On the internet, the self-obsessed are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the bloggers, who say crazy shit; and the readers, who take them up on it. These are their blogposts.
Which is to say, welcome to 25 Posts in Search of an Author, or, What Happened When Rooks Decided We Needed More “Likes” and Shit Started Getting Real. Once upon a time on Facebook, I said that the first twenty five people to like the Res Ipsa Etc. facebook page (Dooooo it.) would get a post on the topic of their choice authored by yours truly. Slowly but surely, topics have begun rolling in, proving once again that our readership is likely as diverse in their interests as RIE’s authors. As such, I figured it was probably time to hit the ground running. Each of these posts will likely have some variation on this spiel (if not, you know, this exact spiel), as well as the requesting party and original topic prompt as sent to Rooks/me/whatever the third person is hard. Without further ado, then . . .
Resolved: A post about the most inaccurate and offensive misconceptions foreigners have about “American” culture.
And requested by a foreigner to boot. Well, this should be entertaining. After soliciting my cache of foreign friends – I keep them in the glove compartment of my massive American vehicle (see #10) – I’ve compiled the following list of ten oft-heard yet debatable assertions about the population of that one upstart nation with the aggressive flag tendencies, complete with juicy stereotypes and under-informed assumption. (No, we haven’t cornered the market on that . . . yet. Lemme check on my fancy phone bought with my excess gobs of money; I need to look up the price on Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice anyway.) As an added bonus, I’m going to try (successfully!) to only use images that come up if one Google Image searches the phrase “America fuck yeah.” Consider them the counterpoint, the built-in rebuttal to all the, “Hey [various foreign nationals]! We’re really not that bad! Calm down!” science I’m about to drop on y’all. To wit:
Ok, you’ve got the idea, the captions and hover-over text are pretty awesome, if I do say so myself (I do), and Juli gets 10 things. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand GO!
1. Americans have pretty much co-opted the word “American.”
Well, I mean, ok fine. I’ll start on one that doesn’t work out so well for us. No, the United States does not even begin to comprise the whole of the Americas. Yes, Americans have functionally jacked the word American in such a manner that it is only used to refer to denizens of the the lower 48+2, not to a resident of the Americas, which would be loads more accurate. (But then, that’s a thing we maybe do all the time; see also, “mid-westerner.”)
In fairness, however, sources tell me that while many Americans refer to themselves as Americans, other folks, of both the conscientious resident of the US variety as well as the not at all from the US variety, often refer to Americans as all sorts of things, including “gringos,” “USAmericans,” “those incredibly loud tourists,” and the like. Also, I’d like to point out that even some Americans will not refer to other Americans as American if their behavior is believed to be un-American by the standard of whichever American is classifying Americans, not to mention how many current Americans would not have been Americans by the standards of past Americans in previous iterations of “America.” Clearly it’s not like our own internal relationship with the nomenclature is breezy and uncomplicated. Let’s just chalk this one up to bad habit and Manifest Destiny, shall we, and not let such things continue unquestioned. Yes? Good.
2. The phrase “(US)American culture” is oxymoronic.
Hey! That’s mean, foreign peoples! (And false!) USAmericans have tons of culture, as well as cultures – to make us out as a monolithic entity is just as short-sighted as you claim we regularly are. Now, non-US party peoples, you may not appreciate or find merit in many aspects of that culture, but let’s be real. Wiki says culture is generally used in three senses:
- Excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture
- An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning
- The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group
That’ll do – it’s a blogpost, not a dissertation. If the argument is that USAmericans lack culture type 1, I’d disagree (and I’ll be coming back to that). If the argument is that we lack culture type 2, stop being disingenuous. If the argument is that we lack culture type 3 as a cohesive and consistent, uniform, easily identified and recognizable system, you’re right, we do . . . but I’d challenge you to find any country that doesn’t share the lack. I mean, I bet there’s even a dissident on something in Vatican City State. Of course, there’re those who’d assert that USAmerican culture is basically a matter of theft from other cultures, but what are we supposed to do? We’ve never exactly been homogenous; cultures are basically being incorporated and intermingled – implicitly and/or explicitly – all the time, and have been for much if not all of our history. The melting pot may be bullshit, but we’ve at least got a seriously hearty stew going on here. (And exactly whose hands are clean on that one, anyway?) So going back to type 1 . . .
2(a). USAmerican culture is inauthentic: that is to say there’s no “‘real’ American music.”
False! I was actually pretty surprised by the fact that people would say this. I mean, “Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge” levels of surprise. So to anyone woefully ignorant enough to suggest that USAmericans lack an origin of music to call their own, um, hi – there’s this thing. It’s called Jazz. (There’s this subset of Jazz, it’s called Swing. And there’s this other thing called Blues, which lead to Rhythm and Blues [yes, which eventually lead to Rock]. Not to mention that there’s this other other thing that used to be super cozy with Blues back in the day by the name of Country, and of course there’s Bluegrass, which has country and jazz elements. And what of the American musical?) Even were it not for all of those things, there’s this other thing called Hip Hop. Now of course, many cultural moments – not solely USAmerican – arguably played into the generation and development of these various musical styles, and obviously great things have happened in them due to the innovations and general awesomeness of non-USAmericans, but for every Clapton wah-wah pedal folks want to cite, I’ll see them a Hendrix and gladly raise them Clapton’s own list of influences: Freddie King, B.B. King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, and Robert Johnson. (I swear, they’re all from here.) Someone like a Django Reinhardt was as much influenced by Louis Armstrong as he was by “gypsies.” I think there’s plenty of “real” USAmerican music – please head down to New Orleans if you don’t believe me – and frankly, it’s a little odd that folks would want to compartmentalize something as delightful and boundary breaking as music in such a way as to functionally assert that, far from having major contributions to musical culture, anything American is and must necessarily be functionally derivative, and therefore unreal.
2(b). USAmerican culture is inauthentic: that is to say there’s no “‘real’ American fashion.”
False! Um, hello! What is “Top American Designer Michael Kors” famous for if not the Top (US)American Contribution to Fashion, which is to say the delightful world of sportswear? Surely, nonUSAmericans, you don’t hate sportswear. Besides, why do you care? Fashion is theft.
2(c). USAmerican culture is inauthentic: that is to say there’s no “‘real’ American cuisine.”
Seriously, are folks gangbanging on bacon, now? False! Of course there’s such a thing as American cuisine, unless the rule is that your food cannot have touched the culture of any other food before getting on the plate. (In which case, Germany? Put down the beer.) If that’s the way things are, well then, the deck is stacked firmly against even the possibility of an authentically USAmerican cuisine, ever – it’s technically a nation of foreigners and marginalized native populations – and firmly in favor of a rubric wherein the whole can never be more than the sum of the parts. (So screw you Pangaea and the population dispersal and migratory patterns you rode in on.)
Which begs the question – what are people looking for when they say “American” cuisine, or the cuisine of any country? Should we look to the foods of tribes, cultural foods that predate “flags,” here and abroad, before considering the designation of nationhood in the allocation of authenticity and status? Or does it only count as “cuisine” once Europeans show up to “civilize” somebody and recognize it as such? Is there even such a thing, in this day and age, as a “national” cuisine that is entirely the result of a uniform cultural group with nary an “outside” influence in sight? That could be true of a food type or a dish, I’d grant, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of an entire cuisine completely devoid of the influence of others. (“No cuisine is an island, yo.” “That’s deep.”) It would seem, in that instance, that Southern cuisine – as made up predominately by the foods generated by slaves, yet and still rife with influences but often uniquely situated as different, or “distinct” and individual when compared to USAmerican food generally – would likely come closest and most reasonably to this rather flawed, in my opinion, standard.
But ok, let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt and say that my preferred understanding of “cuisine” would be too fluid, generating food labelist anarchy wherever it was propagated. Even then, I’d still assert that there’s such a thing as an American cuisine.
It’s called the cocktail.
Hell no I’m not kidding.
Yes, I realize it’s rather functional alchie of me to assert that booze is a food and further that the art of mixing it constitutes a “cuisine,” but fuck it. It’s my post and I’ll promote a theory if I want to. Some scholars assert that spirits were so popular in the States because the size of the growing nation required alcohol that kept better than wine or beer, and that makes a certain amount of sense. Regardless of the reason, USAmerica, specifically the greatest city in the entire world, saw the birth of the cocktail in the awesome-even-to-this-day Sazarac, and, despite that nasty hiccup that was Prohibition, I still maintain that if we must divvy up credit for cuisines, we here in the US get the liner notes for the cocktail. You’re welcome, world.
Of course, this leads us inevitably to . . .
3. USAmerican cuisine is all junk food, like hotdogs.
False! NonUSAmericans, be honest with me – have you ever had this so-called junkfood? I mean, some of that business is straight up delicious. Anyway, hot dogs are basically a kind of sausage, chips and french fries are simply fried potatoes, cookies are biscuits are scones . . . is it clear what’s happening here yet? Lots of places have things that could arguably be called junkfood, and we’re certainly not the only nation to have taken advantage of preservatives. So really, folks who would assert this are asserting that USFood is all junk all the time, where junk equals cheap, “unhealthy,” and loaded with chemicals.
Not only is that level of hyperbole pretty much always inaccurate, but for every Hot Pocket and Oreo Pizza there’s a family recipe or cute food blog/truck. Yes, many USAmericans eat a lot of crap, but we also make and eat a lot of great food. (I mean, who keeps handing out Michelin Stars on this side of the Atlantic? It’s not like we’re in charge.) Besides, the odds are good that wherever you’re from, there’s a McDonald’s. Someone must be keeping that joint in business, and it’s not just USAmerican tourists.
4. #3 is why USAmericans are all fat. And lazy.
Dude, why so size-ist, nonUSAmericans? Sure we’re not the most healthy population ever, but does the size 12 really bother y’all that much, or is this a function of your own cultural baggage? Hell, half of the obesity epidemic stuff you may’ve smelled wafting across the border is a function of our cultural baggage. As for lazy, y’all – we work a ridiculous amount. (So much so that one proffered stereotype for this article was that USAmericans have zero sense of work-life balance, and I opted not to include it because I was too inclined to agree.) Indeed, Dan Savage once asserted that the work schedule in the US is probably why so many USAmericans smoke weed – we have to cram as many hours of seeming relaxation into as minimal a time frame as possible. I admit, it makes a certain degree of sense. Anyway, I’m sorry that I don’t generally spend my time off . . . doing more stuff, I guess.
But wait, I totally do. I go to concerts and do my yoga and watch movies and go dancing and occasionally walk to bars, and I currently live in one of those super crunchtastic American cities where people are constantly jogging and biking past me when I water my plants, probably on their way to swim in pools or hike on things. (The fact that this city might not be easily and immediately recognizable should say something.) Maybe we’d get more accomplished if we had built-in daily naptime and fewer hours and more paid vacation and if our corporation heads stopped trying to screw us twelve ways from Sunday into even more work for even less pay. (“I’d prefer not to again, sir; I have a headache.”) That would be awesome. I am in favor of those things. We should totally get them; if you non-USAmericans have any advice on how to do so, it would be much appreciated. Seriously. That being said, however, while many of us may be jealous as hell, I solemnly swear we are not, as a rule, lazy.
4. USAmerican culture is all about guns.
False! Contrary to popular representation, all USAmericans are not gun-toting members of the National Rifle Association. Yes, we have a lot of guns, compared to other places. Yes, USAmerican gun laws are somewhat . . . lax, when examined against similarly situated nations. Yes, we incarcerate a shitload of people per capita, but that’s not necessarily because we’re more violent; rather, it’s because our criminal justice system is utter crap. On the other hand, we do make a lot of guns, so it’s not that odd that we’d have a lot of them here, and the entire nation isn’t armed and fabulous, no matter what the Rueters article I just linked to above says. (It says the USA has 90 guns for every 100 people. I agree, that stat isn’t helpful to my case at all.) Naturally, studies about American gun ownership are skewed by the folks who own multiple guns – not everyone here has one, honest. Besides, have y’all ever seen Top Shot? Recreational shooting is kind of awesome.
Shit. That didn’t help my case, did it?
Whatever dude, marksmanship is an Olympic sport in multiple incarnations (archery, kinda javelin, biathalon, etc.) and USAmericans don’t even win those that much. We may or may not be overly attached to weaponry as a national concept, but for every gun-toting USAmerican, there’re any number of folks who’ve never even held one – generalizations do not rightness make.
5. USAmericans never leave the country.
This one’s interesting, because it goes to the general notion that USAmericans are underexposed, ill-informed morons. Anyway, False! USAmericans love Canada for its quasi-legal pot and prostitution, cheap prescription drugs, and scenic waterfalls that are half in the States anyway. (And Anne of Green Gables – I mean, who doesn’t love a solid puffed sleeve? Besides sportswear designers?) Conversely, USAmericans love Mexico for Spring Break, cheap prescription drugs, and its incredible convenience for scapegoating for political gain. (“Brown people? Nearby if not next door? Who don’t vote here? This is manna from heaven, boys.”) Lots of USAmericans go to these prescription meccas cum vacation destinations all the time. Also there are islands with magical Negroes who’re always happy to serve us beverages on pristine beaches just a hop, skip and some colonialism away, or at least that’s what the barrage of tourism commercials tells us. How awesome is that? Pretty awesome. The only reason we don’t travel more is because we can’t afford both trans-ocean plane tickets and market priced Ambien, and that’s a helluva catch-22.
Seriously though, USAmericans do get around (the world), though again the stats are skewed some, obviously, by repeat travelers. The internet tells me that approximately 21% of USAmericans have a passport; many chalk this up to the fact that whatever your geographical inclinations, you can mostly find it here in the US, be it beaches or mountains or deserts or whatever, and thus, no need for a passport. Others cite the geographic truism that traveling from NYC to Honolulu, nearly 5000 miles, is basically a slightly longer trip than, say, Paris to Calcutta – it’s simply not as easy and/or feasible to visit as large a variety of nations as it is for residents of other continents. Maybe if y’all brought back the Concorde?
6. USAmericans are friendly, but dim.
Hey, while I hate to disabuse y’all of the notion that all USAmericans are friendly, outgoing sorts, it . . . just makes no sense that that would be true. Maybe part of that presumption is based on meeting the fifth of the population that would willingly travel abroad and (at least in theory) engage another culture, but there are nice USAmericans and not nice USAmericans, and the demarcation is certainly not always surmised by political affiliation or passport stamps. And just as we should not always be measured by the relative effusiveness of tourists, we also shouldn’t be judged by the ignorance of the stupidest USAmerican you’ve ever met/seen/heard of. Just as Canadians appreciate the humor and groan-worthy gullible-ness represented in “Talking to Americans,” many USAmericans can get a forehead-smacking, “it’s funny because it’s so very, very sad” out of Leno’s “Jaywalking.” (Of course, that assessment could well apply to Leno’s entire oeuvre, but I digress.) This means that there are enough smart USAmericans to be appalled at ignorant USAmericans to make making fun of the latter for the entertainment of the former a viable comedic segment in the US. Q.-to-the-E.D.
Which is to say: Mais non, foreign peoples – all USAmericans are not stupid! Some USAmericans are delusional! It is way different!
7. USAmericans are all fundamentalist wackjobs, which is to say chock full o’ nuts with a side of crazy.
Of course False! I mean, look at what blog you’re reading, for goodness sake.
Even ignoring the ableist implications of such assertions, I can barely dignify this one with a response. I can’t imagine that any population is accurately represented by its most extremist members, and certainly not ours. Is US policy conservative in comparison with any number of places? Certainly. But, for instance, it’s not like Europe’s relationship to say, abortion, is exactly all sunshine and roses and vacuum aspiration for all who’d like it.
Usually this is where the Death Penalty comes up, and as such I feel obligated to point out the opinions on death as criminal punishment vary extensively within the US, even if the policy matters seem fairly set. Information on the scope of opinions on a variety of policy issues within the US isn’t hard to find – hell, we get bombarded with polls on the regular – though I do appreciate the humor of being ill-informed about the US being ill-informed. And yes, there are many populations here who, baffling though it may be, seem to vote against their own interests. The key, nonUSAmericans, is that many of those folks’ fellow countrypersons are equally baffled. I can’t reiterate enough how inaccurate it is to presume all USAmericans are a particular way or behave in a certain manner – whenever the urge strikes, please engage in a thought exercise wherein the US is functionally analogous to the EU, replete with joint currency, bickering member states, and, perhaps most importantly, a variety of diverse cultures possessed of innumerable opinions on how things ought to be done who nonetheless must strive to work together. It’s really not as wacky as it sounds at first blush, even if we have language in common.
8. USAmericans have language in common.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Dude. English. STFU. But seriously, False! While there’s no official language in the US, yes, the de facto choice is generally English. (Though Spanish in public places is gaining ground, and Louisiana, ever the outlier, has two official languages, English and French.) However, when I say that USAmericans do not have language in common, what I’m really saying is that we don’t all sound alike – there’s really no such thing as an “American accent” entirely devoid of regional choices and eccentricities. Usually misconception #8 takes one of two guises – USAmericans sound like New Yorkers, or USAmericans sound like [shitty Southern accent, heavy on the twang]. (This is particularly amusing because to most USAmericans, those are the most “accented” USAmerican dialects; a Coloradan or Michigander would likely assert that they have no accent at all, other than generic USAmerican, especially as compared to New York or the South. See the above link for more on that.) To demonstrate how very wrong this is, nonUSAmericans, an anecdote.
I’m a Southerner. Having spent formative years in Colorado, my accent is less state and locality specific Southern (yes, even the city can change the accent, or even the area of the city) and more newscaster. However, there was a time in my life when I lived in New York. I spent much of my days contemplating why people from Rhode Island called a water fountain a “bubbler” and why people from Long Island called a water fountain a “wahrter fountain.” It was an odd time, to be sure. I discovered, however, that if I was lost and needed directions – good ones, not the cursory “it’s that way” kind – my best bet was to ask for said directions in the most magnolia-drenched twang to ever retire to the Big, bad, “heavens to Betsy, I just don’t know if I can stand the pace of it all, bless your heart!” Apple. If I gave a big Southern smile with bigger accent, coupled with terribly wide eyes and an ever-so-slightly breathless demeanor, not only was I going to get my directions, but I was going to get awesomely detailed, slo-o-o-owly said, readily explicated, and multiply reiterated directions from a New Yorker, pretty much every time. Why? Let’s go with an intriguing and grossly generalized SAT-style analogy:
Southerners : New Yorkers :: Americans : The French
This is not to say everyone was like that, of course. But if there’s a stereotype that any number of foreign nationals believe about USAmericans, odds are good that there’s a version of that same stereotype that New Yorkers think about Southerners. (Does friendly but dim gun-toting fundamentalists who eat crazy unhealthy food and have little concept of culture ring a bell?) Regardless, many residents of NYC (and Northerners generally) seemed to think that Southern people expected politeness in return for their own good home-training, and also that said Southerners are, as a rule, mildly mentally impaired. As a result, New Yorkers consistently proffered directions in a style suited for someone who was nice, yes, but dumb as a post when it came down to it, and did so based solely on accent.
This is an easy perceptive difference in the main two accents nonUSAmericans seems to think USAmericans have, and it’s wide enough to mimic the gulf that nonUSAmericans see between themselves and USAmericans. And just think, even writ large – which it shouldn’t be, because seriously, Maine sounds nothing like Boston sounds nothing like NYC sounds nothing like Philly sounds nothing like Baltimore sounds nothing like Charleston sounds nothing like Memphis sounds nothing like Jackson sounds nothing like New Orleans, etc., etc. – that’s only two geographical areas out of way more than two geographical areas in the country. Much as not all USAmericans are white but for the athletes, musicians, and President, we don’t all sound alike either. Just ask us.
9. USAmericans make awesome entertainment.
Ok, I can’t exactly say false. I mean, USAmericans have some fabulous content in both movies and television, for all that we poach talent and ideas from basically anywhere, but we also have a avoirdupois fuckton of amazingly bad programming. No seriously. It’s pretty much either shit or sunshine here. And yes, I think I can speak for many when I say that we’re generally pretty damn confused by how many foreign folks like “Baywatch.”
10. USAmericans all have massive vehicles. (Or vehicles, period.)
Don’t believe the hype! False. Yes, we have some incredibly ricockulous cars in the US, but hey, it’s not like we’re the only place to make a sport out of driving. We’re improving dammit, and while there are the Hummers and F-eleventymillion50s, there’s also an increasingly thriving bike culture in any number of cities. People make veggie oil cars and, um, buy Priuses. We even have Bugs and Minis and Smart cars! (We’ve got so many compacts they get designated spaces in parking facilities.) Plus there’re buses and lightrails and trains and the like; lots of people do actually use public transportation in the US. Also, hush your mouth – we can’t help it that our states are the size of your countries and the cities are all sprawly and big and we need things besides our feet to get around. Maybe if you’re nice we’ll even share our comparatively inexpensive gasoline that we love to bitch about the cost of with you. It’s the neighborly thing to do, right?
So there we are, 10 misconceptions about USAmericans, cleared right up. There were many more offered – and I’d like to thank everyone who chimed in online – but this post was getting awfully long, and honestly, some of the stereotypes didn’t seem sufficiently wrong to merit correction. (For instance, I agree that calling the World Series the World Series in this day and age is probably bullshit, but I’d like to see the exhibition games to prove it. Folks may disdain American football, but at least it has the decency to go by the NFL, ya know? MLB, take a page from the Little League World Series.) I don’t think I said anything particularly controversial, but whenever I think that it inevitably turns out that I did, so I guess we’ll see if anyone takes offense.
If you want to be a part of the decision making process regarding which Promo Post I tackle next, head on over to the Facebook Note and let me know what you want to see. In the mean time, at least I’ve got jazz in my truck and cocktails to lazily consume in front of my awesome TV; proud to be an American, indeed.