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Why do they hate us?
July 23, 2007 2:41 AM   Subscribe

"Americans need to educate themselves, from elementary school onward, about what their country has done abroad. And they need to play a more active role in ensuring that what the United States does abroad is not merely in keeping with a foreign policy elite's sense of realpolitik but also with the American public's own sense of American values. Because at their core, those values are sound. That is why, even in places where you'll find virulent anti-Americanism, you'll also find enormous affection for things American." An article by Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist
posted by A189Nut (53 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes. and the Indo-US nuclear agreement is about to be signed too.
posted by chrisranjana.com at 2:52 AM on July 23, 2007


He's right of course, but then we could all do with a bit more educating. I know I didn't learn hardly any of what I know about Britain's Imperial legacy in school and most of what passes for history education here in China makes me shudder.
The line about supremacy of power versus primacy of values captures it neatly, but then you know that those holding the reins of power don't subscribe to those values.
posted by Abiezer at 3:33 AM on July 23, 2007


I would say that Hamid's assertion that Americans must "educate themselves" about their national experiences abroad seems to stem from a perception that American education systems, formal and informal, have failed to incorporate lessons about global affairs and world issues into the curriculum. I would argue that that was true in the past, but is quickly changing, and that the America we are living in today is a product of the schools of 30 years ago - when you could not expect to find more than one or two languages offered in a high school if any were offered at all, or see Arabic or Hindi or Mandarin being taught at all but the most elite universities, or find anyone outside of private schools who had any experience doing something like Model United Nations, to say nothing of higher education as a whole just being far less accessible to most people, especially if they came from a poorer or less educated background to begin with.

And "global awareness" outside of school is changing too, and not just because of heightened media consumption because of the war, though that's one obvious source, the efficacy of which is left to the reader to decide. At home, once majority-white suburbs and cities are becoming more diverse with people not just from Mexico or China but from Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, and Thailand. Our tastes have changed, from food to clothes to cars to telenovelas. Hell, even David Beckham lives here now. Abroad, despite a little chaos in people's vacation plans this summer, more Americans are getting passports, which removes a pretty big initial hurdle to foreign experiences overall. The America that built the mega-resorts of Cancun is changing into an America that backpacks through Mali, teaches English in South Korea, or works in a health clinic in Guatemala. These are things, in fact, that many of us have been doing for generations, but greater access to globally-centered education, at all levels, has accelerated the spread of those experiences to a far greater number of people.

So with regards to how Americans think of the outside world, we've got to step back and see that the perception of what an American is needs to change, from someone insulated from the world to someone trying to step out and get another tantalizing glimpse of what they've been missing for so long. Are those steps very small steps sometimes? Yes. But for every kid who comes back from the high school French club trip to Paris, there's one family whose door has been cracked open a little wider. Maybe Mom chaperones next year and tells the other moms what a great time she had, and makes plans to go back with Dad. Changes like this take time.

All this is cold comfort to the rest of the world right now, of course, but in twenty years when the generation of Americans who are more world-savvy, multilingual, educated, and environmentally conscious than our parents come of age and are running things, I can only hope that we do better than what we've done so far. Today, he gives us the choice of "insist[ing] on [our] primacy as a superpower, or accept[ing] the universality of [our] values"; I see myself, my peers, and my generation as a whole choosing the latter.

[/optimistfilter]
posted by mdonley at 4:15 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


mdonley, I suspect what you describe falls into the "everyone I don't know model." That is everyone you know is raising their kids to be world-savvy, multilingual, educated, and environmentally conscious and everyone you don't know is still raising them to believe in God, America and little else.
posted by rhymer at 4:34 AM on July 23, 2007


I was once asked "Do you speak English in England?" by an American (IIRC in Washington DC.) I hope it has improved...
posted by A189Nut at 4:42 AM on July 23, 2007


You hope what has improved? The jackassery? Cuz that's everywhere, my man.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 5:03 AM on July 23, 2007


In fairness there is some asymmetry at work here. The rest of the world should know about the US because the US is the most powerful country in the world. It is not, perhaps, unreasonable that most Americans know very little about the politics of Belgium and Portugal. But, even within this frame of reference, you might expect most Americans to know a bit about China, Russia, Japan, India, Brazil and the major European countries. And most don't.

On a personal note, the most aggravating US misapprehension I have to regularly correct is that the UK is not a democracy. It's aggravating because the concept of a constitutional monarchy is quite a laborious thing to explain to someone who is convinced the Queen rules by fiat.
posted by rhymer at 5:15 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


It is not, perhaps, unreasonable that most Americans know very little about the politics of Belgium and Portugal.

There's a difference between knowing about the politics of a place, and knowing about what your own country is doing in that place.

I don't know much about the politics of El Salvador, and I can get by without that knowledge. But I do know my country has done some despicable things there, and that knowledge is fundamental to understanding both the truth of who the U.S. is, and the way we are perceived.
posted by bashos_frog at 5:20 AM on July 23, 2007 [5 favorites]


This "at their core" (qualification qualification) "those values are sound" quote is cute. "Sound" is such a great word, having more useful ambiguity than most. Honestly, if I were some guy sitting in far-off Resourceland, the last thing I'd want is for the American people to realize that my country exists.

on preview, bashos_frog nails it.
posted by dreamsign at 5:24 AM on July 23, 2007


far-off Resourceland

Sounds like a cool place - is there a Lonely Planet Far-Off Resourceland yet?
posted by rhymer at 5:29 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


No. Stay away you fucker!
posted by dreamsign at 5:49 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Given the extent of US foreign policy activism following WW2, it's quite a challenge to get educated about the "facts". Let alone getting educated about the interpretations given to these "facts" by people in places affected by US foreign policy.

Yet, if the US intends to keep pursuing an activist foreign policy, such education would be vital to avoid costly or potentially catastrophic errors.

This is a burden of empire...
posted by gbognar at 5:59 AM on July 23, 2007


it's the mafia wife syndrome writ large...

you live in your nice house, have money for ecotourism and a Toyota Prius or two. Do you really want to think too hard about why your husband comes back from business trips with blood on his slacks?

Somehow everyone always thinks, "if they just knew then..." but we do know as much as we want to...
posted by geos at 6:26 AM on July 23, 2007 [5 favorites]


mdonley: though your heart seems to be in the right place, your whole "once my generation is in power, everything will sort itself out" seems a tad naive (See: the '60s).
In general, the problem of US imperialism (and the means used to achieve and maintain said empire) won't be solved by a few backpackers and tourists.
The US's economy is based upon free access to resources and markets (free in a one-way, US-favoring way, not in an actual freemarket way). This has and most likely will be assured by any means possible, including diplomacy, espionage, economic leverage, military threats, coups and flat out invasions.
This is not a question of analysis, but rather just a simple list.
posted by signal at 6:33 AM on July 23, 2007


Well, I'm not sure if the school system is that bad. My history classes included Vietnam and Watergate. Of course, when babyboomers were in high school those things hadn't even happened yet.
posted by delmoi at 6:33 AM on July 23, 2007


I've talked about politics and history with many, many people, and I can honestly say that Americans tend to be very, very uninformed. The number of times I've heard things like "do they speak English in England?" is staggering. At first (pre-internet, mostly), I used to chalk it up to just normal "they don't teach it in schools, and you never hear/read about it either, so I guess they can't be blamed." But now I also see it in Fox News viewers, who tend to not only not really know what's going on, but also be quite loud and strident about what they're totally wrong about.

Recently I was getting harangued about "libruls" and what p*ssies they are. The guy actually said that if a Democrat had been in office at the end of WW II, it would've taken us longer to win the war, because they never would have had the balls to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. I couldn't speak. This was not a unique event.
posted by nevercalm at 6:44 AM on July 23, 2007


It is a lesson for everyone. You can only really view your own country when you are standing outside of it.
posted by gomichild at 6:49 AM on July 23, 2007


I was once asked "Do you speak English in England?" by an American (IIRC in Washington DC.) I hope it has improved...

It's a reasonable question but then I live in Birmingham, UK.
posted by srboisvert at 7:01 AM on July 23, 2007


The number of times I've heard things like "do they speak English in England?" is staggering.

This is an apocryphal example of a kind of ignorance, yes? I mean come on. People say stupid things. Yes, many Americans are staggeringly ignorant, especially considering the power they, via proxy, wield. But anyone who actually says that is joking.
posted by dreamsign at 7:16 AM on July 23, 2007


I've visited or lived in a lot of countries, including a few places that are a bit off the beaten path for most Westerners. One of the things that I always bring back with me to the US is a sense of just how fragile "American values" are.

American values are engendered by history and culture, true, but they are also enabled by the tremendous natural resources, low population density, and staggering wealth that the US has accumulated. Take those things away, and in the ensuing climate of poverty and desperation do you think we'd be paying much attention to things like freedom of speech?

In other words, I'm not so sure you can divorce the patterns of exploitation and inequity in the US' foreign policy from the liberties we enjoy at home as a contented, mostly middle-class people. Freedom for me, but not for thee.
posted by xthlc at 7:18 AM on July 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


Americans need to educate themselves, from elementary school onward, about what their country has done abroad.

Um, no they don't. They need to learn how to read, write, and do arithmetic. They need to learn hard science. They need to learn biology, and history.

The American people don't hold any sway. Hamid's thinking here is what happens when rhetorical abstractions are stacked on top of one another to arrive at a wise-sounding but wholly incorrect "truth".

American foreign policy is not a function of our values. It is a function of power, and in the United States, power is derived from money. Hamid here is not talking about Cold War detente with Russia, he's talking about US foreign policy in the mideast and third world, which in nearly every single case was motivated by a specific, identifiable corporate interest rather than some lofty value.

A second reason this statement is stupid is that children in other countries, particularly those that are targets of US foreign policy, are often not educated at all, or their education is so highly politicized that it barely rises above the level of indoctrination.

Finally, I don't for a second buy the "they hate us" argument. It is completely unpersuasive. They don't know us, how can they hate us? Their hate for us is somehow acceptable because of what our foreign policy supposedly did to them (more often than not with their governments overt endorsement). Why is it unacceptable for "red-state" americans to hate them? It's the same sloppy thinking on both sides.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:32 AM on July 23, 2007


This is an apocryphal example of a kind of ignorance, yes?

Yes, it's apocryphal, but not by much....it's why I wrote "questions like" instead of "I've been asked that." But is it any better that I have been asked where both Mexico and Canada were - by adults, in the US? And worse, in New York, which borders Canada?

Just as an example, I've experienced these sterling examples of American intelligence in the last two weeks:

"Of course Britain has public health, they're Communist."
"The British don't understand terrorism, they've never experienced it."
"I know how they say it in French, but how do they say it in Canadian?"
"We will win in Iraq, just like we won Viet Nam."
"The US loves freedom, and would never do anything to another country to interfere with their freedom."

And I heard all this at work in NYC, in a business where people are exposed to enough to really know better.
posted by nevercalm at 7:39 AM on July 23, 2007


American foreign policy is not a function of our values.

That seems to be the author's point. Quoting from the article (emphasis mine):

Americans need to educate themselves, from elementary school onward, about what their country has done abroad. And they need to play a more active role in ensuring that what the United States does abroad is not merely in keeping with a foreign policy elite's sense of realpolitik but also with the American public's own sense of American values.
posted by bashos_frog at 7:46 AM on July 23, 2007


The number of times I've heard things like "do they speak English in England?" is staggering.

I am curious about this, since I've heard this often.
1) is it possible that it was said in some sort of Ironic jokiness? I could see myself doing that to some really hot Brit babe (Julie Christie e.g.) I could now in my forties, see myself going home alone after saying that, but that is another post.
2) Not to really get all obnoxious in class, intelligence, etc., etc. but who were these people who said it? Bowery bums? Gang-bangers? Okie tenant farmers? are we talking about peers, potential friends, mates, colleagues?
After all, I can see getting 100 toothless chavs wondering the same thing about America - but that isn't really a representative sample.

Reason I ask is that while I know Americans (and of course non-Americans) can be incredibly ignorant, *this ignorant* is hard to believe, especially from people smart enough to know how to read, write, and presumably log onto the Internet.
So I am curious, nevercalm, about where and in what context these ignorant Americans asked that.
posted by xetere at 8:33 AM on July 23, 2007


I'm going to go to England and interview some chavs. That should be fun.
posted by smackfu at 8:38 AM on July 23, 2007


I think you might be surprised smackfu. Many chavs idolise the American way of life. They probably know as much about some aspects of US culture as you do. Though arguably these will be the less attractive ones.
posted by rhymer at 8:50 AM on July 23, 2007


Americans need to educate themselves.

Um, yeah, okay. That'll happen real soon.

Right after Idol, okay?

(And I say this as a public-school teacher. The entire educational system is set up so that students don't do precisely this.

Um, no they don't. They need to learn how to read, write, and do arithmetic. They need to learn hard science. They need to learn biology, and history. From your mouth to God's ears, Pastabagel, but our public schools are failing our kids at even learning low-level, regurgitate-the-facts-style learning, much less teaching them either how to ask the Big Questions or to go about becoming lifelong learners.

If I had a solution to this problem I'd make a million bucks, become Sec'y of Education, and you'd never see my loser ass here on MeFi again!
posted by John of Michigan at 8:54 AM on July 23, 2007


Americans are smart about what they need to be smart about. Unfortunately, most Americans really don't need to know much about the outside world at all.

The USA is one of the few, maybe the only, country where a upper-middle class person never really has to leave the country. We have the world's largest economy, which means there's plenty of trade right here at home. We're geographically large and diverse as well, which means tourists can see a lot without ever leaving either.

The wealth of nations has little to do with the intelligence of its population. The vast majority of us benefit merely by the circumstance of being here in the USA. A ditch-digger in America will have a much better life than a ditch-digger in China, despite not possessing any additional skills or intelligence.
posted by b_thinky at 9:27 AM on July 23, 2007


"Do you speak English in England?"

I was asked it by a private in the Army, I think in Carlisle, PA.

At the same place (Military History Institute) a Lt Col stood next to a photocopier and asked me "Do you have these in England." It was a Canon by the way.
posted by A189Nut at 9:40 AM on July 23, 2007


b_thinky: Very true. Even the very poor in America have it much, much better than the very poor in *many* other countries.

What Americans do have, and this is true in any democrative republic, is the right and duty to vote and to partake in the democratic process, so when you write:

Unfortunately, most Americans really don't need to know much about the outside world at all

I think you might be wrong. An uneducated, solipsistic voter, who can't be bothered to think deeply about the implications of her vote makes a mockery of the process AND leads to the mess we're in now (on both sides, of course. Democrat and republican, with their clever sound bites, image over substance, etc., don't really want you to think too deeply; they want your vote).

It's a small world we live in now. If we can't be bothered to think deeply about it, about our role in it, then we can expect more of the same.
posted by John of Michigan at 9:45 AM on July 23, 2007


Did I just write "democrative republic"? Egads. Tell you what: If I can't be bothered to think deeply about the role proofreading plays in posting, then I can expect more of the same.
posted by John of Michigan at 9:47 AM on July 23, 2007


Americans are smart about what they need to be smart about. Unfortunately, most Americans really don't need to know much about the outside world at all.

See, and I honestly don't mean this as trolling, I used to think this about religion and superstition in general. I mean, if my mechanic believes that faeries are responsible for thunderstorms and my plumber thinks that God talks to him through the toilet, it really doesn't matter a whole lot so long as they believe in sound principles regarding their chosen craft.

But especially given the, em, theocratic bent of an awful lot of politics in the U.S., and the way that tends to influence views of other cultures, other religions particularly, and some kind of global manifest destiny, I'm starting to think that any magical thinking is a bad thing. Yes, this is a long stretch from a simple lack of geographical or geopolitical knowledge, but coming to grips with the real world is for me building block number one. I mean, what good does it do if the average American learns about every facet of Iraqi history and politics if they still think Iraqi deaths count for nothing? Knowledge is not the problem.
posted by dreamsign at 10:03 AM on July 23, 2007


The USA is one of the few, maybe the only, country where a upper-middle class person never really has to leave the country.

True dat. The US is bigger than western Europe which is why I don't think it's necessarily that awful that so many Americans haven't left their own continent.

I mean, I still think it would do many of them a great deal of good to do so. But it's awfully easy to take the moral high ground when France is 21 miles away.
posted by rhymer at 10:45 AM on July 23, 2007


me: "I live in Japan"
American: "That's where the Great Wall of China is, isn't it?"

or my favourite:

Me: "I'm from New Zealand"
American (looks confused) "But you're not black."
Me: "Well, yeah, not too many black people in New Zealand. Some brown ones though."
American "That's interesting. Because everyone in Jamaica is black."
Me: (looks confused)
American: "I went on my honeymoon to the Caribbean, you know."
posted by dydecker at 10:56 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


b_thinky: most Americans really don't need to know much about the outside world at all

Again, that's been true for a while, but I think that's changing.

Look at the immigration debate in the news lately. I wouldn't say that the average American - whatever that means at this point - could name the top ten countries that are the source of migrants to the US, or explain the difference between a TN or an H1-B visa. And everyone, American and not, has got some possibly apocryphal story about some astoundingly dumb statement they (or a friend, or a friend of a friend...) have heard from the mouth of a countryman.

But look at where immigrants are heading these days: places like Utah, North Carolina, and Kentucky have been experiencing huge growth in the number of foreign-born people settling there. So while places like Los Angeles and Miami and New York may appear to be diverse and full of people from all over the world, perhaps many people would be surprised to find Little Rock, Arkansas the site of the 47th Mexican consulate in the United States. It's things like this - which are impacting communities that were not traditionally destinations for migration - that are exposing more and more Americans to life outside the country.

I live in southern California, so it's normal for me to hear Farsi, Spanish, and Vietnamese in the grocery store. Nearly all of my peers took a non-English language in high school or college or already spoke one at home. So yeah, rhymer, I imagine that I've been exposed to the rest of the world as much as have my fellow MeFites and Angelenos and Californians and that that exposure is way above average for the United States as a whole, but I'm just saying that the more globally-aware life I grew up with is now spreading all over the country into places where it never was before.

Now, whether there are protests or praise when a pizza place starts accepting Mexican pesos as well as dollars, or whether or not a city council has to fear a lawsuit after approving the construction of a Hindu temple in the neighborhood is less about the inherent nationality of the parties concerned, American or otherwise, and more about an absence of fear and openness to change - and you'll find the same debate all over the developed world anywhere that has an significant inflow of immigrants, like Australia (which is trying to think of ways to get students more interested in taking Asian languages in school) or Ireland (who just a few weeks ago elected its first black mayor).

And thanks for being mostly civil, everyone - this thread could have tanked a long time ago. Kudos all around.
posted by mdonley at 11:02 AM on July 23, 2007


I mean, what good does it do if the average American learns about every facet of Iraqi history and politics if they still think Iraqi deaths count for nothing? Knowledge is not the problem.

It's not knowledge, it's priorities. As rich as we are, most Americans still have to work to get by. We don't really have time to stop and consider ALL that's going on elsewhere in the world. If we care about Iraq, then why not care about Sudan, Israel/Palestine, Rwanda, etc. And do the people in these countries care about our problems - like 9/11, Katrina, not having a clear ending to The Sopranos, etc?

Let's not forget human nature is almost always "me first."
posted by b_thinky at 11:04 AM on July 23, 2007


or Ireland (who just a few weeks ago elected its first black mayor).

apologies to Yogi Berra

Portlaoise in County Laois has a black mayor? Wow, only in America!
posted by SBMike at 11:07 AM on July 23, 2007


Xetere, I currently am working with a wide variety of people, they're all professionals, all high school graduates, some college grads. No gang-bangers.

What continues to stun me is that they're pretty "normal." All are from the NYC metropolitan area, which means they might hear 3 or more languages before getting to work in the morning, and see people from 10 or 15 different countries every day. They are not sheltered, don't live in the midwest, leave their houses every day, read the papers. We work in a very information heavy environment, too.

The problem is that, in their view, they don't really need to know anything besides, well, what they know. They read the local papers (Daily News or Post) one of which is owned by Murdoch and both of which tend to be jingoistic, slanted and very much enamored with American Exceptionalism. When you start out from that mindset, it bleeds into everything you read. And if you're not taught to think critically and question what you're being exposed to, it's all pretty much worthless.

For instance, a group of us were all talking about Iraq. And the prevailing mindset was basically "how dare they attack our troops." A couple of us then started talking about US practices with respect to the average Iraqi citizen and even about the basic fact that America invaded Iraq. When presented in the abstract and what their reaction might be to the same circumstance here in the US, all of a sudden they were very energetically talking about "resistance to the invaders" and all that.

We are very ignorant here. Yes, people tend to be ignorant in other countries as well, and that ignorance increases the further you get from cities and the trappings of modern "civilization." However, most countries don't have such a profound influence on the planet as a whole as we do. In most situations, it really doesn't matter what someone living in the bush in Africa thinks about America or Americans. But in a large number of cases, Americans will be in a position to have some say and influence in the lives of a wide range of people, merely because our corporations do business everywhere, our military is stationed in more nations than it isn't stationed in, etc. So for a "metropolitan American" and a back country person in any other country to have the same level of ignorance is appalling, merely because the net lack of intelligence on the part of Americans does many orders of magnitude more damage.
posted by nevercalm at 11:09 AM on July 23, 2007


Oh, and just to stir the pot: I met a British guy while working abroad last year who thought that Hurricane Katrina had leveled Philadelphia. He claimed to be a news hound, too.

So there.
posted by mdonley at 11:13 AM on July 23, 2007


I tried to find something new or interesting in this short piece and didn't succeed. I'm not sure most intelligent, educated (self-educated or otherwise) Americans don't understand that US foreign policy, especially in the past century, has created considerable blowback much to the detriment of our international reputation, or that covert actions of imperial geopolitics do not embody the idealist spirit of the nation's founding documents.

That said, one must always register the irony in Americans extolling the great cosmopolitanism and egalitarianism of its founders considering the reality of even just its domestic history (genocide of the continent's natives, its suffrage and civil rights struggles, etc.)

But, again, I don't think any of this is exactly revelatory to people who are interested in and reasonably well-read in such matters. I also would argue that since 9/11 many previously apolitical or uneducated Americans have awoken considerably from their slumber of ignorance of international affairs. Not enough, but many have.
posted by inoculatedcities at 11:39 AM on July 23, 2007


I know some American people can say some remarkably stupid things, but really, I don't think it's a peculiarly national disease. In my (relatively limited) world travels, I've run into a lot of people who had crazy wrong ideas about Americans.

I think, for instance, of the English teenager who thought I was lying about not knowing, personally, any rappers. Or the Indian barber who said I must die my hair, since, as everyone knows, people with blue eyes are always blonde.

We're also not the only ones who are ignorant about our own history. I've had to explain to a smart and savvy Japenese friend what the Rape of Nanking was.
posted by bookish at 12:11 PM on July 23, 2007


Fixed link re languages in schools in Oz.
posted by mdonley at 12:12 PM on July 23, 2007


So for a "metropolitan American" and a back country person in any other country to have the same level of ignorance is appalling, merely because the net lack of intelligence on the part of Americans does many orders of magnitude more damage.

I completely understand your point, but what can be done? As long as the United States is strong we'll be able to conduct an uneven foreign policy of convenience regardless of what political party is in charge. The only solution would be to weaken the USA, which would allow someone else the window to do the same.

Secondly, even collective ignorance in poor countries has a profound effect on the world community. China is a gigantic polluter, purposely targets endangered species as delicacies and is largely responsible for deforestation in Indonesia.

Moronic tribalism in places like India/Pakistan, Israel/Palestine, Iraq and the rest of the middle-east have been a main cause of the current prediciment we find ourselves in today.

As the world gets smaller, local issues will get bigger and bigger without regards to the intellect of the local populace.
posted by b_thinky at 12:39 PM on July 23, 2007


You're right, perhaps I should have said "many other countries." China's ever increasing role on the world stage will make the ignorance of their populace into a larger and larger issue.

I think you'd have a tough time arguing that the situations in Israel or Iraq are the result of "moronic tribalism." "Moronic statesmen," more like (and I use the word "statesmen" about as loosely as possible). Sure, tribalism is exacerbating an already troubled situation, but what was the cause?

And I suspect that the answer lies in the almost hopeless dream in states not meddling in the affairs of other sovereign nations. George Bush, a man who never left the US before being elected to what is arguably the most influential foreign policy office in the world, has had a profoundly negative influence on world affairs merely because he has taken such a large role without any knowledge of history, either of his own nation or of those he chooses to muck around with. The people he surrounds himself with are almost as bad...stories circulated that Condi Rice had no idea about the differences between Shia and Sunni, and she's a Secretary of State, fer crissake.

I don't know that local issues enter into some of the biggest crises all that much, except how multinationals can extract as much profit as possible from local people without them catching on....
posted by nevercalm at 1:01 PM on July 23, 2007


People around the world know a lot about the US, but not so much about other countries. It's a fact of life. Get over it. I think it's unreasonable to expect Americans to know trivia about other countries.


Living in Japan, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with folks from all over the world (and I even got to work for Americans, which was cool -I'm Canadian).

My theory is this: there are three teams or classes of nations and countries.

A Team: culturally dominant, somewhat arrogant, well-known around the world

B Team: Often stand in the shadow of the A Team; rather more quiet, introverted when you meet people from these countries in person

A Team = USA
B Team = Canada

A Team = Australia
B Team = NZ

A Team = France
B Team = Belgium

A Team = England
B Team = Scotland

A Team = Germany
B Team = Austria
posted by KokuRyu at 3:03 PM on July 23, 2007


In my high school senior year physics class we were having a lecture on subatomic particles, and a girl asked if muons were alive. I don't know if she ever did, but she said she was going into politics.
posted by erikharmon at 3:26 PM on July 23, 2007


"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." - Mark Twain

That's the difference between ignorance and stupidity. The unwillingness to accept facts not the lack of awareness of them.
posted by wendell at 6:04 PM on July 23, 2007


KokuRyu, what's C Team?

The number of times I've heard things like "do they speak English in England?" is staggering.

This is an apocryphal example of a kind of ignorance, yes? I mean come on.
posted by dreamsign at 10:16 AM on July 23


My husband reported to me this exact conversation, overheard at the car dealership where he worked at the time:

Customer: Oh, you're from England! What language do they speak over there?
Co-worker [gently]: English, love.

Mind you, the customer was the American equivalent of a chav.

I can't tell you how many Americans have been shocked to find out I'm not a fluent French speaker (I'm Canadian). I've had lots of bizarre conversations and been asked some pretty mind-numbing questions. But Canadians were about equally dumb in the questions they asked my husband about the South (where he's from) - Canadians thinks they know a lot about the US, but what they really know about is the North, Florida and California. I don't think the ignorance is necessarily a function of being American. Americans are just what the rest of us would be in their shoes.
posted by joannemerriam at 6:59 PM on July 23, 2007


What's the C team? I suppose countries that just go along and mind their own business, like Iceland or Finland or Mongolia or Uganda. However, I suppose what "C Team" means is countries I know nothing about. I am an ignoramus!

I can't say how many times in a former life my smug Canadian attitude nearly got me a punch in the face from irate Americans.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:35 PM on July 23, 2007


B Team: Often stand in the shadow of the A Team; rather more quiet, introverted when you meet people from these countries in person

This is just contrast effect. I was reading recently a treatise on all things Canadian, and it was pointed out, rightly, I think, that we're pretty rude compared to the people from many, many other countries. Just not compared to Americans.

(Not that you were commenting about rudeness, but that's just one example.)
posted by dreamsign at 4:50 AM on July 24, 2007


Funny, I spent a few weeks driving around Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and I still say, 7 or 8 years later, that the people I met there were the nicest people I will probably ever meet.

I've never heard it around MeFi, but I've always talked about the rudeness in the US in terms of NYers vs "Minnesota Nice." Whereas New Yorkers will be plenty rude initially, once one breaks through that barrier they will generally do anything for you, whereas "Minnesota Nice" describes (in a general sense, obviously) people from the Midwest and South who will be all effusive and feign curiosity when you first meet, but only to get rid of you quicker. Then there's LA.....

I still say that we are not necessarily any more or less ignorant as anywhere else, but the fact that we export our ignoramuses (?) around the world to kick in doors and try to win hearts and minds magnifies the effect that ignorance will have exponentially. That bumpkin who asks what language is spoken in England will next week be sent to Iraq to try to pacify the locals enough so the US can pull their troops out of the country.
posted by nevercalm at 5:55 AM on July 24, 2007


nevercalm: are you American? If so, there is some hope.

Also, what is the racial/ethnic make-up at your workplace? Are the people you are talking about men (I'm assuming) or women or both? Are they anti-immigrant or gay-bashers too? Essentially, are they bigots or are they otherwise enlightened folk who are bigots when it comes to foreigners or the state-declared enemy?
posted by Azaadistani at 2:12 PM on July 24, 2007


Yes, I'm American.

My workplace is mainly blue collar, mostly men, but I've noticed this sort of thing across the spectrum. As far as bigots or gay bashers, I don't think so. They'll make racial or gay jokes, but we work with minorities and gay people as well without problems, so I think it's more just a "pick on what's different" sort of thing rather than actually hating someone because of their differences. As far as the state-declared enemy, they'll go where Fox news takes them....if Iran is the next target (and that seems very likely) I'm sure they'll cheer it on. On the other hand, they're starting to ask a lot of questions about Iraq, so there's that as well.
posted by nevercalm at 3:59 PM on July 24, 2007


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