One of the questionable habits of "intellectual" Europeans is the bashing of Americans and their lack of general knowledge. I am ashamed to admit that in my youth I made vows to never set my foot in the United States. I was a hardcore pacifist (and still am, but a less aggressive one), and found the wars the US was involved in deplorable. I, too, tsk-tsk-ed when my dear friend Teresa (a US citizen) claimed out loud in our international politics lecture that America was the greatest country in the world. (The tone of her claim suggested that she was not only referring to the military might of a nation, but the supposed superior moral status her country enjoyed.) While working at a student residence in London, I dealth with American law students who did not know what country codes for phone calls were, or who blew the fuses of all of their electronic apparatuses before asking if there was something wrong with the electric circuit of the building. Even last year I laughed out loud when I saw a YouTube clip of a US beauty queen showing her dumbness when asked about the lack of geographical knowledge of her countrymen, or when an Australian reporter went around asking Americans about the most famous buildings in the world.
In the past year or so, tables have turned. Since it became evident that I was going to move over to the US, I have struggled to learn to put the US states and the major cities on the map. I would have to double-check when the declaration of independence was drafted, and what the events were that led to it. If you had asked me to put Indiana on the map a year ago, I would have struggled. Ask me to name the presidents on dollar bills and I wouldn't have had an answer for you until very recently. I shriek like an idiot at the sight of a racoon, and don't even know the names of the basic weeds around here. Summa summarum: I have gained a sense of sincere humility whenever I encounter Americans who mix Finland with Sweden, or who might struggle with the details of the Paris Peace Agreement. The best bit is that these Americans are just as humble as I am when it comes to acknowledging their lack of wisdoms. They might not know whether Paris is a part of Europe (I was asked this by a student from Florida about ten years ago), but they are sincere and curious, and for the most part, they have extremely detailed knowledge of the history of their own country and culture. Add the numerous Americans who have first-hand experience in university life, world affairs, science, business or media, just to name a few outlets, and intellectually speaking the average American might not be worse off than his or her European counterpart.
Having said all that, yesterday I was presented with a first-row seat to witness the emergence of a scary American subgroup: the obnoxious, rude, loud, ignorant Americans. Chris and me decided to go see Shutter Island (after all, the movie takes place at a mental institution in the 1950s - I was intrigued). Without giving the time much consideration, we went to a 10:50 showing on a Saturday night. As you might guess, in any town or city, that is the time when anyone interested in safe-guarding one's own sanity should stay at home. It is the time for the obnoxious, rude and loud.
Shutter Island is a serious (if not all that great, but not bad either) movie. It deals with mystery, the human mind and the fragility of our condition. Chris and me were accompanied to the movie theatre with dozens of teenagers and young adults whose only reason to come to the cinema that night was to discuss Lakeisha's new haircut and to shout remarks such as "I want someone to die already", "That's some f^&king ugly child" and "I bet she wants to f%&k him". Add hysterical giggles every time the camera moved into show an insane person or to a dark cell with naked asylum inmates, and you have a pretty decent idea as to how the entire two hours were spent in the cinema.
There are badly-behaved teenagers and young adults in every society, but I have to say I have never in my life encoutered anything like what I witnessed last night. These young people spoke non-stop, from start to finish of the movie, walked around in the cinema when the movie was playing, and showed no consideration whatsoever to the fellow people around them.
Chris tells me that there is a certain part of the American population whose first and foremost way to look at the world is "I am entitled". These people think that it is their God-given right as a citizen of the United States to behave as they see fit in any given situation. Me first, others second. I wonder whether it is for these people that our local Barnes & Noble bookstore stocks "South Park and Philosophy" next to Hobbes' Leviathan.
I feel bad about having the need to write this post. During my stay in the United States I have met so many wonderful people - people who have hosted me in their homes, people who have shown genuine interest in my culture and country, people whose smiles are sincere and who are eager to learn about the world and other people. I hate to bash anyone in this country, because it gets enough bashing already, and its people have given me so much. Still, I am horrified that the other side of the face of this country is so selfish and ugly. I am sad to note that I have not encountered such ugliness anywhere else.
Belt: second hand / Salvation Army
Shoes: second hand / Fida
Beret: second hand / flea market
Beret: second hand / flea market
Brooch: gift from Lynn