This is a very special entry for It’s Not As Bad As All That. Not a very special episode like you might find in an American sitcom but it is very American. Close friend, confidante, deep thinker and professional American Megan visited me in Hong Kong recently and I convinced her to write a guest blog for me thinking it might be interesting/I am exceptionally lazy. Take your pick. This being the blog that doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘after the fact’ (that should be this site’s bloody tagline) it was originally intended to be posted during her visit when it would have a good deal more relevance. The time of the year you read it however, does not make it any less spirited, engaging or entertaining however. She’s not going to write any more for me because I’d have to hand over the keys to the blog if she did. Girl puts me to shame…
So jetlag being what it is (and that is a total seaward – censored for sensitive eyes) Megan wrote this in the middle of the night in the throes of insomnia while I slept blissfully on in the next room. I think you’re going to like it. It’s a lot better than the shite I come out with when I’m sleep deprived.
It’s an interesting experience, being an American tourist. Not that I have anything to compare it to firsthand, of course, I’ve only ever been American, but everyone has an opinion on my country, and many will not hesitate to share it. Between the constant streams of US news and media exports, people the world over feel like they know my country as well as I do. But the America of the 24/7 news outlets and the America of Hollywood bear about as much resemblance to reality as Picasso’s Guernica: the gist is there, but the details are twisted for dramatic effect.
Pet Peeve #1: “Wow, I didn’t expect to meet an American as nice as you.”
Well, there’s a back-handed compliment if ever I heard one. Seeing the standard Ugly American Tourist stereotype is all a matter of confirmation bias. In any large city, anyone out and about will see hundreds, if not thousands, of people per day. Chances are good that if you look around long enough, you’ll see American tourists. The thing is, you’re only likely to recognize them as such if they fit the stereotype: baseball cap with an American state/city/university/sports team, inappropriately casual clothing, camera around the neck, white socks and sneakers, impossibly loud voices. So, the ones you remember are the ones that fit your initial view anyway, and the others don’t even register as Americans, or possibly even as foreigners.
Pet Peeve #2: “I hate/love [fill in politician name here]”.
This one is bothersome, because the people who engage in these conversations rarely know much about politics outside of a kneejerk reaction, so it’s impossible to discuss the issues on their merits. I’m as much responsible for my government as any other voting citizen is for theirs. That is, I can influence the outcome of only a limited number of elections (on the federal level, that’s two Senators, one Representative, and the President), and even then only by one vote. I can register my approval or disapproval on proposed legislation with the above, and I do on matters that are important to me, but in the end these are politicians and they will nearly always do the politically expedient thing. I agree with some of my government’s actions and disagree with others, much like anyone else, but start insulting me and I will defend my country with all the vigor and accuracy of the Teabagging movement [DH: HA! Teabagging!].
Side note on the idea that pops up at every election that other countries should have a say in the American presidential election, simply because of the effect that election can have on other countries: every country’s choice of leader affects other countries, otherwise it wouldn’t be leadership. Why is it an acceptable idea to deny the US the sovereignty extended to every other country just because we’re America?
Pet Peeve #3: “Pushy Americans, always showing up late for every war!”
This one is generally only heard in the UK, but bothers me more than the others when I do hear it because it shows a complete lack of respect for one of that country’s best allies. Imagine you’re in the US in 1914. Only a century ago, British forces burned the White House to the ground. Now, they’re asking for our help to fight a war that started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich ‘cause he was hungry. This is a war of European powers squabbling among each other, and dragging their colonies into it. America joined the war effort eventually, but can hardly be faulted for a let-them-sort-it-out-themselves attitude. And then what happened? Wilson shows up at the Council of Versailles with fourteen points for how to prevent another Great War and he’s given the diplomatic equivalent of “Not now, sweetie, the grown-ups are talking”. Thirteen of his ideas are tossed; the one remaining is the League of Nations, but the implementation is far from Wilson’s dream. [DH: Nightmarish flashbacks of GCSE History ensue.] The other Allied powers are much more interested in making the Axis pay, which is why another Great War starts not a generation later.
Now picture yourself in the US in 1936. The Great Depression rages on, the loss of American soldiers and the humiliation at Versailles is fresh in the common consciousness. Another war is starting. Do you rush to join it, given all of the above? Roosevelt wanted to, but you’ll recall that politicians seldom do anything but the politically expedient, and the American public was vehemently against it. So much so that a conspiracy theory exists to this day that Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor beforehand, and let it happen to spur the nation to war. It’s not true, but even if it were we would have only joined the Pacific theatre [DH: Point of interest: Why don’t British schools teach us anything about the Pacific Theatre? Does it really take Spielberg and Hanks to make us care about these things?]. Congress viewed the attack at Pearl Harbor as an act of war, and formally declared war on Japan, and Japan alone. Germany and Italy reacted with a declaration of war on the US, which Roosevelt returned. America joined the European theater secondarily, which gets forgotten in a history education focused on the homefront. If not for the US, many of the victories of the Western front would not have been possible. (Still, the response of “You’d all be speaking German if it weren’t for us!” isn’t accurate either. No matter what happened in the West, the USSR was waiting in the East, and Hitler was never going to win a land war in Asia. Technically, we should be saying “You’d all be speaking Russian if it weren’t for us!”)
America did the same thing that every other allied power did, if you look at it from the perspectives of Spain, China, Korea, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Poland, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Austria, and many Germans: entered the war only when Axis aggression began to directly affect them.
All these peeves make it sound like I should just stay home. That’s not the case at all; I love traveling and there’s rarely been a time that I’m not thinking about my next trip abroad. Meeting new people and seeing new places is an incomparable experience that I never want to give up, and every time I return home it’s with a broader worldview and changed perspective. I’d just like to give this corner of the internet the same benefit, minus the jetlag.