Tuesday, April 27, 2004

People READ Here?!

Those who know me well would agree that my moments of patriotism are few and far between. Most frequently, I am struck with American pride when I happen to pass by the Civic Center just before the start of the monthly naturalization ceremony. Hundreds of new citizens and their families will be waiting in a long line, dressed in clothing often representing their native countries, there to celebrate the reward of years of work, and waiting, and work, and waiting.

It's a reminder to me that many sacrifice much for the freedoms our country offers...it's a reminder to me that I have a great deal for which to be thankful. And I do consider myself blessed.

I suppose it makes sense that encounters with foreign-born people could bring forth patriotism. And yesterday I had one such encounter.

I was working at the bookstore when a man walked up to me and said, "So, do you sell a lot of books here?"

I wasn't sure if he meant "here" as in the bookstore, or "here" as in the bargain section, where I was standing when he asked.

So I asked, "do you mean 'here' as in...."

"Here. This bookstore," he said.

"Well, yeah. We sell quite a few books here."

"Oh. That is very surprising to me. I am from Europe, and it is my understanding that people in the United States don't read...they only watch T.V."

I should say that his tone was not at all surprised. It was simply sarcastic...like he'd really been looking forward to having the chance to say this to me [to somebody, some American, anyway].

"No," I said. "A lot of people read here."

Again. "Really? Yes because this is such a big store, such a selection. I am very surprised you sell books. In Europe, we all believe that you don't read books in America. You only watch T.V."

Didn't he just say that? Was it that great a line it warranted repeating?

I was surprised to find myself feeling a little angry. "Well, when you go back to Europe you can tell them people actually read in the United States...Not everybody in this country is as dumb as our president."

"Yes. I didn't think you read here."

What the?

The thing is, I can't completely blame him. The fact is that a lot of people DON'T read here.

And a lot of people do a lot of T.V. watching in Europe, too.

It is frustrating to me that Americans have such a bad reputation to overcome. And yes, I understand its origins and the commonly encountered nationalism--coupled with ignorance--that keep the reputation alive. But a stereotype is a stereotype, and it's annoying no matter where it comes from.

1 comment:

crackdaniel said...

Yeah, as an American living in Europe, I have to deal with many misconceptions of the American psyche. We are not well read, we watch copius amounts of TV, we all own and carry guns, we have no culture or history, we are obsessed with and repulsed (repressed) with sexuality. On and on! However, as an outside observer of their cultures, I have realized that these assumptions could apply in reverse. For instance, many people in Europe (especially) England, rarely go to school past 16 years old (school leavers) or beyond 18 years of age (A-levels). I know this as an employer! Granted, Americans do reflect their society in the phantasy world of Hollywood, we allow this to occur. Thus, the broad freedoms we enjoy are miscontrued and convoluted by what the Europeans see! CNN is a biased and censored news/information outlet that is viewed worldwide as the truth. Giving a distorted view of our national collective mind set. But, no more so than any other country! The next time you are approached by an asshole, such as the one you speak of, tell them that it is a false assumption. Generated by their perverse gullibility and false vanity that because their society is so old, that it is better. As I have stated to many Europeans, you are history, we are still making it! Spell assume . . . ass u me! Tell them you made an ass of you and me!