In case you guys haven’t got a feel for it, I grew up in a village where being cosmopolitan wasn’t exactly a plus. The thing to do was to do things like your ancestors had always done.
At the same time, stifled by this, a lot of “intellectuals” by which you should read “village kids who did well enough in their examinations to attend high school (let alone college) in the city often identified not with their homeland but with some foreign country. (Yes, I went through this phase. England, because my brother preferred France. There are traces left of it in my fascination with English history and my turn of phrase.)
It wasn’t just the village, either. This was pretty common all over the country. In fact in college I found people whose chosen allegiance was to Germany or Russia. (The last ones were special snowflakes indeed. Like the guy who signed up for Russian to read Marx in his original language. Rolls eyes.)
Part of this of course is the inverse issue that America has. Portugal is a tiny country. On my dad’s globe the entire country was the size of the tip of my five-year-old fingernail (I remember being very disappointed.) You can’t swing a cat without a passport. And part of it is that it is a stagnant country, dozing and dreaming of past glories. Almost all the advanced scholarship, from mathematics to language (even Portuguese. The greatest Portuguese linguists are German) takes place abroad. To get to a high level of studies you MUST learn a foreign language.
Now the more sophisticated of us who fell prey to this might have a country of allegiance of the heart, might love the language and read the books and magazines, but we did not commit social solecisms. My love for England came from a love of the language, a love of Shakespeare, a love of Austen. It did not come from a desire to lord it over my fellow villagers. The one mistake I committed after coming back from the states was wearing shorts outside the house, and that didn’t brand me as “lording it over” but as an impudent hussy, which all the village women assumed I was anyway, gallivanting to foreign parts on my own. Fortunately they were way too scared of mom (and particularly grandma) to give vent to the venom and contented themselves with inventing more boyfriends for me than anyone could have at the same time, or even serially.
But other people did what was obviously not a mistake, but an attempt to signal “I’ve been elsewhere.” So you got the young man who had visited South America briefly and came back to the village shop and ordered Montserrat cigarettes. He was henceforth known not by his name, surname or even family nickname, but as “Montserrat.” (Look, the cigarettes were right there, behind the counter, and you could see they had the two brands that were available in Portugal at the time.)I understand he’s now a local politician.
The culmination of this was speaking a foreign language in public. Because my husband is not very tall and is dark haired, as recently as ten years ago when we visited, people make rude remarks to the tune of “they’re just speaking English to given themselves airs.” Not in the village, where it’s well known that Dan is either an Italian I met in Germany (please don’t even ask. I’d gone to Germany last before my marriage, and as everyone knows all Germans are tall and blond, so…) or a guy who works in a bakery the next village over. I think they’ve gotten over that one, though, since I’m obviously living abroad and the guy isn’t and is clearly married to someone else. (If you were a village baker, my love.) But when we’re in downtown Porto, they often make jokes and laugh at the assumption we’re “giving ourselves airs.” This is worse when I’m with younger son, who looks more Portuguese than I do.
Needless to say speaking a language in public that your fellow-citizens don’t understand is in my opinion not good manners, unless you have a good reason. (I’m not sure practicing older boy’s French is a good reason, but the times we’ve done it we’ve been fairly isolated.)
So I understand the pseudo-sophistication that comes from loving “every land but your own.”
In the united states, though, this is overlaid with something weirder. Because we have the opposite syndrome of Portugal. We’re very big, and most of the scholarship (unless it’s in the latest branch of Marxism) comes from America. The future, as it were, is forged here.
So while the same class of idiots — overeducated and under employed — here is obsessed with “foreign parts” and somehow convinced they’re subtly better than our habits customs and behavior (bah. They don’t have anything in Europe that we don’t have bigger and better in Nowhere Kansas. At least in the ways of creature comforts) even if what they have to come up with is the equivalent of “they know better ways of splitting a bean to feed ten people” but also, in a curious and bizarre way the people who think this way are the greatest American chauvinists and the only real ones I’ve found in present day America.
They will, absolutely and without hesitation believe that what is wrong with any foreign country has its origin in American actions (usually, such the provincial tribalism of such people in a Republican president.) Part of this, of course, is that maleducation at American universities, teaches them fixed pie economics. They presume, that is, that for us to be rich someone else must be poor.
G-d only knows why they think German public places — to pick a place at random — tend to have no water fountains. I’m going to guess it’s either their sainted care for the environment or that somehow America hoards all water. Or something.
To me this form of reasoning is particularly ridiculous because I’ve seen it applied to Portugal. In the US people who aren’t absolutely sure where Portugal is will lecture me about how of course I came here because we were so poor (not by the time I came here. Also, not really. I came here because I fell in love with my husband and the country, though not in that order) and how our poverty results from the American tariff act of 1982 or some equally asinine nonsense.
Portugal is poor because it has never fully shaken off the Roman prejudices and form of government. Portuguese institutions and public officials (not all of course, but as a system) tend to be corrupt, it was for a long time under a paternalistic form of government that, yes, was national socialism (without a racial component, though, because, well, Portugal). The Roman prejudices, which Heinlein noted in his visit to South America, present as inheriting or being naturally rich is better than to work for a living. Socially, you can’t let your compatriots see you working like a dog. (In the North this is confused in that there is some English culture rubbing off and people like my dad manage to mingle opprobrium and admiration when they say “I’ve never seen anyone work like him.” Portuguese are capable of an untold amount of work and dedication, which they usually reveal while safely living abroad and hidden from censorious eyes.
However, there’s very little in those two factors that America had anything to do with.
Still some Portuguese — mostly those on the left — believe it too. It’s convenient. They really have no clue how screwed up the country is, because they’ve never been anywhere else. So they will say that the reason Portugal didn’t invent its own computer was that if they’d tried America would have penalized them on rice imports. (Heaven only knows where THAT theory came from.) And yes, even at 16 I gave the rough side of my tongue to the idiot. I don’t think — correct me if I’m wrong — that IBM which was butt of his rage has anything to do with rice imports in Portugal.
However, it is always easier to blame someone else. And to be fair, particularly in Europe, a certain amount of resentment at the US is normal. America has a disproportionate footprint in the world, both because it was the only giant standing after WWII and because it has a huge entertainment footprint. Which means a lot of the anti-Americanism is fostered by our own yokels abroad.
Our yokels abroad to an extent behave just as the yokels who’d visited Venezuela or Argentina and came back to the village telling amazing tales of their two weeks abroad.
There are the outright stupid, like the idiot who told me that socialism must be great, look at all those wonderful buildings in Europe. (Headdeskheaddeskheaddesk) Apparently under the impression that Chairman Louis XVI was responsible for the Louvre. (I tell you guys, those d*mn time travelers.) Or that having built wonderful monuments is the mark of a just and equitable regime. (Though to be fair, communism joins to its other amazing characteristics an uncanny incompetence in the building trade. The further you slide from social democracy to socialism to communism the more likely you are to find newly built buildings crumbling and/or architecture so ugly it makes you want to slit your wrists looking at it.)
Then there are the “Smarter than Havelock-cat” lot (mind you, Havey has three brain cells, one for eating, one for sleeping and one for cadging scritches.) They will tell me the French or Swedish or whatever system must be better because AS TOURISTS while visiting they saw how people have a lot more free time and security. They miss the frustrations of day to day living, which frankly the citizens don’t realize are there, and therefore don’t realize how much better/easier life is in the States.
(One thing we do really well is provide everyday comforts and the ability to buy whatever strikes your fancy at the moment. This might be stupid, and the yokels who’ve been abroad will scream “greedy” but often it’s neither, it’s something totally off beat one in a 1000 people need. And you can find it, easily, particularly now in the age of Amazon, a unique American development.)
You see, there is a trade off not just between security and innovation but between security and comfort. Systems designed to make life safe from surprises are, by definition, hostile to innovation and competition. The Scandinavian countries, in burdening employers with regulations designed to smooth out employees lives also made it almost impossible for entrepreneurs and non-corporations to survive, thereby stifling the fountain of innovation, for instance.
It is important to remember all this as our economic lives become more interconnected. In watching the economic follies out there (yes, yes, this WILL end in blood, duh. But not everywhere, and there is a chance however slim that in the end sanity prevails) one can’t help but go “Who in heaven’s name thought it was a good idea to trust economic reports from a communist regime that controls everything that comes out of it?” And then one remembers. Maleducated yokels.
These are the same people who run around the net lecturing us on the virtues of things they never experienced — like communism — but about which they’ve read. Because they think — being yokels, of course — that other countries function exactly as the US and that their priorities and “control” of information is the the same. Also, inexplicably, that people abroad know more about the US than people in the US. So when French or Scandinavians lecture them on how in the US we’re much worse off, it never occurs to our yokels to go “Wait? Wut? How do you know that?” No. They nod their little pinheads and go “Oh, yes, of course. Because I’ve been there on vacation and–” (In fact, if you talk to foreigners in web forums the “reporting” they get about the US is not only wrong but hilariously so. For instance, people without insurance are routinely left untreated in our emergency room. Yep. Sure thing bob. Because see, their governments have a vested interest in supporting socialism, which gives them power, and in keeping them on the farm without seeing Paree.)
But our yokels swallow all that without chewing on it, because, well, someone is saying it who lives there, and they must know. It never occurs to them that to “know” something is better than the US people have to see both ends, and see both ends from the same perspective of the workaday world.
(There is a book I’ve been meaning to buy called A House In Portugal. I don’t know if it flatters Portugal — or rather, I know it does, just not how truthfully. I mean, let’s face it, Portugal has some awesome aspects, it’s in the daily life meets bureaucracy thing that it falls flat on its face — because it was a bestseller there. It’s the story of an American woman renovating a house in Portugal. My brother gave me to understand it has to do with the strange paths to licenses and the bribes to acquire materials, etc. Don’t know if it’s true, but mean to buy it and read it when I have time.)
And this is how we end up with people who are convinced that all cultures are equally valid, except the US is equally evil. And they must protect poor little communists from “slurs” (or as an unspeakable ignorant *sshole put it, “people who think communism is the worst regime ever should be pushed out of airplanes.” Because he’s read books. Books, I tell you. Or more likely watched movies, or maybe cartoons. And he’s been assured that greed and the evils of capitalism are much worse than being assigned a job where you pretend to work and they pretend to pay you. Said idiot should contemplate the joke add that P. J. O’Rourke reported from the waning days of the Soviet Union “Want to trade Moscow state apartment for sleeping bag on the streets of New York City.”)
The thing to do to such posturing morons (of which my field has an overabundance) is to point and laugh and do the equivalent of sticking their stupidity to them as a tag that the village did when it nicknamed Montserrat. (I am not understand, suggesting that anyone should be nicknamed Chicom. Oh, whatever. I know what you guys are. Do as as conscience dictates.)
However, they are far more dangerous, because America isn’t Portugal. While people living in both are basically as ignorant of abroad and what it really is like (well, not so much in Portugal now, where people are better off and travel is more affordable. Again, you need a passport to swing a cat and the cat needs a passport to bite your *ss in revenge) the Portuguese footprint in the world is minimal right now.
There is no way that Portuguese yokels misapprehending the wonders of … oh, I don’t know, having to pay for all your water in Germany, can write scholarly papers that will make yokels in every other country decide this is da bomb.
There is no way Portuguese yokels deciding IBM is why their rice is so expensive, will write anti-IBM (is IBM even still a thing) screeds that will convince the rest of the world that IBM is teh evil that outranks all evils.
BUT American Yokels, because of America’s disproportionate footprint in the world can do just that. And, in an increasingly interconnected world, that brings the risk of serious mistakes. Like, believing that Iranian leaders think just as we do and aren’t really serious about this bringing back the Imam thing and the end of the world. Or like believing the reports from a communist dictatorship. Or– you can fill in the blanks, right?
So we need to stop maleducating people and treating stupid opinions as though they deserved some sort of respect.
Just Montserrat them.