After several posts all relating to traveling to various places around the world, as either a form of escape or self discovery, I have come to a general thought (sadly not related to my life’s it factor but rather life in general): who is right about us?
As I lived in Spain, I found that people weren’t overly excited to hear I was from the US. I really had to prove that I was there to learn about Spain firsthand while improving my Spanish, and that I was not just a foreign boozer looking to get wasted in different countries. I had heard that Americans didn’t have a great reputation around the world, but I never thought I would feel uneasy about telling people where I was from. I was wrong. Obviously with such a sound conclusion by some of the Spanish people I knew that Americans only traveled to try different drinks around the world, I had to ask why, and this is what I learned:
After numerous stereotypes relating to the general American population, I finally got to their answer. To them, a lot of countries and cultures appreciate the US, but the US does not reciprocate that appreciation of other countries. I immediately got defensive and thought, well of course we appreciate others; how could we have gotten where we are without other countries? They replied to this obvious remark with an example of what they considered to be a typical American from their own experiences. They said when you talk to other Spaniards, most of them are able to tell you the on goings of not only their country, but other countries in Europe and even others around the world. When you ask an average American what is going on in the world, most of them respond with nothing. When you ask an average American the on goings of their own country, more can respond, but the number is still disappointing. And, when having these sorts of conversations with Americans, they almost always had to speak English, not Spanish.
Ok, so to me it was sounding like they are just calling Americans stupid without telling me where they came up with these conclusions, which I was not alright with. My Spanish friends soon remarked that this was not the point. The point was that regardless of the world knowledge maintained by the average American citizen, Americans always considered themselves the best. Some may call this pride, but most people I met in Spain called this arrogance. They said to me that if we are going to make such a bold statement, we need the proof to back it up, which most Americans lack offhand (again, according to the group I was talking to).
So, according to the people I met in Spain, Americans are arrogant. I am not entirely convinced that this blanket statement is fair.
Growing up, I studied world history for one year in high school. The rest of my history classes focused on American history, which at points included history from other countries, but only as it related to our own. Is that my fault? I don’t think so. In college when I could elect to take world history, I did, but not everyone had to. When I mentioned this to my Spanish friends they thought that to be baffling. They could rattle off American history just as well as I could. I then recited what Spanish history I had come to learn after years of studying Spanish, and they were impressed, but I reminded them that this was an elective for me. I chose to learn this, and not everybody does.
However, as time goes on, more and more opportunities for Americans to willingly travel and learn about the world are arising. More study abroad programs in colleges and even high schools are being offered as a way for students to become culturally aware at an earlier age. Don’t get me wrong, I know that these programs sometimes do not offer the best immersion into a foreign culture, but any sort of immersion is better than nothing, so it is a step in the right direction. Also, there are more ways for Americans to go abroad not just to travel, but to live as well. I’ve talked about teaching abroad a thousand times by now, but it has become such a popular thing for Americans to do in recent years, especially after graduating from college. It could be because of the recession and a lack of opportunities within our own country, but regardless it’s happening. Even international news is easier to obtain with the Internet and the new phases of journalism. Does that mean everybody takes advantage of that? No; but again, at least it’s out there. Not to mention the demand for kids to be bilingual in the states is a growing necessity. I know most countries by now start learning English or any second language at age 5, but again, at least we are starting.
In my opinion, this blanket statement that generalizes the whole population is a bit dramatic. The fact that they were saying all this to an American, in their own country, who was speaking in Spanish, should at least show that, hey, some Americans like to keep in the loop. Right?
What are your thoughts? For those of you that have traveled around the world, what sort of response did you get for being American? Who is right (if there is a right or wrong here)? And, if we are arrogant, who is to blame? Loaded questions I know, but interesting nonetheless.