Saturday, 10 May 2008

Passing It On

One night my husband came home fuming. He had been changing trains in Nishifunabashi Station as usual, and had met another foreigner.

"Where are you from?" the fellow foreigner had asked, and my poor unsuspecting husband went and told him.

"British?" the foreigner spat out, in an indisputably American accent. "You mean English?"

My husband nodded.

"Well, I'm Irish. We hate you guys."

Having already had a rough day, my good husband couldn't let this go. "Why?"

"Oh, you know," the American said, gesturing vaguely. "For all that stuff you did."

For what it is worth, my husband was born in 1960 and this man admitted that he was a third generation American.

Now I suspect that this man was exceptional in his narrow-mindedness; that he too may have had a bad day and just wanted to take it out on somebody. But his attitude, though perhaps extreme, is not uncommon in America.

I will never forget the first time I heard an uncle of mine tell another uncle about my husband, whom he had just met. "He's English," I clearly heard him say, "but he's real nice."

Catch that use of 'but'?

One of the legacies passed on from generation to generation in my mother's family was a mistrust of the English. Not the British, the English. This feeling was vague and complex and had many roots, but it was very much a presence. We all knew that the English were elitest. That they had a class system and snubbed people they deemed inferior. They were opportunistic and greedy too, having violated the Union's blockade of Southern ports during the Civil War, thus actively aiding and abetting the South to export their sinful, slavery-tainted cotton. (We were largely Unionists in my family and tried to forget the few rebels in our background.) The English, so the story went, had hired Germans to fight us during the American Revolution, not wanting to sully their own hands. They had done everything in their power to stir up hostile Indians against us; they owned the Kentucky mines that we Welsh, Irish, and Scots had toiled, bled, and even died in. They made their children take difficult tests at an excessively early age and moreover, they didn't even raise them, entirely trusting to nannies and other menials to do their dirty work. Besides, they ate with fish forks and knives; they had a queen, and they put on airs.

It was only after I started working at a British company in Tokyo that I saw how wrong some of these assumptions had been. Plenty of my co-workers -- people we would have identified as English -- were in fact of Irish or other extraction. No one I ever met admitted to being raised by a nanny, and those with poncey, elitist ways were openly mocked. When Prince Charles came to open our school with the soon-to-be Japanese crown prince, those in management were hard put to find any junior staff members to join the welcoming crowd. Big deal seemed to be the prevailing attitude.

Having lived in the U.K. for almost eight years, I have seen for myself that the image many Americans have formed about the British, and the English in particular, is little more than a silly stereotype no more to be trusted than the image many people have of us Americans as ignorant, xenophobic loudmouths. And yet this attitude against the English persists, and people are only too eager to have their prejudices reinforced.

"Where's the place Braveheart happened?" an American tourist in Scotland once asked me. "We want to go visit it."

"You'll have to go back to California," I told him. "Braveheart was pretty much a Hollywood fiction. It's a hodge-podge of things that sort-of happened and a lot of things that didn't."

He didn't believe me. His ancestors were Scotch-Irish too, and like me, he'd been raised to think that the English were a bunch of poncey elitists just itching to subjugate, loot, and rule the world. He cited the British ship owners who benefited from the slave trade, the ships that broke through the blockade to purchase Southern cotton, the English who sent thousands of Irish men and women to work as slaves in the Caribbean.

Hollywood has been quick to capitalize on anti-English sentiment, and people accept what they see in the movies as the gospel truth. Even my kids' classmates point to Braveheart as an example of English cruelty when what it really shows is the power of Hollywood and the tenacity of our own prejudice.

This is not to say that the English haven't done plenty of bad things historically. Of course they have, as have so many countries. But just as I resent the stereotypes held against Americans, I find these prejudices against the English exasperating and baffling. It is as though England's past empire has made the English a safe target for those of us who are looking for others to bash.

We can pass on so much to our children. Knowledge, a love of reading or sports or collecting, family stories, any number of useful tips and ideas. We can and should tell them about history, too; the great wrongs that have been perpetrated in this world should never be forgotten. But why do we choose to pass on our hatred and prejudices? Why is it not possible to discuss the events of history without encouraging our children and grandchildren to nurture the same grievances our ancestors had?

I told the American tourist something I had just learned: that it was a handful of Englishmen and women who started the movement against the slave trade. That a town of newly-freed slaves was named after one of them in Jamaica, that these people dedicated most of their lives to the abolition of slavery.

But he was too busy writing down Bannockburn to listen.

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30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Um, wow. This is something I've never experienced, and I'm a fifth generation, born and bred American.

I don't think it's fair to say all Americans have this opinion. I don't, and never have. Neither does my family, nor anyone I grew up with.

I think it would be closer to the truth to say it's more common in certain areas of America, or in families with certain ancestry.

But not all of us.

TadMack said...

Wow, Mary. I read this... went away, came back... went away. I think it's safe to say that I am deeply conflicted by this post. I don't know when last you were in the U.S., but no one I know has any issues with the English. Mostly they're admired for their accents -- rich timbres, Alexander Scorby precise consonants -- lovely BBC voices. My American friends and family may make a blanket assumption of "Merchant-Ivory" and "classy" when they think of the English, but that's as harmful and prejudicial as it gets.

'Anonymous' is right -- it's not particularly fair to take one random sampling of a stupid man and tar all Americans with the same brush.

The United States has 304 million people in it, -- five times as many people as the United Kingdoms of Britain. It has forty times the land mass of the UK. I think what we forget, when we do comparative analysis of our these two nations, is that America is massive.

It's nearly impossible to speak of it in terms of "Americans say thus" or "Americans do this," because the country is so scattered and almost isolated in each individual state. California alone has thirty-five million people -- I'm just not sure there's a fair basis of comparison between the U.S. and the U.K....

I've encountered prejudice about the English here, in Scotland. My friends in Northern Ireland and the Republic also have had their piece to say about the English. But their criticism is mild -- they have fewer issues with England than the Scots I know. This is of course specific to my friends and my experiences. I have to reiterate -- I have never been taught to have a prejudice with England, have never even heard anything in school about it, despite that whole 1776 Revolutionary War thing. Definitely, that was then, this is now.

I do take your point: what you grow up with you carry with you, unless you make an intelligent distinction between what you believe and what your parents profess. Hopefully, we can all make the choice to mature and distance ourselves from the mistaken beliefs of our parents and fore bearers, Americans, English, or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I think it's important to distinguish between prejudice and ignorance, and to say that what you're describing is certainly NOT the norm. Many Americans may be ignorant of other cultures, but you've portrayed the American as wildly bigoted. What you're describing is akin to saying 'all Irish are drunks'.

You need to rethink.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #1 here.

tadmack said:
"I think what we forget, when we do comparative analysis of our these two nations, is that America is massive"

Spot on.

I've spoken to many people from many different parts of the world who have asked me a similar question: "Why are all Americans like X?" where X=some personality trait. Everytime I get asked that question, X is always different. Which just proves that not ALL Americans are the way they think they are. :) They've only seen a small sampling of us.

The culture in the west is different from the east. The culture of the north is different from the south. The culture of a city is different from a small town. I could go on, but I'd be here all day. :)

There are prejudices here, and clearly Mary has highlighted one she's witnessed. And yes, some parents pass on their views to their children. It's a hard thing to avoid, though I think all of us should try our very best.

I just think it's as great a prejudice to lump all of us together, disregarding our individual opinions.

Charles Gramlich said...

What I've discovered is that pretty much every country and every group of people has its assholes and its angels. I don't know of any countries that are without some nasty brutish business in their past. People are people, no matter where they are from, and we are not a very good breed over all.

Mary Witzl said...

Hello Tadmack and anonymous posters, and it looks like I've managed to open up a can of worms here, doesn't it?

I agree that it is unfair -- and impossible -- to say that all Americans are like this, and I don't believe I did say that. I know all too well that trying to make a blanket statement about America is like a bunch of blind men trying to describe an elephant. Yes, I have seen a lot of English bashing in Scotland, where it is always okay to take pot shots against the English, but this happens in the States too. I may have a better view of it than most, married to an Englishman as I am. We traveled all over the States together and generally everybody loved him and wanted to hear him say things again and again, but he did encounter this prejudice on a number of occasions. I would not have believed it if I hadn't seen it.

Anonymous number 2, I don't think all Americans are wildly bigoted nor did I say so here. We're no more bigoted as a nation than most other countries I've been to, and I reckon we're neck to neck with the U.K. It amuses me to hear people here harping on American prejudice just as it amuses me to hear Americans who feel that our country is a utopia of racial harmony.

Let me assure everyone that I don't think all Americans are like this. But if you ever want to see some who ARE, I can direct you to them.

Charles -- Every time I hear my kids squabbling, I reflect on humanity and its deficits. We certainly seem to be a contentious, prickly bunch. Then once in a while I will see someone do something for someone else from pure, unselfish kindness, and I will be overwhelmed with the potential of our human race. Sadly, I get to hear more squabbling kids than I get to see something like this, but I am still hopeful.

Tabitha said...

Anon#1

Taken from Mary's post.
"...his attitude, though perhaps extreme, is not uncommon in America."

Meaning, this attitude is common. Meaning, it's everywhere (even though I've never seen it). Plus, your label of "American prejudice." I also found this blog from your blueboard post, where you simply stated that you posted about American prejudice against the English. Perhaps it was a simple misunderstanding, but all these things together give the impression that you think all Americans have this perspective. I don't think I was the only person to get this impression.

I think, when it comes to subjects like these, it's more important than ever to stress what you mean. Otherwise people can get the wrong idea rather quickly.

Mary Witzl said...

Tabitha -- I take your point. I generally overuse hedges -- so much so that my writing often sounds wishy- washy. On this occasion, I think I should have kept in my qualifiers.

I wish I could back down and say that this attitude is rare in the States, but in fact there are places where it is quite common.

When I was in college, a friend of mine used to go to a pub where some of the other regulars bragged about supporting the IRA and showing the English a thing or two. They were all American. And I can't help but wonder if the movie Braveheart, which is full of historically inaccurate nonsense interspersed with just enough real history to make it seem plausible, could have been made if the bad guys were NOT the English. Another thing I have come to notice is that quite often when someone in an American movie has a really posh British accent, ten to one he's a bad guy. This irritates me just as much as the assumption that someone with a Southern accent will either be ignorant or a flaming bigot.

I am not saying that all Americans are prejudiced against the English. I do realize that most of us have a generally positive feeling towards them. But I can assure you there is still anti-English feeling that has managed to survive many centuries. And in my zeal to rid the world of prejudice one paragraph at a time, I felt compelled to point it out.

Tabitha said...

"there are places where it is quite common"
On that, I've no doubt.

"I felt compelled to point it out"
As a writer myself, I applaud that. Everyone has the right to express an opinion. :)

Kappa no He said...

As Mary knows and has experienced here (Japan) I'm sure, it is surreal how a nationality is identified with certain traits, certain personalities...Hey look! there's a yank, there's an aussie, there's a brit...And people start to feel proud that they can identify the correct nationality from a distance. Kinda creepy.

K8 the Gr8 said...

Well said!!! Unfortunately though, people with narrow minded opinions generally hold those opinions because they were handed down from bitter parents, and it stands to reason that it will be handed down again to the next generation of that person's family. It'll probably take hundreds of years before the bitterness is forgotten.

It's a crying shame that we can't let go of the past, and see present nationalities as a totally seperate entity to the history they represent.

Mary Witzl said...

Tabitha -- I can seldom resist the chance to make a horse's ass of myself whenever I have a strong opinion. It is a terrible fault, but after decades, I have learned to live with this.

We were fairly open-minded in my family. I won't say we weren't prejudiced because I think everyone is to some extent, but the idea of an elitest England was pretty well entrenched. I was genuinely surprised when I got to know English people and none of them came close to this stereotype.

Kappa -- Oh God, I did this all the time in Japan! Australians were always larger and had bigger smiles and a more easy, outgoing air. The British had that certain watchful quality. French, Dutch and Germans dressed differently, with a certain style...Crap -- I'm doing it again!

Kate -- You've probably seen a fair amount of this, I'm guessing. What I find odd and frustrating, is that a lot of people pass down the grievances, but screw up the history (like Braveheart) and gloss right over any lesson that might have been gained from it. Their kids inherit their feuds and they don't even know why. Hatred seems to be the one thing that gets passed down intact, from generation to generation. Sometimes I despair.

By the way, I have tried to post on your blog and I cannot! If you look in your spam filter, you will find all my attempts. I'm having this trouble with only WordPress blogs. Just didn't want you to think I was ignoring you -- I've been trying to comment!

Kim Ayres said...

I read this and thought what a great piece about the problem of people tarring an entire nation with outmoded stereotyping, then was shocked to discover some of the commenters seeming to accuse you of the very thing you were attacking.

Well golly gosh and other less vulgar expletives...

There is no doubt that among some American circles, more often those who identify with an Irish or Scottish heritage, the anti-English sentiment is palpable. Massive american funding for the IRA would never have been able to happen otherwise.

But as Charles so rightly puts it, there are arseholes of every nationality.

The problem is that most things identified as being English, American or even Chinese acts against humanity are mostly down to a tiny handful of people in government. The people who send others to war to die for their games, politics and personal power do not actually represent the average citizen. More people didn't vote for Bush than did, more people didn't vote for Blair than did.

Why should I or anyone be condemned for being English because of what some power hungry arsehole, born on the same bit of rock as me, decided to do for their own benefit?

We have so much more in common with each other than we do with the ruling elites. But they know they can stay in power more easily if they focus our attention on dehumanising other races or cultures rather than focusing on how they continually abuse us for their own gain.

The world needs more broadmined people like you Mary :)

Pah. Got me on a rant. Time for my afternoon nap...

Robert the Skeptic said...

One thing you can say about Americans and their attitudes is that we are woefully illiterate about what exists outside our borders. Network news pollsters, for example, have found that Americans generally are not interested in what goes on outside the USA.

Case in point is the embarrassing "Freedom Fries" backlash against the French because they did not support our folly in invading Iraq. We often don't know our own history, that without military and financial support of the French and their significant navy at the time, we likely would still be a colony of the UK today.

Most Americans don't realize that the British accomplished in 1814 what Al-Quaida couldn't in 2001... burning down Washington DC. But that is history, why would I carry a grudge against the Brits today for that?

Yet, the few times we have traveled abroad (Europe, Japan, Mexico) I find myself often not wanting to admit I am an American when in the presence of some of my countrymen there... people who display a blatant disrespect and ignorance of the country and culture they are visiting. They are the stereotypical "Ugly American" and I sometimes find myself apologizing for them.

On the other hand, I was recently the brunt of such similar stereotyping in, of all places, Second Life (online community). I was verbally assaulted by three Brit women who assumed I wore cowboy boots, got all my news from Fox, and voted for George Bush. None of which was true.

Fighting stereotypes and sorting out from generalizations takes effort, it is not easy. And it is often best accomplished one individual at a time.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- Tadmack and Tabitha and the other anonymous poster have a point here: I made it sound like the greater majority of Americans are like this, when that is not the case. Just my sloppy writing.

But you are right: the IRA found fertile ground in America for their fundraising, and they could not have done it if this anti-English philosophy had not been passed down. I was shocked when I first learned that and did not want to believe it, but I've heard this too many times to think that it is unfounded.

The Irish suffered horribly because of some of the decisions and actions of the English powers that were -- that is certainly true. But as you and I know, passing down the resentment and hatred merely perpetuates it.

Robert -- For some reason, it is always the gentlest, most thoughtful Americans who end up having to explain that no, they didn't vote for George Bush, no they don't own many guns and insist on using them, and yes, they really do know that Europe isn't a country.

I could just have easily have written this post about English prejudice against the Irish or Scots, which definitely exists. Or for that matter, I could have written it about anti- American sentiment in the U.K., but since I've done that recently (sort of), I decided to do this one instead. I certainly hear enough American bashing, and it pisses me off as much as any kind of bashing -- more, probably, since I have an intimate knowledge of my own country even after having lived abroad for many years and hate to see my country bashed.

There are a fair number of people here in the U.K. (I'm watching my hedges now!) who love the image of Americans as a bunch of ignorant loudmouths. That awful clip of Kellie Pickler on 'Are You Smarter than a Third Grader?' was popular here and there have been others just as bad, all eagerly circulated and duly taken as examples of typical American ignorance. While there may be some basis for this view -- it is true that many of us Americans don't much care about what goes on outside America -- I refuse to believe that it is ANYwhere as bad as the media here seems to suggest. And though I shy away from jingoistic sentiment, I am proud of my country and my fellow Americans and hate to see them portrayed as idiots. I do what I can to chip away at this, but people seem determined to believe what they want to believe, and it seems to cheers some up no end to see Americans as a lot of dopey blow-hards.

I won't apologize for ugly Americans, though. They're on their own. I don't expect my husband to apologize for the lager louts and soccer hooligans in the U.K. either. I do know what you mean, though -- it can make you want to jump up and down and yell "I'm not like that!"

"One individual at a time" -- I like that. I strive to work that way -- slow, but sure.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I thought American women found English accents sexy. Or is that just New York women?

Carolie said...

In my tiny southern mountain hometown, when I was a child anyone with an English accent was a "swishy snob," anyone with a Scottish or Irish accent was "salt of the earth," anyone with a French accent was "suave and sexy," and anyone with an Hispanic accent was "lazy" and "dishonest."

These days, thirty-something years later in that same little town, anyone with an English, Scottish or Irish accent is "classy," anyone with a French accent is "dirty" and "cowardly," and anyone with an Hispanic accent is either "hardworking" or "one a' them damn illegals."

Prejudice lives everywhere, and I think Mary gave us a sharp insight into prejudice to which her husband and his countrymen have been subjected -- IN HER EXPERIENCE. She can't really speak to anyone else's experience, can she? The marvelous part of Mary's writing is that her writing enables one to draw universal truths from her subjective and specific experiences.

No, I'm not talking about "truths" like "oh, all Americans hate the English" but rather truths about prejudices in general, recognizing these prejudices in ourselves and moving past them. There is a bigger message, a bigger picture here...and Mary has simply used her own experiences to help illustrate that message.

My ex-husband was Irish. No, he wasn't an American with Irish roots claiming to be Irish -- he grew up in Dublin's Northside. He once said to me, with venom in his voice, "I HATE the English." I took exception to this, and we had a long...umm...discussion about it. I finally got him to concede that although he might despise English policies, English politics, certain behaviors and events from the past, he had not MET all the English people, and could not possibly hate them all.

That experience has helped me behave with less prejudice in my life today. I may despise the politics and policies and behaviors of American Republicans (and their current incumbents), but I don't hate them. I'd have a difficult time if I did -- turns out my new husband is one of Them.

Mary Witzl said...

GB -- I find just about all British and Irish accents charming, but I have a particular fondness for Welsh, Yorkshire, Scottish and Irish accents. Until I met my husband, though, I had never found British accents in the least bit sexy. Now I'm hoping you'll tell us one day about your experiences in New York...

Carolie -- I had to laugh at your first paragraph: that perfectly describes my own experience growing up, though because I grew up in California and both of my parents had studied Spanish, we had a more egalitarian attitude about Hispanics. English accents definitely did conjure up images of 'swishy snobs,' and what a great expression.

It is a shame that your ex-husband hated the English, and I have heard similar stories. It is not hard to see how the English got a bad reputation in Ireland, but oddly enough, I have never met anyone from Ireland who has expressed those feelings. Perhaps this is because I haven't met many people from Ireland, or the ones I have met have been longterm U.K. residents, but that has been my own personal experience. And yet I have heard Americans express these sentiments. I wish I hadn't, but there it is. It is as though the hatred their ancestors brought over long ago has been carefully maintained, nurtured, and passed on from generation to generation. And what a sad legacy to hand on to your children.

I also like what you write about Americans with Irish roots claiming to be Irish. When they go to Ireland, they find out just how Irish they aren't and how American they are. Living in Scotland has greatly increased my Americanness.

Tell your husband that I come from a long line of Republicans myself. It's nothing to be ashamed of, and I am proof that it can be overcome!

ChrisEldin said...

Reminds me of a joke. On a stranded island, there were a male and female.
Two Greeks
Two English
Two French
Two Americans

Oh man, it was so funny! I can't remember the delivery.

But you're right about the stereotypes. I get annoyed when people stereotype Americans. I was sitting at a table by myself over the weekend (waiting for DH and kids) and the woman at the next table was reading the paper to her two young children, making fun of George Bush. Now, I loathe GB, but she's inadvertantly telling her children to mock Americans.

On a separate note, everyone I know (American) loves the Irish. Seriously. This is the first time I read a direct account of the opposite.

Mary Witzl said...

Hi, Chris -- I've heard that joke, but the nationalities were different!

I'm not putting down the Irish! Noooo! I've got so much Irish in me I couldn't stand up if you took half of it out. Way back when, some of my ancestors got driven out of Ireland and Scotland and ended up in America. They nurtured their grievances, but this rancor got fairly diluted after half a dozen generations. I am grateful for that. I've met people who kept that flame of resentment going full blast, and it could have been a lot worse.

I can't blame the people who suffered first-hand the cruelty of the English. I just wish they hadn't handed it down to successive generations.

Susan Sandmore said...

This is an interesting post. I've never run across English hatred. More like anglophiles, here, there, and everywhere. Maybe it's the area in which I grew up or the people I was among (university types)?

I've always felt the Hollywood stuck-up English baddie who snubs everyone and gets a pie in the face was such an obvious one-dimensional portrayal that it only survives in children's movies (like that dreadful one with Amanda Bynes--sp?--and Colin Firth).

Outside kiddie films, I guess I wasn't aware. We seem to have a love-hate relationship. We love them, they hate us (that's how I felt when I was living in Ireland, too). Take a film like "Love, Actually," for example. The portrayal of Americans is . . . um, interesting.

Susan Sandmore said...

I just wanted to add, now that I've looked at all the comments, that mine was a mere casual observation and actually a very silly thing to say. Of course all English do not thing we are --the bizarre characterizations depicted in that silly comedy. That movie just came to mind as something that made me blink twice.

Mary Witzl said...

Susan -- There are certainly plenty of Anglophiles in the States. Although I loved British literature, I was never one of them, being more interested in truly exotic foreigners myself. Through a process of true serendipity, I ended up meeting my British husband-to-be in Japan.

I think there is something of a love-hate relationship between the U.K. and the U.S., and that isn't a silly comment at all. But I think that this goes both ways. I can't count the times I've had Britons tell me, after visiting the States for the first time, that America was nothing like they had pictured; that the Americans they met were intelligent and kind. Now what does that say about their image of us? Likewise, I've heard Americans express amazement that people in the U.K. treated them well.

I haven't seen 'Love, Actually,' and I dread doing so after what I've heard. My antennae are always out for cheap shots taken at Americans. One thing that has incensed me (and I am fond of pointing this out, as I see it all too often) is that whenever British news crews go to the States, they tend to interview a certain type of American. I've seen them approach beer-bellied redneck types, then shy away from them when they turn out to be intelligent and well spoken. Next thing you know, they've found a real knuckle- dragger who they proceed to have a nice, long conversation with. Dumb Americans are obviously what they are looking for and what they believe will please the British viewers back home.

Eryl Shields said...

Cripes, I read this post a few days ago when you only had one comment, but felt the need to go away and think about it before commenting myself. And now look, it's taken me longer to read all the comments than it did to read the post itself.

The point you make about passing on resentment is a very interesting one and one that needs to be discussed because it makes us all miserable in the long run. And we don't do it, passing on that is, using the full extent of our rationality, we do it instinctively based on the way we feel. Nietzsche has some very interesting things to say on why this might be in, I'm sure, his book Human All Too Human.

When I was young I used to sulk if someone upset me and would continue to sulk long after I'd forgotten what they had done, because I remembered the pain whatever it was caused.

I am partly English and was born and brought up there. I know the English people I meet weren't the ones who colonised the countries of my parents, murdering whole swathes of the populations of those countries. But there are times when reading about those atrocities that I could easily say I hate the English. So I can understand why people of Scottish and Irish descent can say that, and I can understand how that resentment gets passed on. It's because what the English aristocracy did to the Scots and Irish was so huge and so horrendous that even though it was centuries ago it still resonates.

As for why the British like to mock Americans, my theory is that it's because America is so enormously powerful that we are afraid of it. George Bush as president makes it even more scary. In order to quell the fear we mock. That's probably a bit simplistic I know but it's a starting point for discussion.

As for the media, well they are part of the establishment, they tell us they only give us what we want but they really, it has been argued, give us what the establishment wants us to have. They create the desire and then fill it.

OK, enough from me!

kathie said...

Hey Mary, great post. I think a lot of this stuff is passed down subconciously, without parents even realizing that they're doing it. What's interesting about your life is that you have repeated opportunities to be the odd guy out. To see a particular community with new eyes. Some of the communities you've lived in look like you. People prob. say stuff thinking you are of one mind. While in a place like Japan, it's so obvious that you're an outsider that everyone's perspective is different, tempered, heightened. You've learned so much--the subtleties of prejudice are the most fascinating but damaging. Thanks for the insightful thoughts.

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- Don't forget the Welsh! We lived in Wales for two years, and they've got long memories too. The problem is complex and as Kate said earlier, it will probably take hundreds of years to go away.

The history of the English and their relations with Ireland, Wales and Scotland, is very similar to the history of the Japanese and their relations with China and Korea and other Asian nations. There are Chinese and Koreans even now with terrific grudges against Japan -- only decades old as opposed to centuries -- and when you hear their stories, you cannot blame them. In fact, I'd be a hypocrite to blame the victims of such aggression, be it English or Japanese or American or whatever. No way could I forget atrocities like theirs. It just saddens me that history is all too quickly forgotten but the hatred lives on. Whenever I hear tales of fresh genocide, wherever it is, I struggle not to feel depressed as I contemplate the centuries of rancor that will inevitably follow.

I think America's power does make our country potentially frightening, but our affluence and over-use of the world's resources also has a lot to do with our bad image. And there is also our overwhelming confidence, which I believe is one of our great assets, but which sadly grates on the nerves of other more cynical people. Our current president scares and dismays a lot of us, too...

The more you write about Nietzsche, the more I think I ought to have read him. Or perhaps you should just come over and explain it all. (Just joking, of course -- neither of us has that kind of time! But maybe you could give me a quick introduction some time...?)

Kathie -- You are so right: as the odd man out, I see and hear plenty. I've heard Americans trashing the U.K. and Britons trashing America, Japanese trashing other countries and many nationalities trashing Japan -- and so on. My sympathies are divided: I'm firmly on the side of everybody who loves justice but also wants to get along with their fellow human beings.

I had a Japanese-Korean friend when I lived in New York City, and she got to hear all sorts of things a plain-old Japanese or Korean person would never hear. She and I used to trade expatriate stories and bitch and moan about why we couldn't all get along. Rodney King had nothing on us.

I'm always appalled when someone spouts some bit of racist crap that they expect me to go along with. I wonder how I have unwittingly managed to look like a redneck and given them to believe that I endorse whatever they've said. Sometimes I feel like buying a tee shirt that says: "Please spare me the racist bullshit."

Carole said...

I thought this was a very good piece. Was surprised at aggravation some commenters felt. I also have never experienced predjudice against the English, but my dad's family came from UK and my husband's many greats grandfather was the first Englishman hung in the revolutionary war as a spy. In England he was a hero. So I assumed that was why, not that you had the facts wrong. Interesting what strikes people isn't it? Don't quit writing pieces like this. Very good.

Eryl Shields said...

I'm currently trying to write a book - The Kitchen Bitch Ponders Nietzsche, or something like that - if you fancy editing...

Mary Witzl said...

Carol -- How interesting that story is about your husband's spy ancestor. Of course he would be a hero in Britain, but a traitor in America, and how sad for him.

I modified this post by removing a few superfluous 'telling words' after another blogger with a keen eye pointed out that they predisposed the reader to misinterpret my intentions. Rereading it myself, I could see how this might have caused aggravation. I do appreciate the anonymous and other comments; even though my initial response to criticism may be dismay, criticism is still a gift and I am grateful for it. But I will most likely continue to write pieces like this no matter what -- I can never resist the urge to put my foot in my mouth. Your encouragement, of course, is a gift too, and always much appreciated!

Eryl -- I love that title! It makes me want to know who a Kitchen Bitch is and why she wants to tell me about Nietzsche. Come and tell me about it some time and we can go through my garden and find plants you can use. Those pumpkins and tomatoes are waiting for you...

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