An Idiot Abroad

A reoccurring theme has emerged during my time abroad—the trope of the “idiotic American”. Again and again, jokes are made at the American’s expense—“I’ll try to speak slowly and use small words, particularly as I know there are some Americans in the group”—courtesy of the Scottish tour guide on the Fremantle Prison torchlight tour. Similarly—“The side labelled ‘front’ should be facing the front—I know this seems obvious, but we have some Americans on board today”—from the woman instructing us on how to don our scuba gear in order to swim with whale sharks. I had expected jokes like these, and, of course, try not to take them literally—my guess is that the vast majority of people do not actually think that every single American is stupid and ignorant; rather, it is only a light-hearted stereotype. Right? Nonetheless, it does get a bit wearing when these jokes are repeated over and over again, especially as I have come to suspect that jokes like these as really more about what people dislike about all westernized cultures, and not just America. These little quips—about American ignorance, American entitlement, American excess—highlight everything people hate and are ashamed of in their own westernized cultures. If America is a bunch of obese consumerists controlled by the media, then why does Australia feel so very similar to America? Of course, there is a certain subset of American culture that I absolutely loathe—the climate-change-denying, gay-marriage-hating, gun-toting, “evolution is just a theory”-stating, racist, ignorant, AMERICAN. And I realize that America has more religious fundamentalists than any other first-world country. Ignorance abounds in America; I do not deny it. But I have encountered just as much ignorance, and just as much to be ashamed of, in every other first-world, westernized culture that I have encountered. The point is not that I cannot take a joke; rather, I fear that when people point the finger at America, they do so in an attempt to ignore or minimize what may be wrong in their own culture—“Yes, we Australians are obese, and 39% of the people in Western Australian prisons are Aboriginal, despite the fact that Aboriginal people only make up 3.5% of the total population, but at least we’re not America, right??” Many problems exist in American culture, of course this is true, and I cannot honestly say that I am always “proud to be an American”—in fact, sometimes it is downright embarrassing when I scroll through Facebook and see posts like, “This is not a race issue, ALL lives matter, grow up”. But then I remember the time when, catching a cab in Bali with a Canadian couple, the wife starts saying things like, “The *** environmentalists are trying to ruin everything, like they just all hate oil, but what are people supposed to put in their *** cars to make them go? Huh? Answer me that, Green Peace?? Bunch of f***ing idiots, honestly.” And the husband nods and goes, “That’s right babe”. And I just sat there and stared out the window, thinking, “And after the oil is gone and all the ice caps are melted and all the crops die off in the massive droughts and hurricanes, then what will we eat? How will our children survive? Huh??” Now, of course, I am positive that not all Canadians think like this woman—but that’s the point, isn’t it, that this sort of backwards thinking can be found within all first world cultures. It is most definitely not just America. And sometimes it feels like the hate that America receives is nothing more than a deflection of the problems inherent in any westernized, capitalistic, first-world culture. America is not the whole problem; it is only a part of an entire world system that is still set up unfairly after hundreds of years of colonialism. And in blaming America, we ignore the true scope of the problem, and we negate any chance of change for the better.