reflection: perspectives on the U.S.

How did you react to the perspectives on the United States that you encountered this week? What stood out the most to you? Why? How will that influence your thoughts or actions in the future – either here or abroad?

When I read about the 17 observations (or criticisms, really) Benny the Irish polyglot had about the United States, I tended to take it with a grain of salt. Really? Criticizing Americans for smiling too much? For tipping at restaurants? It just seemed over the top, like he was looking for trouble. Some of what he wrote was understandable–when he wrote about how Americans tended to stereotype other countries and tended to be wasteful in their consumerism, I understood where he was coming from.

Plenty of Americans are wasteful. I am, at least. When I make a cup of coffee with my Keurig in the morning, popping the little plastic K-cup in and out of the machine and throwing it away, there’s this little twinge of guilt in my stomach that’s telling me, “Dana, you’re making coffee in the most wasteful possible way.” And I still do it every morning.

Plenty of Americans stereotype other cultures too. Part of that has to do with ignorance, I think. I think that at least a sizable portion of the country doesn’t know much about the world outside of the US–we know very little about other countries, so oftentimes, our knowledge about other cultures comes from television and movies and other pop culture references, which can largely be based in stereotypes.

So, to a point, I agree: Americans can be less than perfect global citizens. We’re not the most polite country, but sometimes I think that criticizing Americans as a whole can be just as unproductive as boiling an entire country down to a handful of stereotypes. I get that we have a ways to go when it comes to being understanding and welcoming of other cultures, but the United States has such a vastly diverse set of opinions and backgrounds–we pride ourselves on being a “melting pot” of cultures. I digress, but perspectives on the United States seem to be paradoxical. On one hand, we’re uncultured and impolite and unwelcoming of other cultures, and on the other, we claim to be welcoming and open to other cultures.

As for myself, I’m going to try not to trouble myself too much when it comes to perspectives on the United States. While it’s important to step back and think about how you fit in to your country as a whole, I think it can be more important to strive individually to be welcoming, open, and caring when it comes to interacting with people from other cultures.