While staying at a hostel in Budapest, I stayed up late hanging out and talking with a group of people in the common room. One of the members of the group was a guy from Canada, who, upon learning I was from the United States, proposed we play the “American Game”.
The rules of the American Game are as follows:
1. Find an American
2. Bet them a beer they cannot write the names of all 50 states in five minutes
I will add two more implied rules:
3. Watch said American fail
4. Drink your beer and make fun of American
I played along and said I would try it but promised no beers and guaranteed no success on my part. I predictably could not name all 50 states (SUPER sorry Nebraska and Maryland).
I then challenged several others to the same game, just with their respective country or political area of choice. A group of Norwegian guys could name only seven of their nineteen counties, and a couple from Belgium missed around five countries (out of twenty-eight) when trying to name all of the members of the EU. Both of these results are objectively much worse then mine, and at least compared to the Norwegians, probably worst then a lot of people from the US.
So why did the Canadian choose to make fun of the people from the US when it seems lack of geographical knowledge is an absolutely ubiquitous characteristic? Part of it could be a bit of Napoleon Complex, as when it comes to a world view of North America, the US definitely gets more attention. But this does not explain why pretty much all of Western Europe feels completely comfortable making fun of, looking down upon, and generally patronizing US citizens.
I think part of this answer might be confusion. Western Europeans are just kinda confused how we are a, if not the, world power. We are stereotyped as uncultured, rude, and ignorant (which we often can be), so how did we possibly gain so much importance on the global stages of almost everything; politics, economics, and social influence? I might see it a bit as your little sibling coming up out of nowhere with a baseball bat and basically fucking shit up to win the game you had been playing.
So yeah, I am exhausted by the way Americans are treated by Western Europeans as a whole. The next time someone brings up the US elections and asks me how we are dumb enough not to vote for Bernie Sanders because, duh, Hillary Clinton is a bitch I might scream. I think making fun of people from the US (at least by Western Europeans) can also come down to the fact that we are new. We are new and different and we do things in decidedly non-European ways. So when the current global economy and political system was set up by Europeans for Europeans, it is confusing and dis-orienting when someone new comes along, and succeeds at the system.* In that sense it is easy to make fun of the newcomer simply because we are different.
Except, wait, are we really that different? These are the countries that also deployed troops to Iraq in 2003 (this is brought up a lot in conversation because of Hillary Clinton).
Obviously, US involvement was way more significant, but the fact remains: the US is not alone in wreaking havoc in the world. I have no desire to transfer blame or argue that the US has not done considerable damage to various countries and groups of people (if you want to be revolted by US actions I highly recommend this), but I have a strong desire to call out the Western Europeans (and Canadians!) I meet who sit back and ignore their centuries of colonization, imperialism, and racism while pointing fingers and making fun of Americans. Seriously, your patronizing comments to me do no good in the world.
Not only do I believe that individual attacks do no good, I believe that they are harmful. They are harmful simply because they are dismissive. Dismissive means “feeling or showing that something is unworthy of consideration”, and when a Western European chooses to make a snide remark about the US the or the people from the US, they are absolutely and whole-heartedly dismissing us. Dismissal is dangerous, naive, and patronizing. It is the same thing liberals do towards people who support Trump, and the same thing northerners often do towards southerners. It implies that we, or them, are dumb and not worth the time or energy it would take to engage us. It is pretentious and exceedingly problematic, as it is often classiest.
All of this is bad not only because it is wrong, but also because it is dangerous. Dismissing others creates isolation, stratification, and homogeneity. Joking around may not seem like a big deal, but it normalizes and perpetuates dismissal which is an ultimately destructive action. What can I, or we, do? I believe the first step is examining your own classism, racism, sexism, bias- whatever it is that makes you dismiss those around you or far away. Then, of course, call out people to your heart’s desire.
To read Part 1, click here.
*Not even gonna go into how the only reason we can succeed at the system is because our country is run by white people but smh anyways.