February 24, 2003

A nice little piece on

A nice little piece on being an American among anti-Americans in well-heeled Britain:

in a way I'd been eager to deny, I sensed that the anti-Americanism around me wasn't the reasoned, rational position that many of its adherents made it out to be, but something a bit more pernicious: a form of bigotry intended to humiliate and wound rather than to win over hearts and minds.

I've always kind of enjoyed being the caterpillar in the salad, and I can't say I've ever felt in the least humiliated or wounded in such situations.

I know what he's talking about though. In my experience, most Brits just assume that, as an educated, middle class person, you automatically endorse without reservation and in its entirety the aggregate of prejudices and notions that everybody knows all right-thinking people share. As the British spend a great deal of time thinking about us, America and Americans figure rather prominently as topics in this aggregate. As to some matters, they may be right in this assumption, of course, while on others they may be wrong (also of course.) As long as you keep your mouth shut, it hardly ever comes up, and you can get on with the more serious business of toppling the wall of reserve through binge drinking and merciless, good-natured razzing about the foibles (sexual, usually) of everyone sitting around the table.

Admit you're a bit less than thoroughly anti-American, though, and they stare at you flabbergasted, open-mouthed, as though you've expressed admiration for Hitler or something. It plays out like a breach of decorum more than anything else. Your date may, with a pained expression, say something like "Oh, really, Herbert..." Usually, as in most things, they're far too embarrassed to make a scene about it and it goes no further. Everybody sort of mumbles the word "right," and looks at the floor or ceiling. Eventually, someone buys the next round of lagers and you move on. (If you enjoy this kind of thing, you can make a sort of game of it: the best card to play is not about this or that war, nor this or that president, nor even this or that McDonalds-- which most Brits dearly love, whether they admit it or not. No, the checkmate move is Guns. Freaks 'em out every time.) The ultimate irony is, of course, that by and large they really do love America and Americans, often to the point of obsession.

I'd add, though, that you can play this kind of Outrage Roulette in Berkeley just as easily. The difference being that in Berkeley, someone usually ends up crying. So it's not even remotely worth it.

One more quote:

To quite a few of my fellow Oxfordians in that charged cold-war moment of MX missiles and speeches about the Soviets' Evil Empire, my self-styled cosmopolitanism was a joke. To them, I was just an American, a Yank, and therefore specifically responsible for the election of the clownish Ronald Reagan, the worldwide spread of Coca-Cola addiction, the displacement of serious drama by dopey action movies and the general degradation of everything. I may have thought of myself as Jean-Paul Sartre, but in the eyes of my anti-American schoolmates I was, and always would be, Merle Haggard.

Seriously: if you truly prefer Jean-Paul to Merle, you need to see a specialist or something.

(via Gary Farber.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 24, 2003 09:25 AM | TrackBack