Friday, June 24, 2011

Back in the U.S.A.

I don't mean to mislead anyone; I know that most pieces that have a similar title begin with acknowledgments of gratitude to freedoms, football, stars and stripes, or some such iconic shorthand for "goddamn it's good to be back where things are done right!" So, don't say I didn't warn you. This ain't one of those pieces.

I always experience a bewildering sense of alienation when returning from abroad to the United States. I recall while still a high school student  recently returned from Brazil, and at a dentist appointment the hygienist said, "I bet you're really glad to be home." When I demurred, she became quite aggravated, and as her fist was clutching sharp, pointy dental implements I let her rant and scrape the foreign debris from my teeth(a bright smile is important in America, after all!).  Even at that tender age I detected a brittle, overly sensitive national image.

The mere mention of people leading rich, fulfilling lives outside the borders of the U.S.A. often provokes, I've noticed, rabid jingoism in my fellow citizens. Their bombast seems to always implicate me in some kind of anti-american stance when all I'm really trying to suggest is that throughout the world people live according to different norms, speak different languages, follow different religious traditions (or none at all), and count their existence as worthwhile. I struggle to see how this makes me anti-american.

I'm not suggesting, either, that other countries don't have problems, corruption, etc. that make, by comparison, America the "best country in the world." But as the comedian Dennis Miller once quipped (back in the days when he was funny!) "claiming that America is the best country in the world is like being valedictorian of night school."

Perhaps, all I'm really trying to say here is "do we have to be so thin skinned?" Do we have to trumpet our xenophobia as a virtue? Can't we admit to our fears that, say, for example Finland has a more democratic system than do we? Or that Cuba has a health care system that serves the people and not profit motives? Can we acknowledge these and other foreign factors and work to make things better here without condemning and or threatening foreigners?

As for me and my alienation, well, perhaps it is just me. Maybe I'm not as cock-sure and yankee-doodle damn dandy certain of American superiority. And maybe, as has been suggested to me, I should live elsewhere. For those of you who embrace such intolerance I welcome you putting your money where your mouth is and send me a check so I may relocate elsewhere. For the more reasonable among you, let's talk.


anno said...

A perfect place... definitely not. The place where I belong, well, yes. Regardless of one's feelings, seems a measure of introspection is called for...

pmPilgrim said...

Good post and not a bad rant. You are right on target!