I decided today that I’d write about this fascinating topic (to me) because I am amazed to constantly see reactions these people have about me being an “American”.
for this image of how Americans view the world! Not that I necessarily agree… ]
Since arriving in Thailand I have had the pleasure to interact with people from all over the world. Approximately 12 million foreign visitors each year visit Thailand, some staying for as little as 3 days like I had one friend do. Others staying for years like I chose to do.
I’ve met most of these visitors at Buddhist temples and on trains. I also lived for a while in a house with an upstairs that was rented out to visitors the landlord picked up at the train station. I was able to have dinner with many of these visitors and talk for hours about the general state of the world, and what they’re doing in Thailand…
Usually a conversation will go for a little while before one or the other parties asks what country the other is from. I’m not good with accents, some Australian accents sound indistinguishable from the UK accents to me. I’m always curious to find out what life is like in another country so I’m usually the one that asks first. When they ask me and find out that I’m from America the person usually stops for a second. I can see the confusion on their faces.
‘From America?’, they ask.
‘Oh, I didn’t think you were from the US,” they’d typically say, or something to that effect.
At first, I didn’t find it strange since even in the USA I’d have people asking me where my accent is from. My accent? I didn’t think I had an accent. I’ve lived in the USA from 0-38 years old. At 18 I went to Hawaii and I had a lot of local Hawaiian, Portuguese, and Filipino/a friends that I spent time with. I also married a Canadian girl when I was 20 and she had a rather unique, almost French way of speaking where her voice would rise at the end of statements as if they weren’t statements -but tentative questions. They weren’t of course, they were statements, but she said them in a very gentle way. I think I picked that up somewhat because I believe that most statements aren’t unquestionable truths. Everything is open to debate. Sometimes when I speak with people I speak in this way.
But I’m a guy full of contrasts… sometimes, when I find I’m talking to someone that is trying to manipulate me through lies or tactics to reach the fulfillment of some hidden agenda (I don’t like hidden agendas), I expose them and we go from there. For some reason, something in my past makes me intolerable to hidden agendas.
Anyway, I digress…
So, my way of talking is usually not as forthright as other American males. I’m not as attached to what I’m saying. I allow for different interpretations and people that might disagree with what I’m saying. As a result, I sometimes get the question…
“Are you gay?”
Ha! No, I’m not gay, quite heterosexual. But, since my way of speaking isn’t like the typical American male I get these reactions from other Americans.
When I came here to Thailand and met people from Germany, Sweden, France, the UK, Ireland, and many other countries I found that I again got a reaction – one of disbelief sometimes, or, at the least – bewilderment.
I think it’s not possible that people from other countries pick up on my slight accent like some Americans were able to because it’s not that noticeable.
I began to question people that looked confused after I told them I was an American… Why are they confused? What doesn’t fit?
I got many reactions… but overall it seems that there is some generalization (maybe deserved?) about Americans that people from other countries have found to be true. At least among those that travel to Thailand.
Some people said it was the way I spoke. I didn’t speak like everything I said was an indisputable fact. I didn’t insist that my opinion was the only opinion that had value. I didn’t assume that I knew everything. I allowed for other possibilities. I wasn’t so sure of myself. Overtly confident. Brash. Cocky.
This is the idea these people had about Americans. They said American’s seem like they need nobody else. American’s think they can do it all themselves. They are supremely confident in themselves and what they know of the world and how it works. Which is funny to me because even I as an American know that we know VERY little about the world outside of the USA.
It’s true that we don’t think we need to know much about the outside world. Why would we think such a thing?
We live far from most of the other countries of the world, only Canada and Mexico are touching us. We know everything we need to know about them – we think. What do we know of Canada and Mexico? Virtually NOTHING, but that is what we think we need to know about them. They are virtually non-issues in our lives. We don’t have a need to know more on a daily basis. Nor do we think we need to know about Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, or the UK.
We don’t think we need to know because we see ourselves as self-contained. Self-sufficient. We’re not of course, we rely on countries all over the world for trade, advice, diplomatic solutions to problems, and a million other things.
But, to the average American family making $60,000 household income or less – we are oblivious to what’s going on outside our borders except what we read about Iraq, Iran, and Israel.
Really. That about sums up our worldview.
As Americans, we’re so wrapped up in our day to day living, survival for some, and seeking abundance for the rest, that we don’t see any need to spend time thinking about issues other countries have. If we don’t personally know any other citizens from foreign countries then we don’t know piss-all about their country.
That’s a weird thing… you know why?
Because Europeans know a hell of a lot about our country in comparison. But, not just our country, but, they grew up knowing a LOT more about all the countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East… since they were children they were aware that the world is a very big place and that each country affects the one next to it and the ones far away from it. They have a worldview that is so much more mature than our own limited American worldview.
I saw the truth of this when I was 18 years old in the Air Force stationed in Hawaii for 3 years and meeting people from different backgrounds… Hawaiians, Filipinos, Portuguese, Koreans, Japanese, Germans, Samoans, Fijians… a temporary stint in Korea for a few months and then visiting my future wife in Vancouver, British Columbia and her family a few times…
I remember being really excited that there were so many things going on in countries other than the USA. I was glad that what I had experienced in the USA wasn’t all there was in life. I was excited to know people from other countries and know what they did every day… how they lived… what was important to them.
I found that people in Canada knew SO MUCH about America and that I knew virtually NOTHING about their country. We share a HUGE border, and yet, I knew next to nothing about them.
I think as Americans we have a responsibility to increase our worldview. We need to interact with people from other nations and get a sense for what they think is important. What are their opinions on issues about the USA? You might be shocked.
When I was in the Air Force and maybe for some years after that I was under the impression that the USA was of one mind with nations across Europe… UK, West Germany, Belgium, Sweden, France, Italy, Spain, when was the last time we were at war with any of these countries? We must all be getting along fine. They are democratic, or some other form of citizen-controlled government at least in theory… They must love us, and we had no ill-will toward them as far as I could gather.
When I thought about a war between the USA and Russia during the cold-war I thought that it would be so silly for Russia to go to war with us because our “allies” – all of Europe except Russia, would be our partners in the war. I thought America had staunch allies all over the world. We’d done enough good for everyone, right?
Hmm, not sure.
Asking visitors from other countries about America’s “police the world” policy brought up some opinions that were clearly anti-USA. How could that be? Does the rest of the world want to fall to communism? To dictatorships? Does the world want to be held hostage by Iran, Iraq and the other oil saturated countries?
Apparently President Bush and his warring with Iraq has done some serious damage in the international community. Citizens of UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Australia (though not as much), and Sweden have all told me that they are at odds with the war, and particularly dislike President Bush for what they see as warmongering for oil.
Americans must understand that while what we do in the middle east affects us a little bit… it has the potential to bring mass chaos and war to the countries I listed. They are RIGHT THERE in the middle of it. Iraq and Iran are close neighbors. These countries have hundreds of thousands of immigrants from these countries living within their borders. In fact, they call those countries their homes – despite having emigrated from other countries.
Citizens of these and other countries fear strongly and have every right to, what America is doing in the Middle East.
Just so my fellow Americans know, people of other countries don’t necessarily think Americans have rays of sunshine exuding from their nether regions… They are afraid of America and it’s haphazard invasions and policing of the world – with or without international support.
Any other ideas about the “American attitude” and what it is?
Can anyone better explain what the attitude is, and why the world seems to be at odds with it?