Thursday, October 13, 2005

Every Culture has Their "Asshole" Group

I moved to Germany a little over a year now thinking of myself as an someone who shunned many American policies and ways of life and would therefore give it up, but more importantly to experience other cultures and be something of a "better" representation of what an American is or can be since so many Americans come off as 100% patriotic no matter what the policy. That's not to say that I think my life choices are the way every American ought to live, rather I came here wanting to be something of an American individual that could at least have an unbiased conversation with "foreigners" over politics or culture or whatever. My example was to speak for itself as an person and not a stereotype. I by no means thought that I was going to mend international relations, but thought that as an individual I could do my part to listen to what other nationalities had to say and respond in as objective of a way as possible. I wanted to be an example of diverse American thinking.

I came here knowing that was going to be even harder to accomplish since we came here on the government's ticket. Ryan is a contractor to the Department of Defense and it's not easy explaining how you separate yourself from your government, when the government is your customer and actually helping your live abroad. I've stopped trying to separate myself. My short answer is this: when you disagree with policies or the way your government is run, the best thing you can do is to be active about changing it. And where else is a better place to change it, than from the inside? I used to think that working for or with the government meant that you supported it, but realize now that it's another form of being active in politics.

I've shied away from addressing Ryan's job because most of my experience has been that people (Americans and other nationalities) *do* assume that it means that I'm a full-fledged flag-waving American supporting the war in Iraq. I've shied away because it *is* related to the military, and military life involves an American culture I still don't completely understand and therefore feel I can speak for. I've shied away because I *do* take advantage of some of the "privileges" of being able to enter a military base (mostly shopping at the Commissary). And I've shied away because I didn't have the vocabulary (nor did my peers from a gazillion different countries including Iraq) to explain myself.

As time has gone on and I've entered an intermediate class where it's mostly conducted as a conversation course, it's hard knowing whether or not the acquisition of vocabulary has made it easier to have a conversation. Sometimes it's as easy as rolling your eyes when George Bush comes up and people "get" you. That's enough for them. But there has been a shift in how I feel I can relate to some classmates because with more advanced conversation skills comes personality and some personalities are decidedly anti-American. On one hand I welcome these personalities the most because I think I'm a pretty good communicator and have managed civil conversations, but on the other hand some of these people are so *decided* about their beliefs that it's like reasoning with a brick wall. And in reality "assholes" is a better label for these brick wall people than "anti-Americans" because you get the sense that these particularly close-minded people will upset anyone in their own culture just as fast...just as a matter of being an impolite, judgmental person.

This is all coming from my experience these days with a particular asshole in my class who criticizes me every single day and relates it back to my being American. When I arrive late it's a result of my being American and thinking that I'm free to do as I damn well please. When I arrive early it's because I'm a privileged American who can afford to live so close to school. When I express my desire for a job, I'm an ungrateful American who doesn't realize the luxury and privilege I have. When I express my happiness for my free-time, I'm an American glutton living in the lap of luxury. When I drive my husband to work in our only car so that I can use it later in the day, my husband is criticized for not riding on the train for an hour vs. a 20 min. drive, and I'm criticized for not wanting to carry 60lbs. of groceries for 3 miles. When I go to the Commissary I'm an American who can't get used to living in another culture since I can get most of the same foods at any given store in Germany. When I don't go to the Commissary I'm a rich American who can afford the higher prices for food in Germany. When I have access to the American base, I'm someone that can get the asshole his Zantac for cheaper. When I refuse to get the asshole his Zantac because he criticizes me everyday (and I need the car to get there), I'm a selfish American snob. Every day is like this. He cuts me off. He answers for me and is surprisingly good and raising a similar aggressive "curiosity" in others about what the fuck I'm doing here. About why the fuck the American military is still in Germany. About why I would want to stay here or leave Europe. Undoubtedly he's right about some things (though few). I do have privileges as an American which seem more like "normal life" to me. I'm not going to pretend like I'm a victim to all these assholes as though I'm part of an oppressed group. I'm simply venting on a frustrated day. My friend over at publicprivate articulated it wonderfully when she said, "I felt similarly when I was in India. Partly I hated being the pet American. And partly I didn't like feeling like I had to
defend my country all the time, when in any other circumstance I wouldn't."


In conclusion, it's occurred to me that in times of war, it's not America vs. Vietnam, or America vs. Iraq, or America vs. (fill in the blank). War is, quite simply, the Assholes vs. the Assholes.

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