How come it’s okay to be proud of being any other nationality, except for American?

While in Salvador, I met one of the most snobby and anti-American people I’ve ever encountered. He was from a European country and was staying in the same youth hostel as me. I commented about something new that I’d learned about Bahian culture that day – I don’t even remember what it was – and he said, “Yeah, you learn a lot when you get out of your little American bubble.”

Now, I agree with the general sentiment – getting out of one’s own culture does indeed expand one’s mind – but I resented the snide way he said it as well as the implication that America is the only country in a “bubble,” whose citizens are ignorant about the outside world. However, I simply smiled and nodded.

“Is this your first time out of the country?” he asked.

“Actually,” I said, “it’s my fifth. I’ve spent a total of about six months in Brazil so far.”

“Oh,” he replied, looking a little disappointed at no longer being able to rib the ‘naive American’ who he’d just found out had far more experience in Brazil than he did.

Later on, the conversation turned to a trip he’d taken to the U.S. He was making fun of the nationalistic symbols he’d seen there, “especially those ‘Proud to be American’ bumper stickers.” He laughed derisively. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

I felt myself bristle, but I refused to take the bait. Arguing with him would be pointless.

The anti-Americanism I encounter isn’t always so explicit, but it exists. Seriously, why can’t I be proud of being from the U.S.? A lot of the news regarding America that arrives here is negative: mistreatment of Iraqui prisoners, McDonalds, Hollywood, MTV, American materialism, American ignorance, American excess, American arrogance. Americans don’t have culture. Americans steal culture from others and co-opt and commercialize it. America has a stupid president. America sticks its nose and its troops where they don’t belong.

Well, I ask those of you who condemn and mock America, how do you know so much about it? From the extremely one-sided and sensational media coverage that you receive? From a vacation you once took to Disneyworld? (Not that there’s anything in the least wrong with tourism. Vacations are vacations. But how’d you like it if someone who spent two weeks in the tourist zone of Rio started talking as though they knew everything about Brazil?) Have you ever lived in the U.S.? Well, I have. For twenty-one years, in fact. And I’m proud to be an American.

I’m proud of the fact that we have so many opportunities for education and employment. I’m proud of the fact that we’re one of the world leaders in technology. I’m proud of the country containing so many different nationalities and cultures. I’m proud of American food (and if you think it’s just McDonalds… that’s just as idiotic as thinking that Mexican cuisine is just Taco Bell). I’m proud of American generosity, both in foreign aid and in private donations. I’m proud of the American military. I’m proud of American traditions, baseball, jazz, Thanksgiving, breakdancing. I’m proud of the American landscape, colorful Connecticut autumns, gorgeous Hawaiian beaches, California redwood forests, the Grand Canyon, endless midwest plains, snowy New Hampshire winters. I’m proud of the extremely rich variety of local/regional cultures: New York has a totally different flavor from Texas, which is a world away from California, etc.

Of course there are things about America that I’m not proud of. Of course there are things that shock, sadden, irritate, and anger me. But this is true in any country; no nation is perfect and problem-free. Are Brazilians proud of the rampant corruption in their government, the violent drug trade in their favelas, and their history of exploitation of African and indigenous peoples? How about the serious lack of access to education and medical care, the poverty that half the population suffers, and the dilution and commercialization of cultural traditions?

Yet Brazilians love their country. They wear shirts with “Brasil” emblazoned across the front in green, yellow, and blue; they sing about its beauty in songs; they celebrate its culture. Yet when I say I’m proud of the U.S., the rest of the world sees it as either ignorance or arrogance?

I honestly don’t think America is really any worse than any other country out there, we just get a lot of criticism because we’re always in the spotlight (and therefore under the microscope). And there seems to be a bit of hypocrisy in the fact that everyone loves to bash the U.S. yet is dying – sometimes literally – to get in there and enjoy its benefits. To me, this smells like the envy-driven human tendency to disparage what we desperately wish we had and don’t.

I am not ignorant of my country’s problems, yet I still love it. I grew up there, I had an excellent experience there, I was blessed to receive many wonderful opportunities from it, and I’ll always enjoy going home to it. Funny how I’d never felt any particularly remarkable affection for my country until I’d lived outside it, felt saudades for it, and
had to defend it…