Friday, March 21, 2008

And while I'm at it

I didn't respond to any of yesterday's comments but only because I wanted to respond in a post.

In response to frequent criticism about the United States, I guess I am forced to ask the question, "Why?" Why do we feel so criticized and why do we feel the need to defend?

I'd say we're criticized because we do a lot of things we shouldn't. Or we try to lie about why we're doing them. We frame them in pretty pictures of 'we're helping the whole world' instead of just admitting that, like many countries, WE'RE SELF-SERVING sometimes. I'm absolutely NOT saying that everything about our foreign policy is bad, nor am I saying that we are a horrible nation. But we're uncomfortable with the political incorrectness of being self-serving so we say we're doing what no one else has the money or troops or morals to do. It may be true about the funds and the troops but I don't believe the US has the corner on the moral market. I'd even go so far as to say we're pretty two-faced about a lot of things. The US is like that bitchy girl in high school that no one really liked but had to be friends with because she was so popular. And why didn't we like her? Because she couldn't be trusted. She was false about her motives, you could never really tell what she was after or when she would turn. You had the very distinct impression she was using you. Which she was.

I'd also say that people of other nations may feel the need to criticize us because we give the impression of being pretty light on the self-criticism and examination that is necessary sometimes to grow. Do we give the example of being a nation that has learned from its mistakes? Or from history? I'm not saying we don't, I'm just asking the question. Do we?

As for seeing the points of view of other countries, gosh, where to begin with that one? The European Union, with all its issues, is a union of 27 member countries. 27 different countries who actually manage, with admittedly more or less success, to see different points of view and work together. Which is not to say that I believe the United States incapable of lifting its head out of the ethnocentrism that has dominated for so long. On the contrary, I hope we will. I believe we can.

Part of the problem is that, as a nation, I believe that we behave like an adolescent, which, historically speaking, compared to many countries, we are. What does a typical teenager do? She doesn't listen to ANYONE and thinks she knows EVERYTHING.

Here's a question for the day: when was the last time the United States listened to anyone? When was the last time the United States admitted to not knowing everything?

And lastly, I'd like to mention Ali's comment. Oh my. Again, another where to start. If you haven't read the comment, here is part of it:

The other day the local paper did a story on gas prices, and interviewed a few people at the pump. I quote:

Faith Dansby, who was putting gas in her van at a Shell station on New Circle Road, said she is coping by trying to cut down on trips, such as getting her groceries once a week rather than making multiple runs.

"As Americans, we shouldn't have to go through this," she said.

And as Ali said, "I was flabbergasted at the statement I bolded up there. WHAT? I found it very narrow-minded, and yes, chauvinistic. What about the rest of the world?"

Ali also provided a link which gave stats on gas prices in other countries. Do you realize that in France we pay over $7 a gallon for gas? And in most other European countries it's over $8?

A little relativity is always good, it gives clarity to a perspective, it provides a reference point. Perhaps that is the problem. Where is our point of reference?


beth said...

I don't know enough about our policies to even comment intelligently and I'm sure the USA has done a lot of selfish things. I can only say that I admit we are not perfect, however, like your example likening the USA to the bitchy girl in high school. . .I think it's also the same when the bitchy girl does soemthing. . .everyone comments and mostly negatively because she's not well liked, however if the girl in the next classroom does the exact same thing - no one comments or notices. Also, I agree with Ali's comment - that lady's quote about gas is stupid - however, I think stupid quotes happen in every country. . when I was in France visiting you 9 years ago Jeff asked the baker if he could get a larger cup of coffee - the baker's answer was that this was France and they took time to enjoy their coffee, it's not like American where everything is rush rush (all he did was ask for a larger cup) - and the baker's answer was said with attitude - so stupid comments are everywhere. Also, when we got off the plane in Paris to meet you there were protestors carrying signs that said "F**k America" - things like that sign make me want to stand up and say that I'm proud to be an American - but I guess you could say that was our first greeting in Paris and what a nice greeting it was!!

Nicole said...

Beth - The problem isn't that you wouldn't admit we've done selfish things or that we're not a perfect country - most of the people I know in the US are like you and would. It's that the country as a whole has been unwilling to do that, and certainly its present government. As for bad French tude towards American tourists, we could go back and forth all day long. My point wasn't the stupid comment the woman made, it was the attitude behind it, which I fear, is probably more common than we would like to admit. I think a lot of Amerians do believe they shouldn't have to deal with it just because they are American.

Nicole said...

I should also add and make this very clear: I'm not saying France is a better country or that the people are better - it's not about that at all. Every country has its strengths and weaknesses and people are really people wherever you go, to quote some song. My point that I'm not sure that as Americans we acknowledge our weaknesses as often as we might need to. And I would also say that when we are criticized our first (and often only) response is to defend and never to consider the validity of the criticism.

kingba said...

And it probably also partakes of two things:
1. we do feel insecure and inferior to the Europeans with their culture and variety of cultures ("multi-culturalism/ and multilingualism"), their history, their historical suffering, their past, etc..
2. But we also compensate and we feel superior (they need us when they get themselves in world wars, etc), we have more space, more resources, more economic power, we are bigger, better, blabla.

Bottom line: We are a young country (200 years and change) with one war on our soil (Civil War) (I know, there is the ALamo, and the (Amer)Indians (successful massacre, the land is ours, amen!), we're not fully "geled" or mature yet.

We also have all this space (there would be 700 or 800 million of us if we were just as crowded as the average European country, so we can be spoiled and not crawl on top of each other.

Anonymous said...

kingba- Did you ever heard about LAFAYETTE and the thousands of young french soldier who died for your so strong country to come to existence.
Learn this : history is not a flat line. The one who need help one day, could be the one who help the day after.

kingba said...

Good point, anonymous But bear in mind that I was reflecting upon what I perceive to be a common view,not expressing MY views (of whether we are or not strong, better or not...)

Anonymous said...

Nicole, this is my first blog comment ever. Recently when in a group of international-euro friends, conversing over coffee- someone brought us down this very familiar road- outlined in this and your last blog. German guy said, "Hold on! Seriously, I am grateful that the USA is the country running the show right now. Tell me what the world would be like if some other country was in charge. Who else would you prefer? Russia, Iran, any muslim country, Pakistan, Thailand, S. Korea, China etc., etc.? I even prefer the USA over my country (Germany). We are very quick to criticize without thoroughly weighing the alternatives..." The simplicity of this stunned me. Instead of assuming the typically defensive position forced upon me (as the sole North American at the table) while attempting to respond to everyone’s comments and where I quickly get lost in all shades of subjective greys - I have since borrowed his question and have thrown it back at a few people "Well, then which country would you prefer? And, tell us why." Blank looks on every face. The coffee conversation then turned to a sort of brainstorming of utopian world solutions as well as highlighting the shortcomings of every other government on this earth. The resultant discourse was much more to my liking. Had I found what we might call a perverbial “off-the-hook” or loophole for us Americans? Pfew. Thank you German guy. I am in no way excusing/justifying certain facts but just tired of being expected to defend the USA and every silly comment ever uttered by GWB everytime I have coffee in public. This is my new question of the day.

beth said...

anonymous - nicely said! thank you!