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Yankee Doodle - on Americans

It has been remarked that there is a fairly anti-American theme running through this b.log (and, as has also been mentioned, this is a typical product of "European jealousy").

There lies a fairly significant problem of perception. People living in America will see America as not only their home, but also in a way their spiritual residence. It seems to me that being American is more a state of mind than, say, being British.

Unfortunately for many Americans, they do not and cannot perceive America as seen through the eyes of a foreigner. America's foreign policy often comes across as bullying at best, and warmongering at worst. You think the world loves America? Ask a Palestinian.

This is, in effect, why the commentary is frequently with an apparent anti-American slant. It is because of the perceptions of the cohesive unit "America" to the rest of the world, from the severely broken patent laws (which either America or American lawyers and profiteers (I'm not sure if the government is behind this or not) wants to push to the rest of the world). The severely broken concept of anti-terrorism (which involves one-way extradition treaties and sucking up vast quantities of personal data that a foreign country has no rights accessing). The equally broken Patriot Act and DMCA (which, in their defence, have been weilded at American citizens more often than foreigners, but which remain a concern for any company whose structure passes data through the country (falls under the Patriot Act)).

This is one of the prime reasons the world was happy to see Obama elected. Okay, he may be messing up the medical schemes (though one could argue that the American medical system needs a complete overhaul - how can a developed nation survive with a medical system that biased?), but for the rest of the world he was seen as the moderate solution. Sort of the antidote to years of the Bush administration. In a way, he has not gone far enough yet, but that's less important than the fact that it is, at least, a start.

Don't get misapprehensions here - for all the patriotism shown, Bush made a lot of enemies. It will take much work to drag America into a positive light. Now, I know, you might feel that this is just another bitter European speaking. Well, take a look at this:

Chart, from Yahoo! Finance, of the US dollar against the Euro, and the steady decline of the Mighty Buck.
[image generated by finance.yahoo.com]
That's a chart of US Dollar vs. Euro for around ten years. The currency was pretty good when Bush got in (recovering from Enron's fallout), it took a hit around 9/11, recovered slightly, but has been on a fairly obvious slide since then, to hit an all time low as the economy nearly collapsed in 2008, to rally (a little bit), though it still remains fairly weak.
The perception and 'trust' the world puts in your country has a pretty large impact on your exchange rates.

You could dismiss this as Europe gathering strength and favouring its own, or some other excuse, so here's the US Dollar vs. Yuan:

Chart, from Yahoo! finance, showing the US dollar against the Chinese Yuan - check out the 2005 lossage!
[image generated by finance.yahoo.com]
It looks artificial until an event in mid-2005. The rest? Well, that pretty much speaks for itself.

In a way this is a good thing as the non-dollar currencies will have more buying power, which could create jobs. Though, America will need to be mostly self-sufficient with regards materials for importing things will mean higher prices.

The casualties in this are the American public. It is one thing to make flippant daft generalisations (such as the oft-touted one about American cinema-goers being stupid), which can be more of less glossed over as every country has a section of the populace it ridicules (Britain - an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a bar...). It is therefore important to realise that the actions of a country do not necessarily represent the desires of the people of said country. Part of the support for the Iraq conflict was bourne out of fear (those who disagree are "unAmerican" and looking to expose the country to unacceptable threats, etc), part is mass hysteria (as how law abiding people can turn into rioters given the right push), and part is an understandable desire for revenge given that flying two fuel laden planes into two large buildings in the middle of a metropolis is inconceivably horrible. The leaders make decisions, and the populace either rise up and fight or they sit back and generally agree. The leadership of the US over the period in question was remarkably devious and have done perhaps more damage to America's principle of freedom and liberty than many of its own citizens may realise yet. And, through it, they kept the people afraid of an unseen enemy, pushing the right emotional buttons to have the population either accepting the course of action, or abstaining from comment.
This is not a fault of the people, it is a fault of the leadership. Perhaps it is why Obama won the election? He was seen as the one likely to be less manipulative? That, maybe, for a period, America itself wants the soft option. A period of internal healing. To step back, take a breath, and say "f--- me, what was that all about?"

I am generably favourable to the America I would like it to be. I don't know where Obama will take planet Earth, but I know where Bush was going and I'm glad he's gone. The country offers many staggeringly beautiful places, and people who are lovely and people who are hostile, but from what I hear the balance is tipped well in favour of hospitality so long as you stay out of the bad areas of cities past midnight - but then you could say the same thing for London. One of the things that makes America particularly interesting is its sheer size and diversity. The capital, Washington, DC is about 3750 miles away from me (~6000km), across an ocean, while Beverly Hills is 2305 miles (3710km) across the rest of the country.

To give an idea, the distance between the London Weather Centre and Washington is about the same as to Peshawar (Pakistan; 3675 miles/5915km) [note: if you draw a line higher, through Kyrgyzstan, our end point would be nowhere on the far left of China!]; while Washington to LA would be the same as the Weather Centre to Jerusalem (Israel), only a stones throw from Syria, and Iraq.
The country is huge, ridiculously diverse, and attempting to operate as a conhesive whole. Quite impressive.

And anyway, there are plenty of examples of good Americans. Here are two:

Zooey Deschanel, quirky cute. :-) Alyson Hannigan, chic cute.
[originals: Zooey Deschanel and Alyson Hannigan (original misspells 'Allyson'!)]
Mmm, looking at those pictures, I think it's not too difficult to figure what sort of girl I like! ☺

Anyway, the American people do have a say in how their country is perceived. It depends upon who they elect as their leaders. It's just a shame that for the second vote for Bush, the best the opposition had to offer was John Kerry. A country of 307,000,000 people and they ran him against Bush... oh dear!

 

Yankee Doodle?

It is a patriotic song that dates back to 1760, and is the state anthem of Connecticut (the oft-forgotten one up the north-east coast).
The song, as usually quoted, goes as follows:
   # Yankee Doodle went to town,
     a-riding on a pony.
     He stuck a feather in his cap,
     and called it macaroni.
(there are many many more verses...)
There's an interesting history to the song, which you can read more about on Wiki.

 

Americans

I won't claim to 'know' how an American thinks, though there is one thing that always impresses me. For all the flag waving may seem awfully crass, they are proud of being American. Furthermore, an American can tell you the exact meaning of the stars and the stripes.

Contrast this with Britain, where we would all like the country to be great but secretly we tend to dispise successful people. The tag "Made in England" is more comic than serious these days (thought: is anything much actually made in the UK, other than local foodstuffs like Cornish Pies, Yorkshire Puddings, Müller Yoghurt (Shropshire)...?).
How many people can tell you what the pattern on the Union Flag is all about? How many incorrectly call it the Union Jack [Wiki is uncertain, but any reasonably educated Brit will tell you that the Union Flag is its land name and Union Jack is its sea name; same flag, different context]. And, finally, how many average English people even know which way up to hang the flag? A proper British Union Flag is not symmetrical, the thin red stripes meet the blue flecks in a counterclockwise sense. And finally, how many people when saying they are British do it with the same degree of enthusiasm as an American... or anywhere even remotely near?

While blind patriotism is borderline silly, it is equally silly to be so bored and disillusioned with your country of residence that you don't feel you really want to admit it. You should feel a connection to your country. It works for you as you work for it. This is something Americans are strong with. Because, ultimately, if you don't have any faith in your country... why are you even there?

US flag, image from FreeFoto.com
[image by Ian Britton, from www.freefoto.com]

 

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