Landschlacht, Switzerland: 13 February 2016
“I often have to remind people I’m from the New World and all the old rules and formalized hierarchies that stifle and overwhelm others don’t necessarily apply to me. Tell me I can’t do something– are you sure, Dude? Let’s see…”
The above statement was posted by an American Facebook friend of mine yesterday.
A few moments later, someone else responded:
“Some Americans R arrogant.”
I think I might have some sort of an understanding as to where both sides are coming from:
I think there are many things about America that Americans can be justifiably proud of.
They see themselves as decent, hardworking folk who wish the rest of the world well and feel that they do more than their share to help others.
They believe themselves to be free – freer than many others at least – and prosperous – depending how you define prosperity – and they believe that the world truly envies and is in awe of America.
Despite America´s shortcomings – of which there are many – there are many Americans who honestly believe that theirs is the greatest country in the world.
And they site as an example of their awesomeness their lack of “old rules and formalized hierarchies”.
Horse hockey, I say.
An even casual examination of American politics and cultural mores shows that there are definitely old parochial ideas that still dominate popular discussion and hierarchies of power and privilege are as much a part of American life as might be found anywhere else in the world.
As a Canadian ex-pat in Switzerland, I do understand the Dude´s point-of-view to a certain degree:
There is a sort of liberating feeling in knowing that as a foreigner you will never completely fit into the landscape you´ve chosen to be in, so why try?
As long as one stays off the radar of those who disappove of your differences, as long as one does not blantantly upset the local mores or break the laws of the land, then you can be, for the most part, whomever you wish to be.
You are a stranger in a strange land with carte blanche to be as weird as you want to be, even to the extent that this strangeness that would be considered odd even back in your homeland is simply considered part-and-parcel of your being a foreigner.
If Landschlacht has encountered only you as a representative of Canada, then your strangeness can simply be written off as:
“Oh, he´s from Canada. He´s odd because he´s foreign.”
But the Dude´s opponent does raise a point worth considering:
Isn´t the Dude´s opinion a demonstration of how he feels his nationality is superior to the ones he has lived and travelled amongst?
Their cultures are adaptable to his life in so far as they do not contradict with his own, for the culture that has worked for him clearly must be superior to others that are outside his experience.
Xenophobia these days has become more popular an international sport than football/soccer.
As far as the Swiss/Americans/English/insert a nationality here are concerned, all of life´s greatest problems can be summed up in one word – foreigners.
Some nations don´t just believe themselves superior to all other nations.
They are convinced to their core that all other nations secretly know they are.
Why do some nationalities and races feel superior to others?
Is there any basis in reality for this feeling?
In the present run-up to the presidential elections in the US, the world constantly hears how the candidates are proud to be citizens of their country, how their vision will make the country great again.
But what exactly does one take pride in when one means they love their country?
By accident of birth most of us are considered citizens of somewhere.
By choice or circumstance some may leave their birthlands and find themselves residents in an other land.
Is a person more American because his father´s sperm bore fruit in a woman who gave birth on American soil?
Or might it argued that those who live in America by choice have an equal or even more valid claim to patriotism because they chose to reside there?
Are there virtues or failings unique to a nationality?
Or might it argued that we are all human and it is those with power who determine the nation´s character and reputation?
Remove Putin from Moscow and Obama from Washington.
Remove government and you will find that people globally are possessed of both the same virtues and the same failings.
Do the Russians love their children less than the Americans?
Politics divides us and nations are defined by politics.
Are national / racial stereotypes valid in any way whatsoever or they merely misleading reasons for those that choose to hate to have a target for their hate?
Discrimination happens everywhere, even in nations that profess themselves to be enlightened.
Discrimination is based on many factors of difference: race, religion, gender, sexuality, income, language, age.
Demagogues, like Donald Trump, use this fear of the unknown, this distrust of what is different, as a political weapon.
All of humanity struggles to get, maintain or improve food, housing and safety, but some would go so far as to suggest that this struggle means denying to others that which should be afforded to all by the pure, unspoken laws of morality.
I have been reading an excellent novel about North Korea called The Limits of the World by Andrew Raymond Drennan and I was struck by the following excerpt:
“It had taken hundreds of hours for Han to understand the language of the Internet.
There were opinions everywhere on every possible topic.
People abused and swore at perfect strangers for no reason other than they didn´t see the world in the same way.
Was this what was going on in people´s heads in the Real World?
Were they all really this mean and bitter and angry and selfish and devoted purely to their own pleasure?
Han couldn´t understand it: they had so much freedom, so why were they so unhappy?”
I do not claim to be more enlightened than anyone else, but I will say that travelling across my own home and native land and exploring other countries and living as a foreigner in foreign lands, has taught me one truism:
I am superior to every man and every man is superior to myself.
I choose to believe that my existence has meaning and that my life touches others.
Their lives touch me and give my existence meaning.
Any fool can hate.
Only the wise make the choice to love.