American Rage

I am not a flag-waving, gun-toting American.

I think the fact that we have the right to criticize (again and again) our government, to question our motives and to demand better is an excellent thing.

I understand why the world doesn’t like us very much. I understand we have a reputation that isn’t that great, and I understand we don’t do very much to fix this reputation. I get it. It’s embarrassing, and I can be honest about it.

But I am an American. The more I’m traveling and seeing the world, experiencing cultures that aren’t my own, the more I see that being an American means more than just being a loud mouth Jersey Shore dickhead. There is a culture here, a way of talking, a way of understanding the world, a way of identifying ourselves. Being American means something, even if Americans try and ignore it or deny it or push it aside as “just one big melting pot”. Which is true but untrue all at the same time.

And here is where my anger surfaces. I understand the global criticism. We think we are the good guys, but we don’t really act like the good guys and we are most of the time out to only benefit ourselves… on a global level, not on an individual level (unless you’re a high ranking politician… even Obama). But you and I, we are going to work and coming home and living our lives. We are fortunate because we have more than some other people have. We also have less, but mostly we just have more. I believe that the majority of people are passively self centered; they don’t want to hurt other people necessarily, they just care about themselves the most. I don’t like this very much, but I see that it exists.

What is super frustrating to me is the nonchalance that people from other countries have about badmouthing “Americans” or “America” to my face. Aside from being rude, it really pisses me off. I would never start talking shit about where you come from to you. I may have ideas, political/cultural ideas, that I have the ability to express in broad terms, but I am not going to burden you, oh citizen of the world, with them. So why is it so fucking acceptable to tell me how “American” such and such negative stereotype is, or how America is ruining the world or how we are all just a bunch of arrogant, immature, environment-hating capitalists?

I mean, I know why. That was rhetorical. But I think it’s totally bullshit. On a personal level I feel like I’m doing the best I can. I hate that I don’t feel like I have any power in politics, but I try to show that Americans aren’t bad people by being polite and gracious abroad (and yes, self deprecating when it’s called for). But I’m exhausted by the weight of all the assumptions and the overwhelming acceptance that it’s cool to hate on the United States. I’m super over it. I don’t want to feel embarrassed of where I come from and parts of who I am. When are people (both here and everywhere) going to be able to tell the difference between a country and its people? Please let it be in my lifetime.

29 thoughts on “American Rage”

  1. I felt this most acutely in Japan. I have plenty of complaints about American culture, but I found myself getting so angry when they would bash our independent spirit or selfishness. Honestly, I found all the talk about the greater good and subjugating oneself for the good of society hollow, as if all the modesty were an act. And most of the politeness just felt phony to me.

    I’ve never been too offended in Europe. I roll my eyes at the Germans wearing socks with their sandals and power walking past all the sights at a brisk clip to keep to some sightseeing schedule. But I think that’s my American immaturity showing.

    1. I find it really interesting that your experience in Japan was so negative. It’s always been positive for me. I’m half-Japanese so I have family there, and while I “look” Asian, I “act” American (it’s inherent in body manners, hand gestures, and even walking gait, so it’s apparent I’m not from there once someone sees me move or talk) and wonder if the “phoniness” you felt there was just a cultural disconnect? It’s easy to feel like their politeness is over-the-top, as I can definitely attest when I watch my full-blooded Japanese mother trying to accommodate guests in our house (it’s like an onslaught of NICE).

      1. It was a student trip, so we met people I wouldn’t have met had I been on a simple vacation – businessmen (and they were all men), diplomats, politicians. We spent a good deal of time discussing the different business cultures. They seemed to really relish backhanded comments on American business culture. I’m not a huge fan of American business culture (work-life balance most of all), but they chose to harp on personal independence as negative. I felt like they had this pack mentality that made me really uncomfortable and I felt like they valued appearances and cordiality sometimes at the expense of substance. There was such a complicated dance of manners when I’d prefer to get to the point. So sure, it was a cultural disconnect. I was in a position to have to sit there politely and take it while my skin crawled. As a 17 year old girl and a guest, I didn’t feel comfortable voicing a dissenting opinion.

        “…onslaught of NICE.” Haha, I love it.

        1. When I say “they,” like “they had this pack mentality,” I am specifically speaking about the people I met. In particular, the 40+ year old men in business and politics. I’m not trying to say all Japanese people act a certain way. Just wanted to clear up what could sound really ignorant and rude. Though, I’m sure I’m still plenty ignorant.

  2. This frustrates me to no end.

    But I can see why people would treat it so casually: half-ish the American population can’t shut up about how the country is crap, our leaders are running us into the ground, etc. Hell, our PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES are saying these things in televised interviews. I’m not talking the criticisms you (and I) like to be able to make, I’m talking the Tea Partiers screaming and so on. Loudly saying we’re all crap. Why would anyone assume it’s not the way most Americans think/act when these are the people getting the most exposure?

    It just pisses me off.

    1. I think also, I resent the attitude that I shouldn’t be offended. Like “What?! What I say is totally true and you should just sit there and take it.” I resent that idea that I SHOULDn’T have any national pride. And maybe I shouldnt…. but i can’t help it.

      1. I know this feeling!! the “maybe I shouldnt, because sometimes we suck, actually we suck alot, but I love my country and its people!”. I totally get this!

  3. As much as we have our problems, other countries have theirs too. I always think Brits’ criticisms are pretty rich since they’re still sitting on a crap ton of treasures pilfered from other countries during their colonialism phase. Now they don’t think it’s cool, but it’s not a strong enough feeling to return all the treasures.

    I think part of it is a phenomena of blaming others for your problems. While what America does legitimately affects other countries, there’s a lot of changes from within that every country should be focused on. I think America most of all should turn a critical eye towards itself.

    You’re completely right about presenting yourself as a smart, concerned and friendly person abroad. This kind of exposure is a powerful antidote to the unfair criticism – if people have positive experiences with Americans, it’s harder to make sweeping generalizations.

    1. ps: when living abroad, people were actually pleasantly surprised by my politeness, consideration, patience, hardwork, and kindness – which was something that comes naturally to me bc it was how I was raised – but also something I was keenly aware of portraying while I was abroad. Way to go you, Lauren, for doing that. I wish more people did.

      1. But isn’t it FREAKISHLY condescending that people are SURPRISED that we’re polite and nice? I mean… for fuckssake, who’s the ignorant one now?!

  4. I’ve noticed this a lot from the Brits on twitter and it pisses me off to no end.

    Guess what! There are annoying idiots in every country! No one has ideal politicians! Stereotypes are ridic and people who employ them are being lazy with their brains!

    I think it’s also really difficult for non-Americans to understand how each state really is it’s own little country, as far as beliefs, perceptions, and actions of the people who live here.

    1. That is a really excellent point. We do have a unique situation in this country, and what makes it on TV is NOT the predominant view.

      And right now I’m having most of my issues with canadians making really icky comments.

      1. Canadian here chiming in to say I’m really sorry for those comments, whoever they came from, because it’s NOT COOL.

        Disagreeing with the decisions a government makes? Totally fair. Slandering the people of any country or culture just because you can, or you don’t agree with that country’s political decisions? Unacceptable.

        I could probably venture a guess as to what brings that out sometimes in Canadians, but either way it is not cool.

  5. Yes!! Exactly! Totally! I want to put my hands up and yell more one-word exclaimations of solidarity πŸ™‚

    Its interesting that you’ve had people be so blatantly rude to your face, because I mostly see it in the media, and less on a one to one basis. But thats just my experience. I see it pervasively in media and in parodies. Sometimes they are funny, especially when we are teasing ourselves (Jon Stewart!) but on a global scale, it pisses me off. I feel like the international media focuses on our flaws, and ONLY ours, entirely too much. We have positives, we have great things – not to mention the equally bad and stupid thigns the bajillion other countries are doing or their people are ‘being’ (if you can generalize that much). Not that it would be fair to spread the teasing/hate around, but you get my point πŸ™‚ So to have people brought up and people pretend like its this coolfunnyinsidejoke that we all can laugh about – to my face – that is super frustrating. I’ve had conversation about our issues, about our mistakes, our hypocrasy, duh, because its there – but its been within a conversation that came up naturally and equally and was not bashing and more observation and acknowledgement. Sigh.

    major point of contention: our positives are really really positive. For example, we are in a billion countries giving out food aid, economic development, grants, healthcare, etc etc. It is not perfect or equal but it is there!

    1. But I think our negatives are also really really negative. I teach ESL in the States and the first thing all of my students want to talk about is the lack of healthcare in the U.S. I’ve taught RICH people from other countries who are appalled that we will let people die because they can’t afford health insurance.
      Also, we have a big problem with poverty and homelessness. If we are going to portray ourselves as the greatest country in the world, we really need to get a handle on that. Other countries aren’t as “powerful” as the U.S. so we are pretty easy to pick on. When I lived in Chile, and people brought up bad things about the USA, what could I say? We helped stage a coup in their country that led to a 17 year dictatorship. That’s really bad. And embarrassing. And so long as the people I met knew I was a good person, that’s all I cared about.

      Another thing, maybe all of us on here are normal folks when we travel, but some people do go abroad and act like the Ugly American. And sadly, people usually just remember the bad things.

      1. But no country is innocent. Not a single one except for maybe Tibet. And yet, I don’t blame individual people, or feel the need to discuss a country’s bad parts with them. It’s rude and unfair. Individual people have no control over the major problems caused by meddling governments.

        When I meet people from Iraq or Iran I don’t feel it’s my obligation to tell them how horrible their government is. How terrible their history is with women and violence among their own countrymen.

        And this goes with my smile and nod comment below: I feel like the pervasive thought is that citizens of the US are in need of education on their own issues. And that is condescending and frustrating.

        1. I agree, especially about Tibet! Ha!
          I think the problem here is that you have manners. And it’s hard to be polite to rudeness. But for some reason we do it all the time.
          Don’t forget that not all people from other countries act this way. Again, it’s unfortunate that we only seem to remember the loud mouths from any country!

  6. I’ve been told many times that people in Africa think it’s really cool to meet an American. I have to say my limited experience (in South Africa) did not contradict that opinion. Everyone we met was super kind, and when they found out where we were from, they praised our country. I’m sure having Obama as a president at the time helped β€” we received many compliments that we had the greatest president in the world. In fact, we saw magnets and beaded souvenirs of Obama’s face in a few places we went. One guy raved about the fact that Tiger Woods was from the United States.

    1. I found the same thing when I was in Morocco. Anyone who found out I was American (I speak French and apparently look Spanish, so some people I assumed I was from either of those countries) immediately praised our country, praised Obama, and said we were very welcome.

      Tangentially, I had a VERY cool opportunity to speak with a political dissident/enemy of the state (meaning of Morocco) while there and she said she was always happy to talk to American students because they both lived her POV and had a willingness to understand the parts they didn’t live.

  7. Not that this is a defense, but I think it’s easy for other countries to justify because as Americans we have so much privilege. Because we’re the richest country in the world, a huge military power, tons of land, a pretty horrific history of colonialism and a large vocal group of people who think we’re the greatest, it’s easy for people to feel they can say anything they want. It’s sort of how no one feels much guilt about saying something about the 1% or straight white men. When you’re in a position of power, people feel like it’s okay to say things to you that they would never want to hear.

    I didn’t like being told again and again how irritating Americans are and how our politics are all twisted when I was living in Europe during the Bush administration, but I also completely understood where they were coming from (I’d seen my fair share of drunk Americans not realizing the privilege they had) and felt like it was an opportunity to show them we weren’t all cowboys who thought torture was awesome.

    (That said – what a relief to be in Senegal afterward, where people were too busy hating the French to care about Americans. I felt far more welcomed there.)

    1. I’ve never not felt welcome anywhere I’ve traveled. Which is lucky, and possibly due to me not paying attention to anything but the pretty. And I don’t mind having a discussion about the shit foreign policy or the wacko politicians, but I have had many conversations where people who are not American want to educate me on how fucked up the country is and how we’re hurting the world. And I just have to sit there and nod and smile. There is an expectation that it’s all good to shit on my home, but I better not say anything negative about anywhere else because what do I know?

      1. Why do you have to sit and nod and smile? Can’t you listen and educate them right back? Also, remember that the news we watch in the States is a lot different than the news the rest of the world sees. So they only know one side. Take it as a chance to show another side. You can do that without being rude.

        1. I am not the US ambassador to the world. It isn’t my job to educate every person who things all americans are terrible people. Mostly I just want to hang out, chat, share a drink, a story, appreciate each other, etc.

          1. But by hanging out and sharing drinks, you are being an excellent ambassador for the US! The people you meet, even if they are all hell bent on saying the US foreign policy sucks, will hopefully remember that you are an awesome American who likes to chat and share things with. That’s the best thing we can do, is be good reps for our countries. Just like when we go to different states and represent the good from it!

  8. This “When are people (both here and everywhere) going to be able to tell the difference between a country and its people?”

    is what should change… the kind of generalization that leads to wars, instead of realizing that we are all human, trying to live, that most people in all of the world want the same things, that we are not at all that different .

    And though of course I understand the anti-american feeling… it is mostly because of the foreign policies they have , but that has nothing to do with the population, with the people.

  9. As an outsider, I find this post really interesting. I’ve been trying to think of a coherent response but my thoughts are all over the place, so I’ll try my best!

    -Some people I think are just jerks. Honestly, there’s never any need to be rude about someone else’s country (or anything else for that matter). I think the jerks are in their own category of stupidness, and everyone should just try and ignore them as much as possible! ugh, I hate those people.

    -I think America gets criticised a lot because it is such a big player on the world stage. I’m from Australia, and so not a lot of people know too much about us (which has it’s own set of frustrations) but it means that we don’t get criticised because we’re such a small player, and besides, a lot of people confuse us with Austria! America, on the other hand, has a huge amount of influence world wide, in terms of foreign policy and cultural influence. Decisions made by the American government, or the predomiant messages going on the media there really do affect us a lot here, and so hence the criticism if people don’t think it’s a good idea.

    -Speaking of my own experience, people here in Australia also tend to get a little frustrated with the level of American influence over our culture, and that can obviously lead to criticism, not of individuals, but of the influence.

    -This personal experience only, but I think criticism of different countries often comes out of cultural differences, and the fear of that difference. For example, the deeply patriotic feelings of Americans as portrayed to us here seem really odd and almost…suspicious? because the dominant culture of Australians is more along the lines of playing things down and being self-depreciating. Obviously, no-one is right or wrong, but people can be threatened by what is different to them (which is dumb, but happens a lot).

    -People respond to the picture of America as it’s portrayed in our own media, and most of the time it’s not exactly flattering (sorry). Normal people obviously know that what is being seen is nowhere close to the whole story, but there are a lot of dumb people out there!

    -Obviously no country is perfect, and I think we have a lot of problems here, I spend more time criticising my own country than anyone else’s!

    -I think everyone is, by default, an “ambassador” for their country whilst overseas. Australians have a pretty bad reputation as travellers in some places (Bali, London) and whilst it’s annoying, a lot of it is justified, and so I do my best when I’m travelling to represent my home in a good way!

    -Having said all of that, again, some people really are just rude, you’ll find those people everywhere, and I just hope that you have better experiences in the future!

    -Oh, and I’m coming to America for my honeymoon in October, and I just want to say I’m SO EXCITED!!! πŸ™‚ There are so many things to love about America, and I can’t wait to see a small part of it!

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