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MY COUNTRY, TIS OF THEE
Yesterday, at book group, one of the women asked us to help with an experiment her daughter was doing for school. She is asking everyone she knows to write a few words or sentences about what they think of America. Not Americans—AMERICA.

She's drawn a map of the U.S. on a big piece of paper and she's putting all the notes that are BY Americans inside the confines of the country, and all the notes that are by NON-AMERICANS outside of the penciled country borders.

I joked that my view of America has been revised rather drastically since November 4th.

There were 11 women in the room. 8 of us were American, 1 was Australian (though she was born in America), and 2 were Canadians, both of whom consider themselves practically American since they have spent many years in the States. Unfortunately, we ran out of time before I could ask if I could read the other notes (all of which were anonymous, but marked with nationality).

Growing up in a military family is a real object lesson in indoctrination. It's very hard to pull away from a rah-rah we're the best attitude that permeates so much of your surroundings as a child, and even though I have always had a healthy dose of skepticism (cue Mom's laughter), I confess to finding it hard to shake that immediate patriotic frisson that shivers through me when the National Anthem plays or when I see the American flag.

My view of America and what I have always believed it stood for has become rather intrinsically entwined with what the country's GOVERNMENT is doing and has done and that has made it very hard for me to be proud of my country or my nationality in some ways, which has been a very divisive feeling at the core of my identity. Despite everything, I want to be proud of my country, and I want to be proud of the things it ostensibly stands for.

I thought it was an interesting experiment, and a bit provocative, and that it would be interesting no matter which nation you substituted for America in the equation, if you were a national of the country in question. How do you, as a member of it, see your own country versus how a foreigner sees it?

Part of the problem with America is that it is SO huge and so diverse that it's difficult to pin down exactly what I think about it. When I started writing down my thoughts I found that the second one contradicted the first and the fourth one contradicted the third and so on; yet they were ALL TRUE opinions about how I view my country. I kept scratching things out and re-writing. I also found that some of what I thought about AMERICA was, despite trying to differentiate, more applicable to what I thought about AMERICANS.

What do YOU think about America? If you don't feel comfortable airing your views under your own name, feel free to comment anonymously, but please mention what nationality you are. I'll go first.

***

Big Ole Bunches of Birthday Wishes to dbrus!
 thoughtful
mood: thoughtful
music: Mary Karlzen—I'd Be Lying


Comments

Independent-minded, doesn't usually play well with others. Insular. Bossy. (too big for its britches) Both eather to please and arrogant. A land of opportunity despite all.

BTW, like the patriotic stripper pic. :-P

Thanks for the wishes. I'll get back to you about America.

Vibrant, exciting, arrogant, insular, naive.

Me - American by birth, Swedish by choice.

I protest your question. I think what you are really asking is what we think of Americans. I can't think about America without thinking about every individual American I've ever met. Or about every American I've seen interviewed on TV. A nation's structure and culture is only (the result of) a collection of people

Is the question more personal when I am asked to speak about what I think of Americans? Maybe. Our Canadian culture is so mixed in with American culture - our economy and trade and international politics to tied to the U.S's. And yet still, we spend an inordinate amount of time here discussing what makes us different from Americans.

How do I see America - or Americans? I'm afraid to answer that. Maybe that will tell you what I think of Americans.



All Americans? :P

America to me, is very sensitive to criticism and for every criticism said about it (her?), there is a compulsive need to slab it over with several varieties of "greatest country in the world" phrases.

I am very glad that Obama won, but having seen two election campaigns and the dynamics behind them (I visited here 4 years ago), I have learned some things about how the country works as well, and how it tries to play its citizens.

Only when I've talked to native Americans have I experienced lack of such sensitivity and over compensation.

There are of course many things I love about America..but honestly, the trait above is the first thing that strikes me as a foreigner living in America.

I realize how negative I sound, having summed up traits like sensitivity, guilt and over compensation. I could also add several positive things, like hospitality, positivism and vitality, just like I could easily come up with some complex traits about Sweden.

Edited at 2008-11-22 12:12 am (UTC)

I don't think you sound all that negative, honestly. Those are things I think about America, too.

America the government is what it sounds like you are asking about. At first, when you were describing the map I thought the question was going to be about America the place...
America, Americans... It is all pretty wound up together and my thoughts are all over the map (pun intended.)

You see a person do a bad thing. Do you conclude that this is a bad person, or a good person who did a bad thing? What would swing the balance? Have you ever done a bad thing?
America: diverse, but only in certain ways.
I just don't think I can say anything static or definitive.

Hmm, as a country- democratic, challenging, harsh, proud, young, idealistic, and optimistic (I'm tempted to sometimes call it naivety but I'm in a good mood tonight). :-)

I agree that it's hard to separate the states, regions, etc but I do think there is a shared consciousness that isn't immediately apparent until you've spent time with other nationalities and then you can piece together some similarities.

Or I'm talking out of my butt again.

America the Beautiful

America the Beautiful, America is Diversity, America is a Melting Pot.
America is the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. America is Apple Pie and Baseball and Most importantly America is Mom - (Whoops thats a person not a land...)

America is an Idea, that some have come to realize and some never will.

America is a Republic of 50 states and the district of Columbia.

Unfortunately what most Foreigners think of America is related to its politics and its government. What many overlook is its biodiversity, its simplicity, and its complexity, they see a thin slice of the surface - whats reported. Or they know its vacation spots which are so commercialized that they are unreal. Many being the big cities like LA, NY, Miami, some Americans even say that these are not the real America, (like me) but they certainly form a great part of our image to the world.

America is an wonder. An amazing diverse land with amazing places to be seen, explored, enjoyed and remembered.

Being someone who has had the luck to explore much of the Lower 48, I certainly can appreciate the diversity of America, from the ruins of Indian civilization (Mesa Verde, Utah and the Smokies) to the natural wonders of Yellowstone, Volcanos in Oregon and Washington, the peacefulness of the Green and White Mountains with their idyllic settings in VT and New Hamster even the Metropolises of NY, DC or Chi-town. The contrasting building styles across the land, where people really tried to make their mark on the land certainly show the incredible differences of the people and ideas that make up the country.

America is really an incredible place with much to offer, see and enjoy. Of course it also has its run down ghettos, and forgotten places but these also have their beauty and wonders, you might just need to look harder. Unfortuately some people never see that beauty and that is the shame that is America.

-Signed - an American in Germany
- Lizardbro
- John Slaughter

to write a few words or sentences about what they think of America.

America?

Would you be meaning North America or South America? If North America, does that include Canada?

See, your question sums up a lot of what I see in the US. You say "America" meaning the US, not even thinking that the US is NOT the only America. :)

I see the US as a bit of a teenager in the world - loud, brash, independent, opinionated, socially inept, selfish, occasionally reckless while testing the limits and prone to black and white views of problems. But probably under that well meaning, if somewhat naive.

And like teens, thinking that the universe rotates around their needs and wants, which ought to be our needs and wants as well. Any criticism of the US, real or imagined, brings on the Jeeze, what would you know anyway! teen response.

But what would a person from a shark and crocodile infested nation of beer drinking, surfing layabouts know?

Yes, I DID mean just North America...and I think that all Americans do that, completely unconsciously, and without meaning offense.

BUT, in defense of it, America is often (and consistently) used as a short-name for U.S.A. and it IS one country, where as South America is NOT. It is the name of the continent, and made UP of many countries, none of whom would prefer to be referred to as South America, I bet.

But I completely agree with your assessment of the U.S. as a teenager. I think that's perfect.

Yes, I DID mean just North America..

Was that including e.g. Canada? They are after all geographically part of North America, whether the USA likes it or not. See, you did it again :-)

Northern America is used to refer to the northern countries and territories of North America: Canada, the United States, Greenland, Bermuda, and St. Pierre and Miquelon. Hardly ONE country... (from here)

When I think of North America, I think of the continent. The USA is just part of that continent. So I wondered if the person asking the question even knew how saying "North America" to mean USA was a bit of a slap in the face to the other countries who are also part of North America. I know many Canadians who get really upset by that. It's probably the lawyer in me, but I like to know exactly what we are talking about.

The teenage image is one I like as well and you could say that the US and Australia share many of those teenage qualities. There are very positive aspects to it as well - America is seen as vast, vibrant, a place where you can get ahead and where there is an enthusiasm for new ideas and not such a clinging to old outdated traditions and ways of doing things. Innovation is rewarded.

I can see where this clashes with the older European countries, who have centuries of resentments and old scores to settle. There is a freshness of approach with the "teenager countries", who can't see the point of the grudges and want to sweep away the cobwebs and get on with life.

I did misspeak myself in my answer, but I don't think I did it AGAIN, though I certainly did it that time (though I really don't ever want to meet you in court, woman!).

But in my original post, I said and meant "America", and whether or not anyone questions that as a misnomer, it is still a widely accepted name for the USA.

I meant just "America". Not North America, not South America, just America. America the beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain..., America the land of the free (heh) and the brave, etc. Nationals of the country are referred to as Americans world over (not North Americans or South Americans) and not as USAnians, so I don't think it's insensitive or rude or whatever to say America and mean the US.

If that makes me an arrogant American, then I guess I'll have to plead guilty.

Actually, when it comes to the teenager description, I think it's really spot on to be compared with Australia, and I think you are right that the US and Australia share many of those teenage qualities, and that there are positive aspects to it as well as negative ones (like our shared mistreatment of native peoples, sadly).

I think Australia is also seen as a vast, vibrant place where you can get ahead, and where there is an enthusiasm for new ideas, though I would love to actually go there and experience it for myself. It's one of the places at the very top of my travel wish list.

Yeah, I knew you meant the USA. I was teasing you. And I was making a point that I know peeves other countries that share the same continent. I think many people accept that America is pretty much synonymous with the US. It's when they say North America to mean the US that the other countries (esp Canada) get annoyed.

It's a bit like the storm in a teacup when Stockholm erected welcome signs at Arlanda and at the southern freeway entrance to the city saying "Welcome to Stockholm, the capital of Scandinavia". The response from Norway, Denmark and Finland as well as other major cities in Sweden was "Says who?". Of course the Swedes went on the defensive and blubbered on about not meaning to cause any offense, but as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

If that makes me an arrogant American, then I guess I'll have to plead guilty.

I couldn't think of anyone that would apply to less.

I actually noticed "America" being used to mean the USA more after I moved to Sweden. They would call me American or say I am from America and I would say that I come from the USA.

Interesting point! When we moved overseas, we always said we were from "the States".

My road to hell is paved with pumpkin pie and Christmas cookies!!!

Re: Potential

I agree that we have a long way to go to get anywhere near those ideals.

(Anonymous)

America:

A place that I've had no overwhelming patriotic feelings for, yet a place that can experience metamorphis so much that I start to cry while listening to the Star Spangled Banner on November 9th.

Heather (an American who has often wished she were Canadian)

(A wonderful question by the way!)

Hmmmm...
Privileged/spoiled.
Young/malleable.
Opinionated/diverse.
Bright/showy.
Progressive, sometimes.
(Most of the adjectives I come up with sound negative, but I tend to feel pretty positively about America in general. It's AmericaNS that I have a harder time with!)

Join the club! :D It seems to be a theme. ;)

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