Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Neither Jew nor Greek"?

Today was the first day back at school. First day of a last term of high school, at the end of which loom the IB exams which will take up half the month of May for me. Studying's kind of gotten to a fitful start; it's difficult to find motivation for something that seems so far away, and after putting so much energy into this program already. Ah, well. It'll kick in eventually.

But this post isn't really focusing on my day back (though it was lovely and calm, and I enjoyed seeing everyone again).

No, this post is about a rather unpleasant experience I just had on Facebook. "Groan," you say, "Don't be petty. Facebook is a breeding ground for dumb things, you can't let that get to you." True, but this connects to a wider experience of growing up in Europe as an American.

I was scrolling through my friends' posts in my Feed when an article caught my eye, titled "16 things Russians do that Americans might find weird." The article itself was pretty fun, with small cultural differences being pointed out. The article didn't bother me. But in a comment underneath the article, a friend of mine had written: "16 things that make Russians more human, cultivated, and authentic than Americans."

There are a few things that make me tired to my very core. 

One of them is the often blatant contempt toward Americans and their culture by the Swedish and Europeans in general. 

Now, I won't make the mistake people often do with the States and lump all of Sweden together. I'm happy to say that the positive experiences I've had here far, far, far (exponentially far) outweigh the annoyance of being poked and mocked for my heritage. But there certainly have been experiences of the latter, and too often for comfort in an international society.

A quirk about Sweden that I've often been amused by is the double-standard Swedish society has toward America. Authentic American merchandise is even more expensive in Sweden than the already-expensive 'usual' products. Shoes that cost 300kr in the States cost 700kr in Stockholm. A drink that usually costs $3 costs $7 at a Starbucks here. It's obvious that Sweden loves American products. Not only that, but in music, movies, TV shows, and literature, it's clear that general American culture is highly valued here, and for good reason. America has contributed a lot to the world in these areas.

But this love of American goods is strangely contrasted with sheer contempt of the American people, and especially their politics. Americans are ignorant, loud, rude, domineering, arrogant, and annoying. Conservative Americans are all of these things to the power of 10, and their opinion is worth less than a white crayon. Because of one presidency (probably more, but the complaints I've heard boil down to one), the entire American political system is backward and worthless, and the two centuries of American history are naught. 

Now I'm not going to claim that the Unites States of America are not flawed. It's true that education can be quite insular in places and lead to a less-developed sense of the world at large. It's true that America has a tendency, especially in later years (though not, if you're keeping up, at present) to get involved in the affairs of other nations whether they want them to or not. And it's also true that the political and welfare systems in the US need remodeling. 

What infuriates me about these pokes and jabs is the arrogance behind them. It's the idea that Americans are worth less than Swedes, indeed, worth less than almost any other people. It's the idea that American culture is worth less than Swedish culture. It's the sense that America is the one consistent exception to the Golden Rule, and that because of its military, political, and cultural past, anything negative you have to say about them is always given the green light. It's the sense that the States has somehow, by being a flawed, human-led system like every other nation, forfeited its right to the respect and consideration it deserves as a system representing people. 

I could go into the flaws of Sweden and its societal structure and culture. I could go into its political history as a conquering nation and an aid to Nazi Germany. But I won't. Because the point to this post is that it's unfair to lump an entire population into the box of its past. And it's hurtful to hear one's heritage thrown out haphazardly in an uneducated one-liner. Least of all from a people that boasts in its tolerance and openness to other worldviews.


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