On Hating Americans

I was recently in Berlin, where I spent pretty much the entire week stuffing my face with falafel. (Side note: I challenge anyone who whines about European immigration to eat more falafel and take a good hard look at the joys you’re railing against). The man who served me my delicious falafel asked me where I was from.When I said the United States, he responded: “I am from Iraq so I hate you.” Then he chuckled, to let me know that maybe he didn’t actually hate me. Maybe just a little bit. Leaving aside what bad customer service that is, I wondered how I could possibly respond to a comment like that. Not being quick enough or witty enough on my feet, I told him that I didn’t hate him, and that I understood why he hated me. This was the closest thing to the truth that I could offer him.

This is hatred. Why does it have to taste so good? [credit]

When I relayed this story to a new travel buddy, she rolled her eyes. What a jerk, she said. Then she said something else about how we need to stop focusing on trivial things like national identity and all come together and that people need to recognize that we’re not the enemy. And I could sort of agree with her, except not really, because it’s easy to be magnanimous when you’re the oppressor. It’s easy to preach about tolerance and unity when you’re the aggressor. We can go on and on about how “we’re all world citizens” and “I personally never did anything to harm you” but Iraqi troops have never invaded my home or killed my loved ones and that sort of thing does matter. I proudly protested the Iraq war years before I had any right to vote, but the war has still meant something very different for me than it has for people living in its wake.

You’ll encounter America-hatred when you travel abroad. Your American compatriots will likely insult their own country and talk about how provincial and backwards it is, too. Some will try to pass themselves off as Canadians, or they might just be quick to rattle off the ways in which they’re unlike other Americans. This goes both ways – Canadians are often mistaken as Americans*, and they hate this. They won’t tell you how angry it makes them because Canadians are polite to a fault and always say “aw shucks! Don’t worry aboot it!”. But it sort of pisses them off–why else would they smack three different Canadian flags and maple leaves onto their backpacks? Sometimes they pepper their speech with so many “ehs” that it’s clearly affected.

It is affected, right? You don’t actually talk like that when nobody else is around, do you? [credit]

I understand why Canadians make fun of us and why they feel the need to assert their Canadian identity and make a big deal about how much better they are, because we’re easy to make fun of. Nobody else wears white socks and fanny packs, but Americans never really got that memo. We’re a bunch of big dorks, and our French is absolutely abysmal. (And, to be fair, it goes both ways – ripping on Canada is an awesome national pastime. Remember that this is the country that’s brought us Avril Lavigne, Justin Bieber, and Nickelback.)

But it should stop there. As an American, don’t try to play this game. You don’t need to go so far as to stick American flags all over your gear (in fact, PLEASE don’t do this. I will suffer from so much second-hand embarrassment) but don’t pretend you’re something you’re not, either.

And then there is the opposite problem: there are some countries where people automatically love Americans, usually because of some fucked up colonialist historic events, and never because they like you personally. They have a Disney-tinted view of the US, which (in their mind) is mostly made up of New York City and a few outlying rural (cowboy-infested) areas. This is just as sad as the automatic hatred, but for very different reasons. Either way, love it or hate it, very few people abroad have a full and rounded idea of what Americans are actually like.

Sorry we fucked up your culture and economy, dude. Here, have a nice baseball cap. [credit]

The best thing that conscientious Americans can do is to go out there and travel and show the world a face we can be proud of. People are going to continue to think of us as a bunch of frothing nationalist warmongers if you don’t show them how considerate and smart you are. And you can do this without bashing every other American on the planet for being a frothing nationalist warmonger.

So next time someone asks you where you’re from, tell the truth, and be grateful that you have a good opening right there to learn something, and maybe teach them something about what an outrageously diverse group of people we are.

*No, but seriously, this is awkward. What’s a better word for “people from the United States”?

4 Comments

  1. ramon elinevsky says:

    hi raphi! i agree with the spirit in which this is written but i have to say, i think part of the way that americans are silly when traveling abroad is that we assume that nobody in any other country understands that america, like every other country on earth in history, has some jerks and some non-jerks.

    as an american living in paris right after the invasion of iraq, when franco-american relations were really crappy, i found that most french people didnt assume anything about me in particular just because im american. some people had knee jerk responses but not most. most were like “oh youre american. thats nice. im french.” in other words, im not going to assume i know anything about you until we get to know each other.

    also, having spent quite a bit of time in the occupied territories, where people have much more of a reason to hate americans than most places, i found the same thing to be true. saying im an american wont necessarily elicit a particular response. if you say im a zionist on the other hand you can reasonably expect a certain response but thats the point right? lots of people (maybe even most) are not quick to judge.

    i think many people around the world know that america is a big country with many different kinds of people in it.

    anyway, partially just using this as an excuse to say hi!

    • dirtyv6 says:

      Hi Ramon!

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. I think you’re totally right, and that’s a great point. I’ve encountered a little bit of broad anti-Americanism, but it’s not the norm by any means. On the same note, I’ve also heard people make sweeping statements about Israelis/Icelanders/people in every other country I’ve visited. I think that’s one good thing about travel – you start to see how totally wrong you were about most things you once believed ;)

      Btw, miss you! Come back to play me in Scrabble sometime.

      -Raph

  2. ramon elinevsky says:

    um. not that ive ever said to anyone “im a zionist.” because im not.

  3. ramon elinevsky says:

    is there any way to play scrabble online not on facebook? cause i cant go back to that place.

    also, theres a pathfinder reunion next weekend that i just heard about. you coming?

    also also, i feel bad about using your website like a chatroom. do you want to send me an email sometime? i like penpals!

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