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Saturday, March 30, 2002
Ugly Americans? Just loud but lovable
By AMY CHAVEZ
If you're an American living abroad, it doesn't take long to realize that American's don't have a very good reputation. For those of us living in Japan, it's not the Japanese who speak badly about us, it's the other foreigners. Americans are the most disliked people, yet there is no one group of people Americans dislike. Shouldn't that say something about us?
Consider the cliches.
1. Americans think their country is the best. True. Yet we don't flagrantly display our nation's flag on our backpacks the way Canadians do. As a matter of fact, people of other nations display the American flag on their clothing and think nothing of it. Patriotism is natural. Have you ever met an Australian who hasn't told you, "Australia's got everything"? Do you know a Brazilian living in Japan who doesn't plan on returning to Brazil because "There is no country like Brazil"? Have you ever met an Italian who couldn't talk with passion about the endless pleasures of Italy? The point is, everyone loves their country.
2. Americans are arrogant. True. With Hollywood, American TV and Britney Spears piped into everyone's home around the globe, sometimes it's hard to realize that America isn't everything and that we're not always right. Yet Americans can be found in every corner of the world seeking to understand other cultures. We have the JET program and the Peace Corps. We send volunteer doctors and medical teams everywhere. The Japanese don't care if we're arrogant. They just want to visit L.A., New York and Disneyland.
3. Americans are belligerent. True. It is this fighting spirit and refusal to comply with convention that has created America. We are a nation of brave, determined people. The Japanese call it "frontier spirit."
4. Americans are loud. True. As a nation we are hard of hearing. We learn to project our voices as infants. An American infant's screams can be heard all the way to China. As adults, we tend to dominate the airspace at restaurants and public places with raucous, hearty laughter. The Japanese just say: "Look at the Americans. They know how to have fun!"
5. Americans can't speak foreign languages. True. Neither can the British, Irish, South Americans or the Japanese. Considering that Spain is not next door, nor are France, Germany or Italy, is it fair to insist that people sit in their offices and talk to the walls in a foreign language? America is a huge country. It takes four days to cross from east to west (without sleeping) and two days to go from north to south. Most people's rusting Chevy pickup won't even make it that far, let alone all the way to another country. Japanese understand this.
6. Americans are bad at math. True. Yet no one has told us how being better at math will help us. We have no shortage of researchers, Wall Street analysts or accountants. We leave math to Bill Gates and Mickey Mouse. The Japanese, known for their mathematics prowess, keep their mouths shut and copy.
7. That dreadful American English! An American will never criticize the English used in another country. To the contrary, we love everybody's accent. Oh, the quaint British accent! Oh, to speak like Zsa Zsa Gabor!
But the Japanese don't care about our accent. They want to learn American English because it is most widely used.
The Japanese are some of the most peaceful people in the world. They know there is no chance for world peace if there is prejudice and hate. They look at the good in people, not the bad. As for America, Japanese may feel our politics are wrong and our cultural differences great, but they know our hearts are in the right place.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.amychavez.com