Friday, August 22, 2008

Enter the American optimist

I'm the kind of person that roots for the underdog, so I don't necessarily enjoy the fact that I was born in a country that, at least for the moment, happens to be a major world power whose biggest export is a weird entertainment culture that, apart from being poorly representative, subsumes almost everything it touches. If I had to pick a country that fit my personality better I would pick somewhere much less flashy, someplace smaller, a bit more buttoned up and happy to have a discussion until the wee hours of the morning. But, alas, we do not pick our country of origin. And, sadly, we cannot change its history or cover up its sins or bury it under a big ton of rocks. We are stuck with it.

I feel particularly stuck with it because we are some of a few lonely representatives of this nation around here. I hope I'm not belaboring this fact in my writings here. I don't really mean to sound dramatic. But the US is a big country to represent and there is a wild amount of misinformation floating about. It is an exhausting job.

You see, for every misconception we correct, there is some other ugly fact that we can neither conceal nor deny. Just recently: Of course someone without insurance with get emergency care at the hospital. And oh yeah, millions of people have no coverage at all. Of course there are still some native Americans left in the US. Err... let me tell you about the first Thanksgiving! And although I used to try to deny the "so many more Americans must be obese" conclusion, I've been defeated on that one. Too many people come back from visits to the US saying this. How 'bout them free refills?

Also, no one seems to know or appreciate the really great things about our rapidly aging nation. Like how many kinds of potatoes there are. Or that we have trees that are wider than a car, even the big old American kind. How you can get edible Chinese food almost anywhere. That the sky can seem even huger if you can get alone enough. That you can find a hundred languages and a jillion small businesses in a city block. How it's so diverse assumptions are useless. And so huge you could never begin to summarize it in one paragraph.

There's no explaining these things, really. And maybe I just need them to be great so they can act for me as a mental counterweight to the heavy bundle of cultural and political crimes America as a community has committed. In any case, pessimistic people usually like to stick with the dark version of the story. I cannot blame them. It's much easier to stick to a tidy narrative than to acknowledge you may have severely misjudged the complexity and diversity of a country everyone knows everything about.

5 comments:

Lee said...

Hmmm... reading this, I thought "I'm sure people from other nations have a lot of misconceptions about us Americans, but at least they can (probably) find us on a map. A lot of recent polls have shown that not only can Americans not find other countries on a map (and probably know extraordinarily little about their cultures) but upwards of 20% can't even find the bloody U S of A on a map."

Swiss Ms. said...

Yeah, kind of hard to be optimistic about that. I don't know what to do about that fact. There's no decent explanation, really. I think generally we are so egocentric that we don't even feel the need of knowing our position relative to the rest of the world. But maybe things will change as our interactions become more global. Could get even more embarrassing if not....

miss SC said...

i think i pretty much
cleared this up a while
back...

Julie and Captain said...

I definitely understand where you're coming from. Too often I feel very defensive about my country of birth, particularly of late.

And let me just say, the new 90210 is NOT helping our cause.

Swiss Ms. said...

90210 is definitely one of our cultural crimes.