Recently, in the course of my work, I came across a book titled "Hating America." As I'm sure the authors intended, the title of this work immediately grabbed my attention. I began to wonder if the authors, themselves, hated America and perhaps this was their particular diatribe against the things they disliked. Although I have yet to actually read the entire book, I scanned it enough to learn that it is actually a commentary on the history of anti-Americanism. The authors begin with 9/11 and go back through the centuries since the founding of the United States of America to look at the various groups that have hated (or at least seriously disliked) America and their given reasons.
These reasons have been many and varied, ranging from our foundation on Judeo-Christian religious principles to economic prosperity to political and military power to our government's perceived imperialistic attitude towards other countries and peoples. The one that I find the most amazing and distressing is the "Ugly American." No, I'm not talking about someone's great-uncle Horace who has the general physical appearance of a constipated gargoyle with a bad case of acne! After all, real beauty comes from the inside, not the outside. Rather, I'm referring to the person who seems to have an exaulted opinion of both themselves and all things "American" and a very low opinion of anything that is other than "American." In this person's eyes, anything that is not American is "stupid" and somehow inferior. The way Americans do things is the "right" way (by "Americans" they generally mean other individuals from their paticular community or part of the country) and the way persons from other cultures do it is wrong, unless they do it the way Americans do.
This attitude applies both to internationals who immigrate to the United States or come as tourists and to the local citizens of other countries that these Americans happen to visit. If an Eastern European comes to America and blows his car horn when the traffic light turns green, he's automatically being rude. If the Ugly American goes to England, those traffic roundabouts are ridiculous and confusing. Why in the world don't they just have normal traffic signals? Food that is not "American" is weird or just plain gross and everyone else in the world is supposed to speak English so that the Ugly American can make his (or her) demands known with as little inconvenience as possible. The idea of actually taking the time to try to learn a few words of the language and a little about the culture and history of the place they are visiting seems to be incomprehensible to this person. American English is the best language, American food is the tastiest and, of course, the way Americans think is the "right" way.
I have to ask myself, "Where do these people think America and American language and culture came from?" If we can credit the research done by generations of biologists, anthropologists and archaeologists, every people group currently represented in the Americas (North and South) originally immigrated from somewhere else. Even the Native American or First Nations peoples are descended from ancestors who immigrated across the Bering land bridge centuries ago. What we know as the United States of America and "American" language and culture are composites of a myriad of other languages and cultures, the majority of which have a much longer history than our measly 250 years (350 if you count the earliest European settlers). We owe a great debt of gratitude to these cultures and their representatives who have immigrated to the US over the centuries and made our country what it is today.
Don't get me wrong, I love my home state and country and am very thankful that I was blessed to be born and reared here. I am proud of many aspects of our history and the multiple cultures that are "American." I also enjoy doing things in the ways that are traditional in my southern American native culture. What I really dislike is the Ugly Americans who behave in such a way as to bring shame upon our culture and country. This picture brings to mind a prime example of the Ugly American.
This is the beautiful "Castelul Peles" (Peles Castle), which is located near Sinaia in the Carpathian Mountains (a.k.a. Tansylvanian Alps) of Romania. A few years ago, when I was living in Romania, I had the occasion to visit Peles with a friend. Because my friend did not speak Romanian, we went on the English-language guided tour. Our companions on this tour were all members of a group of American university scholars who were visiting Romania as part of some sort of European academic tour. Over the next hour I chatted in Romanian with the tour guide and in English with my friend as the three of us tried to ignore the rude comments made by various members of this group. Our guide worked hard to give us a good tour, but his job was made much more difficult because of the behavior of this group of Ugly Americans. They laughed at the artwork, derided what they perceived to be the frivolous use of national funds to build such an extravagant palace when the country was so poor and generally made increasingly rude and obnoxious remarks about the castle, Romania and Romanians.
My friend and I were so embarassed that I turned to our tour guide and apologized to him for the egregious behavior of these Ugly Americans. He gave me a puzzled look and asked "Why are you apologizing? Your'e not American!" At that point, I was sorely tempted to lie and say "You're right, I'm not!", but I decided that I had to be honest, no matter how embarassing it was. I enformed the guide that I was, indeed, American and then turned to address the Ugly Americans. They actually seemed surprised when I dared to take exception to their rude behavior and remarks! When I told them the true history of Peles, their response was "Well, we didn't know that." I suggested that the next time they were in another culture, they should make sure they knew the facts before making uniformed and rude comments. They reacted in puzzlement when I told them that their behavior made me ashamed to admit that I was American. They didn't even bother to apologize to my friend and I or the guide for their nasty comments or their behavior!
The saddest part of this situation is that they seemed to neither know nor care that their behavior and comments were so rude and unacceptable. They actually seemed to think that they were in the right. Unfortunately, these individuals are not alone in their beliefs. There are many Americans who may seem to be model citizens as long as they are with their own family and friends in their own little community, but become rude, overbearing, demanding, boorish and crass Ugly Americans whenever they come into contact with any person from another culture, whether in America or abroad. It is easy to understand how persons from other countries could get the wrong impression of America and Americans if they have had the misfortune to meet these Ugly Americans first.
By the way, Castelul Peles (pronounced PELL-esh) is a beautiful example of the Neo-Renaissance style of architecture. It was built between 1875-1883 by King Carol I and Queen Elizabeth of Romania with their own funds. It was the summer home of the royal family and is also the final resting place of King Carol. The neighboring Castelul Pelisor was built by the beloved King Ferdinand and Queen Maria. Although both castles were royal residences, they remained accessible to the Romanian people up until the Communist party's rise to power and the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. After the 1989 revolution they were reopened to the public. Many people consider Peles to be the most beautiful castle in Europe. I agree! Anyone who has the opportunity to visit Romania or any of the surrounding countries should make Peles Castle and the nearby town of Sinaia a priority stop! To learn more about Peles and Sinaia visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peles or http://darkroompeople.com/drp7/sinaia/ .
01 February 2006
After a long day at work, I sped home last night to watch President Bush's "State of the Union" address. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I was looking forward to hearing what he would have to say about the current state of life in these United States. For those of you that were not privileged to hear his speech, the President's main topics were a renewed emphasis on developing non-oil-based or "alternative" fuel sources for home and automobile, Social Security and the continued impending crisis, taxes and the War on Terror. What I really want to know is "how is this going to affect the average Joe? Namely, me?" I am of the opinion that many Americans are asking themselves the same thing this morning. If all of these ideas are implemented within the next few years, am I going to be able to afford to buy a car, heat and cool my home, or someday retire?