Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Observations, Opinions and Blogging

I wrote my first-ever opinion piece about reckless people operating their jet-skis on a lake. It was June, and there were little ducklings everywhere. I was twelve years old, and I was angry. My piece was published in the local newspaper, and I felt better, even proud. I have always been opinionated, but after my teenage years I started to struggle with finding an outlet for my opinions. With strong views come people who don't agree with you, and being able to deal with confrontation has never been one of my virtues.

In my early 20s I became best friends with relativism. It was a great way to sound smart without having to carry that baggage of being the opinionated girl. No one likes a girl with opinions, right? It was a dangerous path to stray on. At university my essays would often portray an issue from as many standpoints as possible and my conclusions were grossly diluted. As much as I had to say, I voiced nothing. My low point with relativism came when I found myself defending a culture's right to female genital mutilation and the use of child soldiers. That was not where I wanted to be.

I write about this because the response to my post about the "ugly" Americans got me thinking about opinions. One commentator mentioned that I should have kept my thoughts to a personal journal, and another wrote that it was unfair of me to draw such general conclusions of this country and its people so soon. I am the first one to admit that I wrote the piece in question when I was angry, and it shows. In my struggles to become less of a relativist I have noticed that anger gets me talking. I used to be awfully cautious, and I'd supress any sense of instinct and moral judgement I might have had. I'd exhaust every possible aspect of a given issue before saying anything. Not only was that awfully consuming, but it often left other people troubled. All that talk, and no way of finding out how I really felt. These days I try to go with my gut-feeling instead of making excuses for others. I observe tentatively and I do some research, but I am not a social scientist (well, actually I am, but not for the purpose of this blog), and I try to become more comfortable with having strong viewpoints even if I don't have multiple fact sheets on my side. Doing this makes me feel better about myself, and it certainly tends to create conversation.

Let me cut to the chase: I have recently moved to a different continent. My life is bombarded with new ideas, practices and norms on a daily basis. Settling down to a new culture is never going to be easy, and there is only so far I can go with cultural relativism. There is a real danger of losing oneself if one only entertains things that are positive. Some aspects of living here are wonderful, others terrifying. My observations are, of course, very personal in nature, and I have assumed that they would make interesting reading for many. However, the last thing I want is to be disrespectful towards the country and the people who are hosting me. However, if I write about my settling down here, there are going to be ups and downs in the process. I am not big enough a person to only write about the happy stuff. Which is why I ask you: does my settling down in the US make interesting reading? Does anyone want to hear about the negative stuff, or even the positives? Do you blog if you are angry, or having a bad day? Where do you draw the line when writing about opinions?

On a different note: I went to see Crazy Heart last night. It was the same cinema, but a very different crowd. As I sat there with my fellow movie-goers, there was only silence and awe to witness this gem of a movie. Go see it, Jeff Bridges is amazing.

Red sweater: second hand / Salvation Army
Shirt underneath: Urban Outfitters
Skirt: second hand / Salvation Army
Knee-high socks: Urban Outfitters
Shoes: second hand / UFF


Charlotte said...

Crazy Heart IS amazing--we saw it over the weekend in a could-hear-a-pin-drop audience. Talk about an "American" movie!
Your observations about relocating to the USA make excellent reading, and readers who are truly thoughtful and interested in our country will appreciate the many, many facets of it. As anyone who has traveled abroad knows, people in other countries all "look American" in a way that we don't particularly "look Finnish" or "look Japanese." America is a vast beautiful stew of identities and cultures, and as with a stew, sometimes you get something in your mouth that you can't identify and you spit it out and say, "Ugh, what's this?" Sometimes it's a bay leaf and sometimes it's a bone.
When I lived in Ukraine in the early 90s, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I was appalled to see that the first vestiges of "American culture" that appeared on the street were the most crass: Pepsi, Marlboros, and loud, blaring dance music. So for some Ukrainians, "American culture" was only that--no inkling about Napa Valley zinfandel, the Kansas City Ballet, the Atlanta symphony, Susan Sontag or Dave Eggers.
When you write about the bad behavior of your American cinema audience, I hope some of the people who criticized you will think twice before they have a conversation during a movie again, or if they're in a theater and people are yapping away, they'll turn around and shush them.
Seeing behavior viewed from another perspective should spark a "I never thought of that," not a "How dare you mention it."

Sal said...

I can definitely relate to your journey - from being opinionated, to a little watered-down, and back again. Although I feel like I can be too much of a people-pleaser to really speak out ALL the time ...

I think your acclimation to life in the U.S. is fascinating reading fodder, for what it's worth.

joelle van dyne said...

personally i am interested to read about your experiences in the US. it didn't offend me to read your last post at all- americans can be obnoxious, and i too HATE when people talk out loud at the movie theatre. that is rude no matter where you are. and i can tell you it happens a LOT in big cities in the US, and much less outside of them (from my experience anyway). i say keep the stories and observations coming, good or bad. ~joelle

Michele said...

You already know that I think it's interesting, but I'm going to say it again anyway! You were totally constructive, but you also gave a personal perspective, and it's hard to see anything wrong with that. There's a lot I'd like to discuss with Finns about the difficulties of living here as a foreigner, but it rarely goes down well, and I haven't worked up the courage to talk about most of it on my own blog. And now I'm wondering if it's time to be more open. There's a lot of sentimentality tied up with national belonging. But shouldn't we be able to talk about the less savory sides of society too?

Ah well, who doesn't love a person in polka dots.

mirattes said...

i like stripes and dots in one :)

jesse.anne.o said...

I would like to hear about this stuff. I can't believe you got those responses! Who cares about that stuff? I'm an American and I could care less that's the bias against us because I know it's not even true.

My blog is mainly about outfits and misc stuff as a form of escapism (animal welfare isn't the most fun field sometimes - there's a lot of sad cases) so I try not to bring too much negativity into it or it actually works against why I do it.

Jane W. said...

There is a real danger of losing oneself if one only entertains things that are positive.

I can certainly relate to that, having moved from the Northeast to the Southwest five years ago—still within the United States, but the cultures are radically different. My mother articulated it very well during one of her visits: “It could really suck you in, if you weren’t careful.” Similarly, in a birthday card to me she wrote: “Remember who YOU are.”

So yes, I think it’s important to acknowledge and voice the negative as well as the positive, and I am very interested in reading about your experiences on both ends of the spectrum (as others are, apparently). My father is European, and I can relate to having habits and values that differ from those around me.

However, I have spent time in several European countries for work and leisure, and have seen crass behavior on both sides of the ocean. Perhaps not hooting and snorting during a film, but certainly racist comments, conspicuous consumption and loud, drunken “obnoxiousness,” for lack of a better word.

Yet the consensus seems to be that an American who points this out is just reinforcing the stereotype of a provincial culture, while a European who does so is providing insightful cultural criticism.

Thanks for reading this—I greatly appreciate it. Now I should go do some work, although this dialog is much more interesting to me.

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

oh goodness--firstly, love the polka dots and red.
i have to admit i am probably not the person to give advice about the negative. it stinks when someone tells you something nasty and makes you feel badly (i am going through some of that myself now). it makes you want to crawl in a hole!!
but i thought your post about americans was interesting--and DIFFERENT--and i liked that a lot.

Anonymous said...

I say keep writing how you feel. I forgot how hard it is to go live in a new country where everything is different from your own and where you have no family close to you. Like I said, I started reading your blog because I found it different from others, you captivated my attention when you wrote that post about shopping too much and how it made you feel, I related so much with you because I was going through the same thing. I Like reading your blog, and I like to reaa you blog because I know you are not writing just to have people agree with you or keep us happy. So keep writing Waves and keep posting those great outfit pictures. I wish I had an item that I could wera over and over again like you have worn that polka dot skirt.

Eyeliah said...

Oh yes, I find it very interesting and bold of you to be so honest about your feelings. Personal thoughts are what blogs are about I think.

sjwhidden said...

i love reading about different perspectives. and it's your damn blog! it's very kind of you to consider your readership, but letting the audience direct the play is a little backwards.. not that thats what you're doing.

when i moved to finland i was full of venom and vitrol, some valid, some just reactionary culture shock. upon retrospect the process or rejecting and warily accepting and rejecting and carefully reconsidering is all a rational being can do in a whole new predicament.

jatka ihmeessa!


Clare said...

I definitely find your transition interesting, and encourage you to incorporate it into your posts! It's refreshing to see different sides of bloggers.

Rad_in_Broolyn said...

Hey, I really like reading your thoughts about transitioning. There's nothing about hearing the observations of an "outsider" whatever that means. I am not deeply invested in my American identity, and I thought your opinions were perfectly fine. I feel that way in loud theatres too. I tried to figure out something interesting to add to the conversation yesterday but it never came out right.
That said, I've been living in NYC (from the midwest, where I went to college) now for not even 2 years. And when I first moved here, I felt anger, amazement, happiness, wonder, exhaustion, annoyance, shock, etc. All the feelings you go through when adjusting. I whined to my boyfriend often about "I hate it here" and complained about my job too. I'm still not a happy positive person about everything (I ascribe to the Barbara Ehrenreich school of skepticism towards the positive mental attitude industry). I am opinionated and I love opinionated woman. So keep doing what you're doing- being creative, critical and perceptive. You're doing a great job.

Milla said...

Hi! I didn't get a chance to comment on your last post, but was riveted to find all these comments and conversation on the topic.

I think that this blog is for all intents and purposes "your journal" and that we are privileged to read it. While one does not always voice one's inner most fears and desires on one's blog, I certainly find blogs that reveal something REAL about their authors about a million times more interesting than ones with just posts about "what I wore today" and "what I want to buy".

While it's lovely and amazing to have readers and be part of a community, I myself keep a blog first and foremost for me, as a way to clear my head, have fun and write little stories about my own life. It's a hobby, and a little bit glossed-over and simplified, but it's also not separate from what I am as a person. If others enjoy it too, all the better.

So please, keep it up. Be opinionated. Be provocative. Be yourself.

Either way, the stereotype of the ugly American is partially true, just the same as the stereotypes of other nations are true. It's true on the general level, but often not the individual level.

In spite being in the exact position as you,
I don't often discuss these thoughts much in my blog (I live in a part of the United States where a lot of things that are aggravating about mainstream American culture are not present. One of the reasons I love this country are pockets of different ideas, true freedom and idealism, like this one.), but I love hearing about your experiences and hope that you will keep posting on your new life in the New World.

Anonymous said...

Definitely keep writing about your relocation :) It makes a wonderful read and - that's obviously a huge compliment - your texts bring me memories of Bryson's Notes from a Big Country. Culture clash is always an amazingly interesting issue.
As for keeping your opinions personal - I don't agree. Anyway, THIS is your private, personal piece of web, so you're entitled to do whatever you want in here. And, a girl with opinions is definitely more interesting than, so to say, a girl without qualities.
Cheers to you,

Everything Is Better Tinted Purple said...

I think the main thing is, this is your blog, so you should be able to say whatever it is you want to say in it. What others take from that is their opinion and if they dont like it, well frankly, they are not under any obligation to read it. Harsh maybe but really, the truth. Everyone has opinions on everything. It doesnt matter where you grew up or where you live now.

And perhaps it might just do a little good to give a bit of a wake up call every now and then to the not so "beautiful" things one encounters places. An eye opener with maybe a chance for someone to realize that a change could be made.

I live Germany and frankly, we have experience our fair share of events that I have complained about in certain places. Doesn't mean I dont love where I live. It just means that event bothered me. And maybe someone will read it and think about it. Or not. Who knows. But at least I said my peace and I felt better. Not bottled up.

On a totally different note, love the pattern mixing. Very bright and fun.

a cat of impossible colour said...

I don't think your comments were over the line at all - they were very reasonably and respectfully put. i find your views on settling in a new country very interesting - positive and negative! There are always some people who will bristle at the slightest perceived insult to their beloved country, but it's unrealistic to think that everything is going to be sweetness and light when you've made such a big change in your life. Keep writing about it as honestly as you have been - we'll be reading! :)

A xx

Marie McGrath (The Joy of Fashion) said...

Love this outfit!! the pop of red looks amazing with that dress!

T said...

There's a good essay in the NY Review of Books related to this:

Linda said...

You articulate better what I have experienced (and continue to experience) over the past 15 years of my moving to this country. What's even better is that the responses have answered some of the questions I've long had about some behaviours and attitudes in this country. Very interesting and enlightening. More importantly, your outfits rock.

Please keep on writing. I wish your blog existed before I had to move to the U.S.

To the above commenter, thank you for sharing the link to the NYR essay. How thought provoking...

South African in America