‘ I don’t care if it’s too damn late! I ain’t gonna sit next to some stranger on a five hour plane! You gotta change may seat!’.
A shrill voice filled a particular departure lounge in the Nice Airport. Following it was the crashing sound of a gigantic limb that pounded on the podium before it. The tranquility that had once permeated every crevice of the sun-filled room abated, and a familiar feeling of apprehension arose above the silence that followed the commotion. Tactless American mayhem was about to commence.
A plethora of ‘mon dieus’ erupted in unison. Askance glares were being shot at the tactless woman. No one could fathom what compelled her to change the seating arrangements of her entire family and herself when we were about to be shuttled off to the awaiting plane.
Across from the generously proportioned woman sat I, unscathed by the ordeal but perturbed none the less. I had never dreamed that I would see the famous clichÃ?Â© in action, but there it was before me.
With all of the attention being focused on the podium, no one in the room noticed that I, too, was American but was a living example that not all of us acted in such a manner.
All my life I have pondered what it means to be a citizen of the US. It has taken me years to finally establish myself as being quasi French in my town of Antibes, France, and despite the fact that I’ve been to twenty one countries and have studied six languages (not to mention the fact that I speak French almost without a foreign accent and have studied Archaeology at Oxford and anthropology in Kenya) I continue to fight the label of being a loud mouthed ‘yank’ that has come to invade yet another country. Having dual citizenship just doesn’t seem to cut it nowadays.
The American character is something that each foreign country relishes in bashing, and how could they not? From the war in Iraq to Mcdonald’s, we are infiltrating every system on earth and are the ones at the forefront of globalization. Every day the news spurts out how the hatred towards the US is rising and the world seems to surmise that it’s the goal of every American to take over the planet.
So, which is the true American disposition: the loud mouthed ‘yank’ or my subdued self?
Well, in reality, there is no such thing as a single character for a country. Not every Parisian is snobby, nor every Englishman conservative. Therefore, not every American is uncouth.
It seems to be one’s desire to stereotype and brand things that one does not completely understand. Had I attempted to argue over the American temperament five years ago when I was sixteen I would have ignorantly said that the stereotype was perfect and that the words tactless, incompetent, and uncultured could some up the general character. In order to understand why I thought this, one must understand that my time in the States was spent in a small town in Wisconsin that had a population of 9,000. It was the kind of place where everyone knew everything about everybody, and gossip wasn’t a hobby but was a profession. I loathed having to deal with the critical people who seemed to dominate the place and say what was and was not the ‘norm’.
My viewpoint indeed did change after I decided to move back to the States to work with my brother in Los Angeles. No longer was it considered abnormal for one to travel and have a passion for the arts. Instead, I found a city that’s abundant with left wing newspapers, movies, and even coffee shops and dressing like a ‘goth’ or dying one’s hair pink is commonplace. Despite the pretentious downfall that can exist in some areas of LA, it’s definitely not the all-white hang out where militia groups slam Buds in tune to the national anthem and cheer on George W. Bush all days long.
No, that’s not the general LA scene. And that’s not all of America.
When I moved back to the states from France I assumed that I would have to deal with the same comments that I confronted in Wisconsin about ‘ fitting in’ and how integral it is for one to live in Suburbia, frequent Walmart, and have 2.5 kids.
But in reality, that’s not how all of America operates, and becoming a minivan sporting soccer mom isn’t what every American strives to obtain. Families are traveling more often and to more locations and are fighting to give their children a more liberal and cultured education, which is very similar to the way it’s taught in the South of France.
The States have gone down in history for producing Britany Spears and several pointless wars. This is factual. But what of Emerson, Thoreau, and numerous other influential intellects that have affected the way the world looks at the arts and sciences? Why does no one seem to credit us for these individuals’ accomplishments?
The American character is not a linear subject and therefore cannot be treated as such, as much as one would like to. There exist to every rule an exception, and America is full of them.
When the portly American lady in the terminal finally had her way and moved onto the shuttle bus with her family, I concluded that whoever sat next to her on the flight would be having a long day.
I did not, however, ponder the subject any more as I then began to strike up a conversation with the attractive Spaniard next to me.
Our chat was in Spanish, of course.