Monday, February 07, 2005

Red, White and Ruth

Well, today sees me back at my boring job with a renewed commitment to blog-updating.
Actually, that's not really true at all. I feel compelled to update because that's what good people do, but I am not particularly interested in updating at the moment.
Much of my time here (i.e. abroad) is spent thinking about being an American. I don't know if this is everyone's experience abroad, but the two times in my life I have been abroad for more than a month have been times of intense political turmoil-- Spring 2003 and well, now.
Saturday night my French flatmate had his friends over for a little party. His friends, unlike Stephane, for the most part spoke perfect English and have been living in London for quite some time. And, like Stephane, are far more interested in football than politics. Nevertheless, 3 out of the 4 friends wanted to talk to me and Bill about the election. Which is fine, better to talk about it than have them think that Americans are united.
Most of the conversation at the party was in English, but at one point, one of the French guys (who has a deep and profound love for America stemming from 2 weeks he spent with a host family in Baltimore in high school) asked me "quel age as-tu?" Now, I know what this means but was totally taken aback to be asked my age (which, incidentally, was not related to anything we had been talking about before), so hesitated for a moment, probably with a dumbstruck look on my face. And he says " Ah, she's American, she doesn't speak any other languages." And my little feelings were hurt, as I can speak a bit of French (though, that, in itself is embarrassing as I studied it for nine years and minored in it) and also some Italian. So I said vingt trois, but was nevertheless sad.
Because of course, most Americans really don't speak another language. But the British seem pretty poor on this as well, and really, it's not like France is so great on speaking other languages themselves. They are so damn obsessed with their language they have an Academie ranting against the word supermarket or some similarly innocuous English word. And this is why English is a vastly superior language. Yeah, it's not as mellifluous as Italian, nor as frightening as German, nor as sexy as Chinese (disagree? Then you obviously haven't seen 2046 yet), but man, English is so completely shameless. You can do anything with it, borrow, steal, or lay it bare. It's an eager whore of a language. In any case, it's not like France is Sweden or Switzerland, where you seem to be required to speak at least half a dozen languages before leaving primary school. And of course they are morally superior for it.
And then, today, I get to work where "the Americans are coming," which means, so far as I can tell, that mass amounts of Coca-Cola and particularly Diet Coke are stored away as to satisfy the Americans' insatiable coke drinking. (Oh, as I write this, some frenzied secretary came down to find coke for the Americans--it's hidden away of course). And then I read in the International Herald Tribune about Americans who are actually living the liberal dream-- moving to Canada that is... which I don't understand, honestly. Yeah, I am frustrated, but frustration to me implies an obligation. You can never wash your hands of your nationality. I am more American here than I ever was.


Anonymous said...

"I am more American here than I ever was."

Ye right - try not to bomb us though eh?

stefanie said...

i guess i don't really think that the fact that i happened to be born here in america obligates me to defend anything about this country or its horrible behavior, nor has living here instilled me with any particular sentimental attachment to america. i think that if i had to make a list of adjectives that accurately describe me, "american" might not even make the top 100, and the fact is that if i got a chance to move to canada (or france or sweden), i wouldn't even have to think twice about jumping ship. right now, as an "american," my tax dollars are funding an unjust, imperalistic war, and all the prisoner torture and halliburton contracts that war entails. it makes me ill that by virtue of living in this country, i am supporting such behavior, even though i find it abhorrent. why the hell wouldn't i get out if i had the chance?

ruth said...

You only think that because other Americans don't explicitly define you as American. Here, I am an American from the moment I open my mouth, and, in Florence, for example, I am an American from 50 feet away.
I would highly encourage taking any opportunity to live abroad you can, obviously, but it's definitely not jumping ship.
Britain is our nearest and dearest ally (...) and yet even here I am reminded in everything I do of being American. My photography teacher, for instance, takes potshots at America all the time. And I, of course, am the only American in the class. Yeah, sometimes the jokes are funny but they are mainly just nasty and troubling.
I am definitely not saying stay in America, but I can't see how fleeing the country makes anything any better. I spend far more time being depr

ruth said...

ressed about America here than I do at home.