Saturday, 5 January 2008

American


I never felt much like an American until I first visited Mexico and Guatemala in my early twenties. In the market in Oaxaca, I suddenly saw it. Everything about me and the friends I was travelling with said American. Our obvious health and height, our well-nourished bodies and superior dental hygiene: all of it screamed our nationality and privilege. Anyone who looked at us could not help but see the patently obvious: a group of people born with more than their fair share of advantages. Up until that moment, I had been happily haggling with the market vendors, trying to get the best possible deal for my purchases. Once the reality hit me -- that I could go back to the States, and, student that I was, still live better for less work than 99% of the people around me -- I stopped trying to get bargains. If a lady took one look at me and said she was selling something I wanted for sixty pesos, then sixty pesos it was.

Even when I generally paid the first price someone asked, I still got some very good deals. When I went back to San Francisco and saw the same shawl I had bought in Chichicastenango selling for over ten times the price I had paid, I tried to imagine how the woman who had woven it would feel seeing her work in a fancy boutique in North Beach, selling for more than she would spend on a couple months' worth of groceries.

But being an American is more than economics and better-than- average nutrition: it is attitude. And this attitude is manifest even in the most trivial details.

Once in Tokyo, I spotted a cluster of people standing together at the station. I was a hundred feet away from them, but I knew they were American even before I heard them speak. How? They were all Asians; physically they resembled all the Japanese around us. I watched them discretely, trying to figure out what had given them away. And then I saw it: the casual way they stood, the broadness of their gestures, the loudness of their voices. Nothing says "American" like the brash confidence that comes from living in a country where opportunity and the pursuit of happiness are taken as much for granted as the necessity of a car and the right to a daily hot shower.

I have been an expatriate American now for as many years as I have spent in my homeland. Frozen in a time warp, every time I go back, I feel a little more distant, a little more conscious of how long I have been gone. Where are you from? a cashier asked me some years back, when I went home for my father's funeral. America, I told her, and her response was, Yes, but where were you born? Somehow, among my fellow Americans, my natural brashness and sense of privilege has worn off: they take me for a foreigner, or at least foreign-born. After two months in America, I stopped counting how many times people asked me what country I was from.

That last trip back was an eye-opener for me. In many ways, I felt like a stranger, but I knew that I could fit right back into the world I had left and be perfectly happy. It was wonderful to be able to strike up conversations with perfect strangers; to be spoiled for choice in restaurants, served with friendliness and kindness, and surrounded by people of all different nationalities and backgrounds. "Americans are so nice!" my husband and children kept saying, and I could have burst with pride. I did not leave the States for ideological reasons; I left to see the world and have adventures, and my expatriate status has more to do with serendipity than it does with making a conscious decision not to live in my country of origin.

Over the years I have met other American expatriates who irritate me by railing against the shallowness and over-indulgence of Americans and who claim that they prefer to live in countries where there is a greater sense of history and 'more culture.' While I certainly agree that most of us could learn to get by on less energy, I think the rest of this is nonsense. As far as I can see, we're no more shallow than the rest of the world. We've got plenty of history and culture, too -- we just need to learn how to preserve it better. And we ought to appreciate and support it more, too -- especially those of us ignorant enough to deny its existence.

In Japan, and now in the U.K., I have gotten used to my status as spokesperson and (sometimes unwilling) interpreter of all things American. Here my accent -- which I have never made any attempt to hide or change -- gives me away every time. You're American! people say to me, as though they have discovered something I'm anxious to keep under wraps. Even when many fellow expatriate Americans muttered that they were going to buy shirts with Canadian flags on them after two embarrassing and disappointing national elections, I have never denied my nationality. Yes, I am an American. I don't plan on changing my passport, and although you'll never catch me waving a flag or beating up someone who disses my country, I'm every bit as fond of America as the next guy -- probably more so after all these weary sessions explaining and defending from abroad.

Being an American doesn't mean that I will defend everything Americans do or stand for. It certainly doesn't mean I'm behind our president or his war, and although I share the national passion for a decent hot shower, thank God being American doesn't mean that I have to be a super-sized gas-guzzling consumer who wolfs down her weight in hamburgers. No, I'm the worst sort of American: the kind who's convinced that she's as good as the next guy and has a right to fight for her ideals. Who firmly believes in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My country was one of the first places where anybody in the world could find a home and prosper: I've done my family's genealogy, and I know for a fact that this really happened.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to do some research on how to fit solar panels onto a Victorian style roof. Our hot water supply needs a little help.


StumbleUpon.com

26 comments:

Kara said...

It's amazing how often one is asked to defend their country while abroad. What's even more amazing is that we'll do it, every time...pointing out that 50% of the population is sick in the head first, of course.

Merry Jelinek said...

Oddly enough, I don't know any Americans who ask people from other countries to defend the place they came from... I'm rather proud of being an American and, having been around first generation Americans for most of my life, I'm pretty well aware of the difference in mind set, even among the same nationality.

I'm proud of my heritage, at the same time I'm conscious that if I went to Sicily they would not consider me Sicilian. My father was born there, technically I could apply for and receive resident status there, but I would always be considered American - because I am.

There are some negatives in this country, as there are in every country, I'd imagine. But what I notice that doesn't sit very well with me is the fact that people feel entitled to complain and judge us in a way that we don't actively judge other cultures - at least not that I've heard.

I'm lucky to live in a city with a wide range of ethnicity. I'm met and befriended people from Italy, Sicily, Greece, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Ireland, Britain, Czecoslovakia, Russia, Albania, Poland, and probably a few other places I'm not even aware of... I do ask questions about their country because it's interesting to hear about different cultures. I loved when my friend, Toby, would tell me about growing up in Mexico, his mom and sister and how he was saving his money to buy his mom a house. I loved when my friend, Lenka, told me all about schools in Europe and why she'd opted to come to America for college, and how her friends used to bicycle from her home near prague to Italy for extended holidays.

I think there are a lot of Americans who are quick to feel guilty in some capacity or judge our own country. And hey, you've got a voice you're perfectly within your right to say what you don't like... at the same time, have a little pride in where you come from... you wouldn't take that away from someone else, why would you deny it to yourself?

Church Lady said...

This resonates with me on many levels. For the past five years, we've lived half a year in Dubai (well, more like 5 months) and the other half in the U.S. I know exactly what you mean about recognizing an American--the posture, the gestures, and yes, the loudness of the voice. And I feel exactly like you--I love my country, and feel tired of 'defending' it to others. Nor will I make fun of it to somehow seem cool to others.

I think I've also shed some of my American body language. People from other countries put me as either Canadian or German (interestingly, not English-although I am blonde and fair-skinned).

I'll be posting about Dubai in a couple of weeks. I might refer back to your post here.

ventiseitre said...

I think everyone should be proud of his own country, exspecially you, who are americans. You should be very proud of your nationality and I can ensure you that here, in Europe, you don't need to defend your country or to feel guilty for something. Or, at least, the most part of european (except communists) loves all those ideals and all those meanings the american flag represents.
I'm sorry for my very bad english..
A greeting from Sicily! Bye!

Merry Jelinek said...

Ventiseitre,

Your English is a heck of a lot better than my Italian - and you just made me smile!

Kim Ayres said...

For a long time I went round almost apologising for being English. There is much about my country of birth I am not proud of.

But I've given up now. I don't defend it, but I don't deny it either. I have certain mannerisms and outlooks that are undoubtedly part of my cultural heritage - I notice them most when they clash with my Scottish wife's :)

I had no choice on which bit of rock I was born on, and this means it think it is the height of arrogance and idiocy that anyone can think themselves superior (or inferior) to anyone else based on the bit of rock they were born on.

People are free to not like me for my attitude, my politics, my religious beliefs and my outlook on life, but to dislike me because of my accent, my place of birth or my beard is not my problem, but theirs. Once I finally realised that I was able to stop feeling guilty about it.

Mary Witzl said...

Kara -- Over the years, I have grown weary of being a spokesperson for my country, but I have accepted this as one of my roles as an expatriate. I cannot defend everything about America, but I'm damned if I'll let them use us as a punching bag, delighting in anti- American sentiments because they can get away with them. I also get tired of telling people here who I voted for. I never ask who they voted for.

Merry -- I could write a book about this issue, and I still don't know if I could do it justice. I admire the achievements and successes of my country and I am proud to be an American, but living as an expatriate, you would be surprised how often I am called upon to defend or explain many aspects of American culture or government. At a party recently, I listened in growing irritation to a small group of people describing Americans as arrogant, racist, and xenophobic. Perhaps because I no longer live in America, people expect that I will eagerly agree with them when they trash the U.S. Sure, there is racism in America, and I won't deny that we could cut down on our use of energy, but I resent being expected to join them in America-bashing. I am an American and always will be one, wherever I live. And there is plenty of racism everywhere, and a fair amount of it right here in the U.K.

What intrigues me is that while back home I seem less American, perhaps from my accent having worn away, as an expatriate, I carry my Americanness around with me as a sort of badge, like it or not. I sometimes meet people who have had no dealings with any other Americans, and for them I am perhaps the only American they will ever talk to. I find it a little ironic, considering how much I have forgotten about living in America. In a sense, I am a cultural ambassador here, and no matter how irritating it gets, I do feel that I can play an important role.

I could not agree with you more about ethnicity. Back in 1985, the Prime Minister of Japan, Nakasone, made a stupid comment about America falling behind Japan in terms of education because of 'all our blacks and Hispanics.' That really cracked me up: our diversity is the thing that makes us great, but he saw it as a weakness.

Don't worry: I've got a voice, and I certainly do use it. Just ask anyone in my family. Or anyone at that party where the America- bashing was going on, for that matter...

Church Lady -- For some reason, it has become cool to bash Americans. I don't think I'm overly sensitive, but I don't like to hear any nationality being bashed; it smacks of bullying and herd mentality, and I would be annoyed by it even if I weren't American. I have learned that an angry response is nowhere near as effective as a gentle reminder to the basher of his or her country's history. My teachers were right: a good knowledge of history really does come in handy.

Ventiseitre -- Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting, and your English is just fine. As someone who enjoys learning foreign languages, I commend you on your good grammar -- and your bravery. I have been tempted to comment on blogs in foreign languages, but I am too cowardly.

The majority of the people I have met in Europe and Japan like me for who I am and don't expect me to defend or explain my country. It is good to know that there are people who admire our ideals more than they frown on our faults.

Kim -- Being married to someone of a different nationality is a good way to find out how our own nationality influences our personality. I cannot help but feel that my natural optimism is related to my American origins, just as my husband's pessimism has a lot to do with his being English.

Yes, it is arrogant to judge others by what bit of the planet they happen to come from, or to assume that people of a given nationality are all alike. One thing that living abroad has taught me is how silly these notions are -- but also, how prevalent.

Donna said...

What a wonderful post...Howdy, American, from Texas!

ventiseitre said...

It's normal that each country has its ugliness and its wonders, but all these things must not influence the judgements on people living there. You don't know how many times I heard that sentence: "Oh, are you sicilian? So you are a mafia man!".. But I don't care about it.
If I'll reborn, and if I can't be italian, I wish to be american. Californian, if it's possible..

p.s. Mary, I write here not because I'm brave...just because you said very nice things and I wanted to risk to say something (even if I could seem ridiculous because of my english) :-p
Merry, enjoy! You all use the first-world language and you don't need to learn italian (very useless language).
Bye!

Merry Jelinek said...

This is such a great conversation. It's so funny that it should come up now, too, I think the best word would be synchronicity... I just had a conversation about words at Wordvixen's Deeper down in the comments we started discussing Sicilian dialect, but because I don't read and write Italian, it's probably spelled completely wrong...

The other thing is that the language changes. What I learned is Sicilian dialect, but it's also changed because it was spoken by people who lived here who developed their own phrases, both in Italian and American, that became kind of a broken English... universally understood among Sicilian Americans but I don't know how well Italians from Italy would understand it.

I'm not fluent, and I wish I had learned Italian. I disagree that it's a useless language, I think it's beautiful - I hate to hear of any language dying out, I think it's a great loss of history and tradition.

Ventiseitre,

You get the 'mafia' comments here, too. I've gotten them for my whole life, half joking half wondering... and sometimes I have a little fun at the speaker's expense... stupidity is universal.

I stopped at your blog, which looks great - unfortunately, I didn't understand nearly enough to feel comfortable commenting... though it has me thinking of trying out a blog to teach myself Italian... mine would probably be the level of a five year old, but it sounds like fun to try to learn that way...

A Paperback Writer said...

Ah, yes, Mexico. I truly understood poverty for the first time when I went there with a school group when I was 11.
Many years later, when a programmate for the MSc at the Univ. of Edinburgh was trying to tell me about his hometown of Bombay, he said, "You simply cannot imagine what it's like because you are from the West." My reply was, "Well, maybe not, but I have been to Mexico City, so I'll just imagine the crowds and the extremes of wealth and poverty there to be a little like Bombay."
Oh. He understood. I HAD seen poverty.
And how you pick out Americans... I know what you mean. I can often do it by clothing alone, but I agree with that whole attitude thing.
I've had to explain many times that Americans, especially those over 35, are often accidentally isolationist. We are convinced that we have the best country in the world and can't imagine why someone else wouldn't want to be exactly like an American. Also, before 911, most Americans could travel not only our own large country, but also all over Canada and Mexico WITHOUT A PASSPORT. That's a lot of traveling and a lot of great stuff to see on a large mass of land -- plus Hawaii and and Puerto Rico to add a few more exotic details. Most Americans like these still see no need to learn another language, either, and can't grasp why it irks people that we don't.
I was fortunate enough to start traveling to dance festivals world wide at a young age (16), so I never quite grew into this mold. Hence, one day in the summer of 2002 when I was eating dinner with a Romanian girl and a Dutch woman during a summer study program in Scotland,t he Romanian girl looked over at the other American students (all clustered in a group, content with each other, not bothering to reach out and meet anyone else), and asked me, "Why aren't you like them?" I had to explain how lots of travel outside the US and lots of time learning other cultures and at least one other language made me see the world a little differently.
I'm sure, Mary, that you know exactly what I mean. And I'm sure that you've met plenty of Americans who would be mystified at the girl's question.

ventiseitre said...

Of course, sicilian dialect, as all the other languages, is continually evolving. I may say the old sicilian language (the same spoken by the first emigrants, like the Merry Jelinek's grandparents) is disappearing, polluted by italian.
Oh, I didn't say italian is a ugly language, indeed I think it's very beautiful.. but it's just useless: it's very better to know english, the most important lang of the world (and that is way I explore english written blog!)

Merry,
I can't believe you've gotten mafia comments just because you are a descendant! Anyway, the best way to respond to them, is with a smile. (Or shooting them with the fingers).
I'm sorry again for my english :-(
Goodbye everybody!

p.s. My blog is very new. I write on it from one month. And no worry if you don't understand: you lose nothing.

Carolie said...

What a wonderful post, Mary, and what great timing it is for me. I'm often frustrated here, though not because of anti-American sentiment from the Japanese. There definitely is some anti-American sentiment, however most Japanese are far too polite, in my limited experience, to show it to me except in the most delicate and polite of ways. Even the infrequent protests at the base are so quiet and orderly as to be almost eerily serene!

No, my frustration is with my fellow Americans. I find that most of them fall into one of two extremist camps -- those who hate being here and whine about missing American chain restaurants, Wal*Marts(shudder) and "people who talk right," and those who loudly and constantly disparage their homeland, raving about how the Japanese do everything properly and how much America sucks.

I find many things about Japan to admire. I also admire many things about my homeland. I find there are idiots and bigots and mean-spirited people in both places...and kindness and generosity and brilliance in both places.

I can be proud to be an American and still admire the culture of another country...the two concepts are not mutually exclusive! I've actually found that my respect for a person drops considerably upon hearing disparagement of his or her home country, regardless of what that country may be.

All I ask is that I am judged by my own words and actions, and not by whomever is in power, whatever you've read/heard in the media or what my fellow countrymen may or may not have done.

Mary Witzl said...

Donna -- Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog! I will try to drop by yours soon.

Ventriseitre -- I am gratified to know that you would choose California, as it is my home state. It is still a beautiful state, though it has changed considerably in the past several decades, and not always for the best -- too many cars, strip malls, and parking lots.

I can imagine that you get a lot of Mafia comments, just like I have been asked about two hundred times how many guns I own. (For the record, I've never even touched a gun, let alone owned one.) And oh, how I would love to learn Italian!

Merry -- The English I speak is in a time warp and I sometimes have difficulty understanding what people back home are saying -- especially the cultural references like t.v. shows and the names of people that have become famous since I left. In the same way, all immigrant groups in the States have remained static in their use of the 'old' language, only occasionally incorporating features that entered the language after their emigration to America. I once had a conversation with an elderly Japanese-American woman whose Japanese was impeccable, but quaint, given that she had not lived in Japan since before the war. She had trouble understanding all of the foreign loan words I quite naturally used in my more modern, though less fluent, Japanese.

In Tokyo, I taught at a British school and once had a class with (amusingly) two Italian women, a host of Japanese, and one German man who quit soon after the class started due to a schedule clash. One of the Italians was from Sicily, and you can bet that she got a lot of Mafia comments. Just picture what sort of comment the German man (born well after the war) heard all the time...

APW -- I know exactly what you mean! I would have ended up at your table, and I would have tried to get a couple of Americans to join me. Why go all the way to a foreign country and then hang out with only Americans? One of the things I admired most about the Chinese students I knew in Japan was the way they all made Japanese friends instead of banding together and speaking their own language all the time. We Americans were the worst for doing the opposite, though there were other nationalities who tended to stick together too.

As for American notions of superiority, I remember a passage in one of Bill Bryson's books that describes this beautifully. He overhears a middle-aged couple asking their young European guest which she likes better, America or her native country. Of course this is a rude, silly thing to ask: the girl is forced to lie or feel rude in answering that she quite naturally prefers her own country. This is not one of our more endearing traits, though fortunately not everyone has this attitude.

Ventiseitre -- I met several Italians when I was traveling around Mexico and Guatemala, and later when I was traveling around the States. One thing I remember was that they could ALWAYS get served in a restaurant before anyone else: even when they spoke English or Spanish, it was as though they were singing, and they charmed the socks of every waitress they encountered. I felt sick with envy and vowed that I would learn Italian some day. I haven't managed to do this, but it is still on my to-do list.

The old dialects of Japan are now also sadly dying out, as is Okinawan, a separate language, thanks to the influence of t.v. just as Sicilian is dying out. This is sad, but it is the way languages evolve.

Carolie -- Those Americans who deny everything good about America and praise everything about Japan are going through their honeymoon stage. Given them a year or so and it will pass. I never saw anyone's honeymoon in Japan last longer than a year at best. The Japanese who go to America go through the exact same thing -- everything is so wonderful! Americans are so open and honest! -- and then they too see the light, settling into a more realistic appreciation of the country (marriage) or divorcing altogether (going back home). I know exactly how you feel, though: it isn't pretty listening to people running down their own country, and it is just as unpleasant to hear them going on about how they miss their gas-guzzling cars and wide roads, the strip malls, fast food outlets, and 'people who talk right.'

What I missed about America, after my friends and family, was the scenery, the unpretentious, unceremonious friendliness of Americans, the cheerful, generally prompt service in restaurants, and the whole multi-cultural wonder of any major American city. What a depressing number of people seemed to miss were dopey things like gigantic boxes of sugary cereal, American t.v. shows -- and yes, places like Wall-mart. I quickly learned to keep my thoughts to myself, though, and I imagine that you are learning to do the same. I know you how must feel: Come and whine to me all you want!

Carole said...

I am not a traveler at all. This comes from a lack of money not desire. I am surprised at (according to the media) how much America is despised by other countries. I've yet to dislike a country because of their elections or their politics or anything else. On the other hand I get so aggravated at things in this country that I want to slap someone. And at times I get so proud of it, I want to hug someone.

My husband's brother and family live in Kenya. Right now terrible things are happening because of upcoming elections and they may have to evacuate. Scary stuff. But he loves Kenya with his whole heart and has grown to despise the abundance of America. Yet it is from the pocketbooks of a lot of Americans that he lives there.

So to sum it all up--good post, good stuff to think about.

Ello said...

You mean you are the best sort of American. The kind I'm proud to be associated with.

ventiseitre said...

Mary, here in Italy, California is considered like a sort of mythical land..like a kind of Itaca (I don't know if "Itaca" is correct in english. I mean the Ulysses's island). In Italy, exspecially in Sicily that here is also called "the italian California", when someone dreams to go away, to flee, he says: "I will go to California!". It's the symbol of all the united states of America, it's the symbol of freedom..
And, why have you been asked how many guns you own? Is it because you are american or have you sicilian origin?
I didn't know Americans like the italian language! I'm happy to know that! But if want to be served before the others in the restourants, I think you don't need to learn italian..it's sufficient that you learn how to speak english just like the italians do! You should learn just the italian accent. :-D
Bye.

The Anti-Wife said...

Great post and wonderful comments, Mary. I'm proud to be an American even when I disagree with wars or policies. I learned to appreciate what we have after spending a month in 76 and 78 in Haiti on work/study tours in college. I thought I was poor until I saw how they lived and was so impressed with their ability to get by on practically nothing. It made a lifelong impression and the memories have kept me humble.

What's interesting is there are so many variations on the American theme and each evokes it's own stereotype - Southerners, New Yorkers, Republicans, Democrats, Californians, etc. I don't think people take all the regional, religious, political and philosophical differences into account when they use the term American. How do you really define us?

debra said...

Interesting conversation, Mary. I haven't had the opportunity to do much traveling; my oldest daughter spent 3 months in Buenos Aires. She loved it there. She said that she found people made assumptions because she is American: wealthy (not true), rude (not true :-).
Ventiseitre--your English is lovely.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- I can imagine that living in a really poor country, or even one considerably less wealthy than the States, would change the way you saw things considerably. So I can see how your brother-in-law must feel on his rare trips home: after only a month south of the border, I was sickened by the amount of waste I saw back in the States. People who've experienced terrible deprivation or seen it firsthand cannot help but feel frustrated with those who live in the midst of privilege and great wealth but don't seem to appreciate it.

I love what you said about being so angry you want to slap someone, and so proud you want to hug someone. That is exactly how I feel sometimes!

Ello -- Gee, if only my in-laws felt like this about me! I think they'd rather I was a bold, rich, gun-toting chatterbox, instead of a meek, poor, weaponless one. But I love your vote of confidence and appreciate it no end.

Ventiseitre -- I traveled straight through Italy years ago, right down to Brindisi. As I was merely passing through, I didn't really get to see too many places very well, but even the least attractive towns gave their Californian counterparts some pretty serious competition. And I speak as a very proud Californian.

As for the gun-owning question, the standard stereotypes about Americans of all backgrounds (not just Sicilian!) are that we are rich, confident, fat, loud-mouthed, and armed. There is some basis for all of these, of course, but I've never knowingly even been inside the home of a gun-owner.

Anti-wife -- One of my friends in graduate school spent half a year in Haiti and came back to the States with a completely different attitude. I think that the ability to get by on very little is one that we Americans once had, but have sadly lost. Haitians could kick us all over the place in this respect, and so could Mexicans and Guatemalans.

You're right about us being hard to define: we are different in so many ways that any sort of generalization is ridiculous. When I lived in the Netherlands, I once heard a Dutch woman telling her friends that Americans were all meat-eaters who drove big cars, went to church every Sunday and drank coca cola for breakfast. I had to go to church every Sunday as a child, but our car was tiny, we were vegetarians, and coca cola wasn't allowed in the house.

Debra -- It seems that those of us who ARE rich and rude get around quite a lot. Poor people seldom have the wherewithal to travel outside their own areas, and tourists don't tend to meet them. The rich stand out, as do people who are loud and rude. Those of us who are shy and modest quite naturally fade into the background, leaving that nasty stereotype free to spread. Shy Americans ought to start a self-interest group, but of course we'd never have the confidence!

The Quoibler said...

Mary:

What a wonderfully-written post.

I, too, am pleased to have "American" on my birth certificate and Passport. I don't agree with everything that happens in this country -- not by any means -- but I doubt I'd agree 100% with any country's choices.

Additionally, I think it would be damn tough to find another country where you can bitch about your leaders in a public forum and not fear for your life.

And I think it's the rare country that allows you to be broke one day and a star the next. No questions asked.

Finally, I feel lucky that, although we're loud, boisterous, and even arrogant at times, we also have a sense of "I-can-do-anything" about us. I believe it's that eternal optimism that keeps us going and moving and doing and growing.

Angelique

Mary Witzl said...

Angelique -- You are so right about the 'I-can-do-anything' mind-set of most Americans. The biggest difference between Brits and Yanks must be this essentially different philosophy. My husband never fails to be amazed by my boundless optimism and we know other British and American couples with the same dynamic. Invariably it is the American who believes that something can be achieved if one only tries; the British partner tends to assume that it will be very difficult or impossible. This has proved to be a good balance, most of the time. I encourage my husband and push him to do things he would otherwise never attempt; he manages to curb my impetuous spirit and keep me from doing stupid things. Usually.

Kanani said...

Well hey, that's good to hear.

I think the most annoying Americans are those who've willingly traveled the world, but haven't seen huge swaths of the US.

They also put down people who haven't traveled as much, which they shouldn't do because the reasons a lot of people don't go is the bald truth: they haven't the money.

Oddly enough, some of these Americans also don't vote, they don't partake in any movements that could change things here in the way they'd like to see it.

I'm American because my grandfather chose to immigrate here in the early 1900's. He worked 7 years to build up a business and bring my grandmother and aunt over. He did it because there were NO opportunities for him, and were it up to the gov't in China at that time, he'd of starved to death. So I have a lot of respect for him to put so much on the line so that someday his granddaughter (me) could live here and have so many things that he just couldn't.

Mary Witzl said...

It has been my experience that the Americans whose grandparents immigrated to America are a little stronger in their convictions than the ones whose ancestors have been in America for centuries. And people whose parents did this are stronger still. Children and grandchildren who have heard their parents' and grandparents' stories of their struggles take the whole issue of Americanness more to heart -- and less for granted.

I am an American because literally hundreds of people I never met decided, at some point, to cross the Atlantic -- or the Bering Strait. Their stories are lost to me, though it is interesting to imagine what they might have been.

The newer, more passionate Americans serve as reminders to us old-time, jaded Americans and keep the country strong. Once they stop coming in with their hope and dreams, their energy and vibrancy, we're doomed.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.