Americans and capitalists face criticism abroad

    Scanlon’s Pub in Kinnegad, Ireland, is dimly lit and thick with the smell of alcohol — everything from strong stouts and ales to sharp whiskies.

    The soft mumbles of conversation keep the silence away. The husky Irishman across from me drains his Guinness and orders another. After his long sip, wiping the foam from his upper lip, he comments on his original point: “”Ah, son, you know all American capitalists are greedy businessmen!””

    His son, a rugged, handsome, thirty-something Irishman, shakes his head and responds deliberately. “”You’re just sayin’ that because you’ve always been a socialist. That’s how you were raised.””

    His father shakes his head and takes a long swig.

    I’ve been watching them argue for the last half-hour about the respective evils of capitalism and socialism. I assume that my presence is the reason for this argument. The first question was aimed at me. Despite my attempts at diplomacy, the argument proceeded, albeit without any further input from me.

    There is little I can do now, so I keep quiet.

    UCSD told me to expect this sort of argument. It is no secret that Americans are looked down upon by most of the world. As a stereotype, we are thought of as boisterous, rude, generous but spoiled bullies living in our fabled lands of freedom, which we think gives us the right to tromp around the world unhindered.

    We blame everyone and everything for this stereotype. The leftists blame President George W. Bush and his foreign policy. The right-wingers blame the morally corrupt world for its inability to cope with the last remaining virtuous standards held by Americans. Historians may call attention to the fact that world powers are always despised, such as the Romans and the British. Others blame economic factors or global media forces. Some feel that Americans are just evil — Satans, if you will.

    Regardless of the cause, the stereotype is ever-present. Are Americans hopeless in foreign countries? Usually not. As with all stereotypes, if an individual is given the chance, he may work against it or be seen as an exception to the rule, as many students traveling abroad have. However, most Americans have an uphill job to do when visiting foreign cultures.

    It’s interesting that the inescapable stereotype is hammered into us by our own institutions of learning. We are taught incessantly that stereotyping is bad. Stereotyping translates directly to racism, which is our society’s unforgivable sin. However, many students immediately discuss the American stereotype to criticize Americans. If you haven’t heard this argument before, you’ve been taking too many organic chemistry classes. But most of you know what I’m talking about:

    “”Americans all go ruining other countries through forcing dependence on American tourism … and then they disrespect and consequently destroy long-surviving cultures!””

    When I hear this or something like it, I immediately retort that one shouldn’t hold such a scathing stereotype of all U.S. travelers. Then I get a barrage of widely diverse backtracking defenses:

    “”Well, most of them! You can always stereotype if it’s the vast majority!””

    “”I’m not stereotyping. That’s how it is!””

    “”I’m American. So I can stereotype my own people.””

    “”So what? I shouldn’t say Americans suck? They do!””

    Or the exquisite Voz Fronteriza answer, paraphrased: “”We’re oppressed people, so we are justified in our stereotypes and racism!””

    It’s just amazing to me that within American collegiate culture, in which we are held to such rigorous standards of insane political correctness, we are so hopeless to break the bonds of our stereotype in our own universities. Often, foreigners are more forgiving than our own peers.

    Perhaps professors feel that most students haven’t heard of this stereotype before and need to enlighten them to our foreign image. Perhaps the protest groups feel that students aren’t completely aware of our inherent evil. If either of these are the case, then why are individuals still held to such a stinging generalization? If you haven’t felt this individual accountability to be a rude American, just go to a protest table and tell them that you aren’t the typical American.

    The greatest example was last year’s article in the New Indicator about the inherent racism of a white student. If you don’t remember, the New Indicator published a delightfully unforgiving quiz that allowed us lucky white students (it’s our fault for being white, remember?) to gauge our racism. Was there a category for “”not-racist?”” No, in fact, the article went out of its way to reassure us that all white students are racist to a degree and need counseling.

    Resigned and somewhat indignant, I realized that if students at UCSD are this harsh to their own peers about race, certainly the countries renown for their resentment of Americans in general must be far worse!

    After about five minutes, the argument in the pub fades away and the talk turns towards matters of more upbeat nature. Already the contempt is gone.

    Am I still American to the Irish? Yes. Am I still a capitalist? Yes. But am I hated? Not at all. It turns out that some people have the capability to be forgiving of stereotypes and are able to judge people based on the quality of their character, as opposed to the place of their upbringing. Too bad it’s not our ever-loving, ever-supportive schoolmates.

    Do many Americans uphold this awful stereotype with their actions? Yes. Do all? No. Can Americans avoid having their unfortunate stereotype pounded into their hearts sans hope of redemption? Yes, but we’ll have to leave our colleges and universities. Can we survive foreign countries without the same barrage of insults that are inflicted upon us with the same ferocity of racism?

    After we say goodnight, the younger Irishman pauses to say that as Americans go, especially capitalists, I’m all right with him. Similar stories are given to me by Americans students in Poland, Russia, Germany and Spain. I guess we aren’t as hopeless as we were told.

    It begins to rain. The night is cold and dreary and the clouds are covering the entire sky, but I think I love this fascinating culture. I’m beginning to think that I won’t be judged entirely based on my birthplace and upbringing.

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