Juche_Qingu: My Experience Living in America

My experience living in America has taught me that Americans have this very quaint, humble and endemic view that somehow they’re “dumb”.

I find this notion not merely absurd (why would I have come to the United States to get my college education if the smartest people in the world weren’t working/living/teaching here?) but self-deprecating and highly inaccurate.

Are there a small group of Americans who fit every negative stereotype ever conceived about them? Yes. I’ve met people like that, and they’re fun/interesting to talk to, but the vast, vast majority of Americans are fairly well educated, have a high sense of ethics, are much more insightful about human psychology than most Asians I’ve spent my time with, and in general you have this surprising capacity for dialogue. And by dialogue I don’t mean you’re good at telling jokes or at chit-chat (though you are), I mean that there is a very well established culture of national and cross-ethnic dialogue.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not beatifying America, and America isn’t perfect, but I’ve lived in six different countries and I grew up to diplomatic parents so I’ve seen my share of awful and delightful thing from all walks of life, and let me tell you: You’re not as broken, stupid or culturally oblivious as you insist. In fact, this is probably the only country I’ve been in where self-criticism is seen as a necessary rite of humility, and as a means of finding a true balanced opinion. Not many nations are willing or capable of admitting their flaws. Japan? France? China? Latin America? Britain? I’m not entirely convinced that any of these nations love to be vocal about their problems. If anything they’re seen as hiccups in what is otherwise a glorious and civilized history. I, for one, would disagree.

Europe, for all its tolerance, is a museum society. They’re linguistic or ethnic homelands. Add all the population of England + France + Germany + Mexico and you get a population roughly equal to that of the United States (~315 million). Canada is North American but not as fucked up? All of Canada has a population less than California. The United States is the 3rd largest country in the world with the 3rd largest population. If your time zone was to be done not by political divisions but in neat 1-hour chunks, you’d actually have not five but nine time zones.

And yet look at yourselves: as much as there are problem, there is also a lot of overcoming of problems. European nations are freaking out about all the Africans and brown people flooding into them, and racial tensions are becoming very ugly. It’s as thought they want to charge higher admission fees into their museum and don’t want any fingerprints on the display pieces. Look, admire, then LEAVE seems to be the motto. Contrast that with the mind-numbing diversity of the United States. If I had to list every ethnic/linguistic/cultural group that’s taken up residence in the United States since the eighteenth century, I’d probably get a headache.

As much as there are xenophobic and racist forces, these are by and large ugly minorities that get the lion’s share of media attention. Peaceful, non-judgemental, non-incidental, everyday side-by-side living of Arabs and Mexicans and Koreans and Samoans and Italians and Russians and Ghanaians and Hondureños and Irish etc. ad nauseam is just not mentioned because it’s so common, so natural, so seamless here.

Do you remember the Virginia Tech shootings? Do you remember the crazy South Korean student who shot 32 people in cold blood?[1] , well when news of that reached South Korea, the government ordered the South Korean ambassador in Washington to do a public 32-day Buddhist fasting from dawn to dusk to atone for “our people’s” crimes. The United States Senate, however, strongly insisted the ambassador refrain from such a ceremony. Their argument was “Look. There’s no ‘us’ and ‘them’ here in America. This kid was a green card holder, a permanent resident, therefore he’s American. He was a fucked-up, disgusting individual but he was American. Your people don’t owe us any apologies”.

That’s what I find is consistently true. I’ve faced more racism growing up in Latin America and Korea (supposedly I wasn’t “Korean enough”) than I’ve ever faced here in the United States, and so far I’ve lived and studied in Minnesota, California and Michigan. My color and race is simply a non-issue. I’m not treated specially, nor am I treated differently. I just am, and I’m treated very matter-of-fact.

MYTH: America has no “traditional” cuisine. False. Thanksgiving dinners are some of the most freaking delicious meals I’ve ever had. Also, explaining “Thanksgiving” to my Korean parents took me about 10 minutes.

MYTH: America is culturally illiterate. I find that Americans generally have the interesting habit of “learning through friends”. Usually when I mention Korea or Latin America there’s always at least someone in the group who says “Oh yeah, I’ve been there, it was awesome” or “Oh yeah my fiancee, girlfriend, best friend, neighbor, school friend is from there”.

I quite frankly don’t understand why there is a stereotype that Americans are bad simply because they aren’t experts about every obscure and secluded culture in the world. For that matter, how accurately is America’s every-day life portrayed overseas? My parents know absolutely nothing about America, and the majority of what they do know comes from hefty stereotypes. They thought that Michigan was some lawless criminal state and so far I’ve only met super nice people who are only too willing to take me into the fold.

You simply lack the distance and perspective that outsiders such as myself have. If you’re into reading I recommend a book called El Libro de arena (The Book of Sand) by Jorge Luis Borges. I’m sure you can find an English translation of it somewhere. One particular short-story, called “El Soborno” (the Bribe) mentions Borges’ fascinating discovery about Americans and their obsession with being ethical. Very much readable and I’d highly recommend it.

You know, I once wrote an essay that compared American culture to Antio Gaudí’s sculptures. When Gaudí was building Park Güell[2] , he took wholesome, perfectly fine pieces of ceramic and tile and broke them on purpose with a hammer. He then let his imagination run wild and re-assembled unrelated pieces into a kaleidoscopic masterpiece. Americans are kind of like that (and this is just purely my opinion). Sure you may not see yourselves as having deep cultural roots (and why not? You’re older than most modern nations), but Americans have a tendency to not throw away the broken bits but to artfully reassemble them into a new and truly beautiful identity. The amount of cultural dynamism, the willingness to embrace outsiders, the near-perfect integration of cultures and people that have historically wanted nothing more than to kill and maul each other, the willingness to admit other cultural truths (I mean this whole “I probably don’t know shit, you probably know more about this than I do” is something I NEVER, EVER came across while I was studying at a British school overseas).

Give yourselves a little more credit. The awful ones aren’t the only ones that live here. Their strange and hysterical behavior only contrasts that much more with the majority of calm and surprisingly balanced people I’ve met here.

TL:DR; Americans aren’t as culturally obtuse as they like to present themselves. Most of you are very much educated and brimming with curiosity. It’s just that staying inside too long, you lose perspective about yourselves. 🙂

via juche_qingu comments on North Korea notifies Foreign Embassies of intent to launch missiles over Japan on Wednesday.


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