiction of the WTO/World Bank/IMF - unelected bodies forming international trade laws to favour the rich. So as a result, we feel we are entitled to comment on US politics due to us having a hefty stake in the decisions your electorate makes, and the ramifications of those.

In the light of that, I find it refreshing when I meet Americans who are honest about their own country's strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps your travel companion was just embarrassed about what she saw of the US image abroad and wanted to distance herself from it.

FWIW, most people I know are capable of separating out the insidiousness of 'America PLC' with both the will and personality of its people - while I am vehemently opposed to so much of what the US government does, I rarely meet an american I don't like, many of the most inspiring people in my life are Americans and whenever I visit (I'll be in California in January) I come back inspired to be more upbeat, more positive, and to feel like I can do whatever it is I want to do... I just need to balance it with some consideration for the ramifications of those actions... ;o)

Happy New Year, Hugo


It would bother me, but for other reasons. (First of all, the voting behavior assumptions are extremely incorrect. It's urban vs. rural, first and foremost. Who votes more Democratic, sunny Orange county or inner-city Cleveland? Please. The coastal thing bothers me because it mistakes correlation for causation in an obvious and highly problematic way.)

But that aside, I don't worry too much about saying bad things about America abroad as trying to absolve yourself from any responsibility by saying it's "those people," not me. Bush is, for better or (much, much) worse, my President too, and I'm part of the political culture that produced him. I'm not going to pretend to defend him to outsiders in a sort of 'closing the ranks' way, but I'm not going to try to pretend it's something I have nothing to do with, and no responsibility to bear for it. In providing that narrative, Janet is fulfilling another anti-american stereotype unwittingly.


So as a result, we feel we are entitled to comment on US politics

I don't think anyone is complaining about people from other countries talking about our politics with us--especially if those people are equally open to discussions of their own countries' politics. (Just because America is the 800-pound gorilla doesn't mean everybody else is powerless.)

That's far different than the gleeful America-bashing that others engage in (and, I'm sorry, I've noticed this primarily among Brits) pretty much no matter what we do or who's in power; even if we have a wonderful President, old ills can always be hurled in our faces. I don't see the point of discussing anything with such people, much less putting on a "Really, we're the GOOD Americans!" song-and-dance to try and win their approval.

The Happy Feminist

As an American growing up overseas, I was always very conscious of being a representative of my country. As such, I always tried to present myself as polite and informed, and to focus discussions of my country on its positive aspects.

That's not to say that I would never speak critically to non-Americans about U.S. policies, but I would certainly avoid bashing the culture of an entire section of our country as Janice did. In fact, I would avoid that on principle no matter what, but it seems worse when a person is perpetuating negative and false stereotypes about Americans to an overseas listener. I know exactly how you feel, Hugo: I posted recently about cringing as I watched the Green Day concert DVD in which an entire stadium of British people chanted, "Don't wanna be an American idiot!"


That's far different than the gleeful America-bashing that others engage in (and, I'm sorry, I've noticed this primarily among Brits) pretty much no matter what we do or who's in power

No need to apologise - I have no sense of national pride whatsoever, certainly no need to defend 'Brits' from an anecdotally observed trend... I do think that Brits in general find American patriotism utterly infathomable, and as such tend to take the piss out of rather a lot. The idea that something can be 'unamerican' or 'anti-american' is a uniquely American notion - no-one ever talks about something or someone being 'unitalian' or 'unenglish' - to many people overseas, it seems to stem from an almost pathological sense of self-importance, as though there is a set of universally applicable marvellous traits and ethics and thoughts that can be encapsulated under the banner 'american'.

That's probably why so many outside the US respond so well to Americans who are disparaging of their own government's foreign policy.

But you're right, it's certainly not a uniquely american situation - I lived in Scotland for a couple of years, and found myself distancing myself from the appalling behaviour of the English to the Scots over the centuries. Same in France - being English is something one feels the need to apologise for...

Col Steve

Hugo -
Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year.

I agree with your statement (and XRLQ's comment). "I try and be mindful of that, and I avoid being either prideful or apologetic concerning my country."

There's a vast difference from talking about "America" writ large and the policies of the American government. The complexities and nuances of issues (let alone what elements are indeed factual) make problematic "the point of discussing anything with such people" (to quote Mythago). I'm not advocating avoiding meaningful discussion, but, as Happy Feminist notes, superficial and blanket conversations tend to promote or reinforce existing stereotypes. I can easily understand why you were annoyed.

Besides, much more fun to steer the discussion about the Chinese...

From the CS Monitor:

However, catering to China's newly rich has its downside, though most Thais are too polite to say so publicly. Just as brash Americans attract glances from Parisian sophisticates, Chinese tourists have acquired a reputation in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia as loud, pushy bumpkins with table manners that leave much to be desired.

Even tour operators concede that their Chinese customers can be rude and bossy when they hit the road.

"They're not very cultured, and they've just started making money, so when they leave their country I'm afraid they act like big shots," says Ren Jingli, a Beijing travel agent who escorts groups to Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia.


for some reason, i always thought that "remove all doubt" line was from abe lincoln. huh.

and that's really interesting that you're a dual national, hugo. i don't know if i just haven't been a long-enough-time reader, but i didn't know that. learn something new every day, right?

and thus concludes my two largely irrelevant points.


end italics.


I agree with you. I love the US, though I don't always agree with its policies. Your description of the situation being akin to defending your family to outsiders while admitting to its flaws from within are quite apropos. We have a good country - fertile land, lots of freedom, the ability of women to wear trousers and a bare head, endless choices in the grocery stores and elsewhere - we have a lot to be thankful for. Clean water. The ability to have whatever idea occurs to you. The people who bash the US piss me off. They certainly have the right to do so, but man, they make me mad. Go live somewhere else, apologist. Try it.


I lived in Ireland for 2-1/2 on assignment for my company. I noticed that the Irish would pretty much expect Americans to blather on and on and on about how great things were "back home", and you could sort of sense them "tensing up" when they knew what was coming. Some of my colleagues would travel over for there for meetings and couldn't resist the urge to brag about home.

I found that once they learned that I would much rather discuss IRELAND and find out about THEIR country (a fascinating one indeed!), and not join the ranks who would just continue to bore them with what they've already heard 10,000 times, they were quite surprised and pleased, and much more honest and open about themselves.

And isn't that why we go abroad? To learn about others, rather than to teach them about us? They can come to the US if they really want to know.


(should read "2-1/2 years")

The Happy Feminist

That's a fantastic point, Scarbo. Often the most effective way to represent your country positively when abroad is to show that one is informed and/or interested in the issues faced in other countries.
I think that wins a lot more points than bashing your own country heedlessly.

Rebecca E

My father has done a good deal of traveling abroad for business, and it seems like the best thing he's been able to do to avoid being the "Ugly American" stereotype is to be the person that he is--taking an interest in the language and culture of the country he's in and treating people with respect.

He's had people tell him that before they met him, their ideas of Americans were based on JR Ewing and Homer Simpson. I suppose that we've inundated the world with so much of our popular culture, it's not surprising that we're judged by it. Others here have had good things to say about the balance between bashing, apologizing, and arrogance, and I don't really have anything to add on that account.

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