When it comes to stereotyping, Americans get a bad rap. YouTube has plenty of videoed anecdotes about what has become an almost legendary insularity. Some of my nearest and dearest American friends (you know who you are) have been known to excuse their wrong answers in quizzes by claims like ‘I’m just a stoopid American’ or ‘I’m just a dumb American’. The laugh they get is fine; but the knowing nods? ‘Cmon, people!
Hungarian/American relations are at a particularly low low right now. The railings around the US Embassy don’t help, but they’re nothing new. The part Reagan played in ending Communism seems to have been forgotten. There’s lots of anti-American sentiment in the corridors of power in Budapest and pages are being written about some political reactions to US reactions to what Hungary is doing and the more I read, the more disturbed I get. Earlier this week, I read a blog entitled: After some hesitation, Hungary declares war on the U.S. and the E.U. (America is in good company).
Politics aside, though, let’s get back to those stereotypes.
I grew up hearing Paddy Irishman, Paddy Englishman, Paddy Scotsman jokes in which the Irish Paddy was invariably the stewpidest of them all. Then there were the Kerryman jokes in which the rest of Ireland poked fun at those who lived in Kerry. An example: What are Kerry nurses famous for? Waking up patients to take their sleeping pills. And we had our fair share of jokes about Americans, too.
A Texan rancher comes to Ireland and meets a Kerry farmer. The Texan says: Takes me a whole goddam day to drive from one side of my ranch to the other. The Kerry farmer replies: Ah sure, I know. We have tractors like that over here, too.
When my first American visitors visited me in Ireland, they were a little taken aback. I’d told them that I believed that the Americans we got as tourists were bred for export on a ranch in Wyoming, and kept separate from the rest of the world because I’d never met the like of them in America. After two weeks of touring Ireland and running into busloads of their shamrock-jumpered compatriots, they tended saw where I was coming from. #
I can still picture my petite, feisty, Washingtonian friend reaching up to tap a big, tall, strapping Texan on the shoulder in a hotel lobby as they were queuing up to check out. He’d been complaining about everything from a taxi not arriving to missing a tee time on the golf course to the water pressure in the shower being too weak. She told him in no uncertain terms that if he had that much to complain about, he should go home and stop giving her and other Americans a bad name. In case he hadn’t noticed, he wasn’t in America any more – he was in 1990s Ireland where he was lucky to have as shower at all!
Americans are easily stereotyped. Yes, large groups of Americans are loud, but they’d fight to be heard if in competition with a similar sized group of Spanish students. Yes, you can almost always hear the American in the room, but I am convinced this has something to do with their speaking on a different frequency. Yes, Americans can be boisterous but think of it, in the history of it all, as a nation they’re babes.
I’m a card-carrying American. I was one of the tens of thousands who benefited from the Green Card Lotteries of the late 1980s, early 1990s. When I moved there in 1990, my first time ever living abroad, it took time to adjust but adjust I did and now each time I go back, I look forward to it. America is a great country. Like any other, it has its moments but is that a reason to diss a nation? In the years that have passed I have discovered that there is no shortage of stupid, insular people everywhere; the world simply chooses to pick on the American version. I guess political and economic might comes with a price.
This week, I’d like to preface the next few posts on America by saying, hand on my heart, that I’m grateful that the Americans I know are in no way stoopid. They know as much if not heaps more than I do about the world. And far from being generic carbon copies of each other, they have their individual quirks and zaniness that make them the interesting people that they are.
As a country, it’s vast and varied and rife with complete and separate subcultures that are as different as Germany and Italy or Poland and the Netherlands. I am grateful that I have so many second homes there where I am welcomed with a warmth and hospitality that are as generous and as genuine as I’ve ever known. Just back from the good ole US of A, I’m already thinking about when I can go back next… and I’m grateful that I can, and will, make this happen.