American appetites

There was a fellow-expat who commented on here the other day, an American lady working here as a teacher who told me she enjoyed the things I write on this blog. I was very embarrassed when she apologised for being American after reading some of the things I’d been writing about her countrymen. I thought I’d try and set the record straight a little (although I’ll probably get side-tracked and start writing about Megan Fox on a Cloud Base again. God, that woman…). 

Anyway, I thought I’d relate my own experiences of America on here and my impressions of the people, dispelling with the stereotype of the brash Yankee and top-lofty Limey. The first time I traveled there was a good seven years ago as a young lad of fourteen, on a family holiday (the last one we ever took, if I remember rightly) to Boston, and we undertook a wide tour of New England as a whole. Our impression was: this was England as it was supposed to be. 

Years later I was told that ‘New England isn’t the real America’, but my experiences elsewhere proved that completely wrong. The people were so damned friendly, common courtesies long forgotten in Britain. Things as simple as saying ‘hello’ to passers-by really affected us. It’s just not done in our country. 

I get very sick and tired of Seth McFarlane and the American stereotype of every British person being an ‘I say!’ dandy who faints at swear words. Over the last ten years, street violence and ‘chav’ culture have reached frightening heights in the UK. Now, I appreciate that gun control can be an issue in the US, but my own impressions (and those of Americans I’ve spoken to) is that it’s fairly easy to avoid, the worst areas of L.A. and New York being known spots for danger. But the fact is, violence is just about everywhere in Britain. 

The ignorance around it all grinds my gears. Firstly, on the parts of foreigners, who think Britain is a Jane Austen book with virtuous females and stern, chivalrous men. Until recently, my family lived in an upscale 16th century building in a town centre of a historic riverside town where the only feature of interest is one of the last working steam railways. Not exactly the Bronx. But most nights, there would be fights on the streets, and the morning after you had to be careful not to step in the vomit, blood or broken glass that was always to be found. The police always told us they were too undermanned to send any officers no matter how many times our windows were smashed or the cars vandalised; they were too busy dealing with the worse crimes in the two neighbouring towns.

That’s a fairly mild example, truth be told. A friend of mine, Joe, had gone to Birmingham with two mates to see a concert and then gone to McDonald’s before getting the train home. It wasn’t even the middle of the night; about 2100, if memory serves. Anyway, as soon as they left Micky D’s, three blokes jumped them. One filmed while the other two battered Joe, eventually punching him in the chest so hard it stopped his heart. 

Luckily one of the passers-by was a doctor who administered emergency CPR and saved Joe’s life. The police eventually caught the perpetrators and had overwhelming evidence with the video recording, but they only got six month prison terms and one of the three was released, anyway. It didn’t even make the news. 

Lots of crime isn’t reported since, as I hope I’ve shown, there isn’t much point calling the cops. The worst parts of the biggest cities are just no-go areas for police officers. If you remember the riots last year that spread from city to city like wildfire, you might also recall how no clear motive was established. That’s because there wasn’t one. It was violence for violence’s sake. 

The justice system doesn’t work in your favour, either. My parents are both criminal lawyers and I’ve heard all the true horror stories of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time, their lives ruined because of a criminal record, for something completely out of their control. The way it works is like this; if someone starts a fight with you and throws the first punch, the only way to get out of trouble with the authorities is to take a beating that could result in serious injury or death. If you’re a martial artist, or a boxer, or whatever, and hit them back, you can then be charged with assault. 

Obviously the circumstances vary, but that’s the general gist. I’ve had so many people tell me I’m making this up or exaggerating but that simply isn’t true. The fact is the people who will do such things are all on the benefits system and likely have a criminal record anyway; you can’t reason or talk your way out of things with people who have nothing to lose or risk. 

The flip side of the ignorance is British people themselves, who are not as well-traveled as I am. Our people, even the ‘educated’ elite, always assume that things are the same elsewhere. That maybe so in gangland Los Angeles or the Philadelphia projects, but in small-town America of Virginia or Monatana…? A street-fight every night? Apparently not. 

Anyway, back to Americans. I ended up in America twice more before I moved to Tbilisi, firstly in Philadelphia and a few years later in New York. It all added to my original impression: I wanted to live in the USA. 

That might shock anyone who thought I was anti-Americans in some way. But I really felt I could be happy living there. I’d always considered France my true home, but my eventual dream was to split my time between the Lot Region and Massachusetts. 

It’s a little strange to me that a lot of revelations about the American character came as I met more and more of them in Georgia. They still make a very good impression on me, and there’s a possibility between a Yankee and one of my own countrymen, I will usually choose our cousin from across the pond. But there are a few things I’d like to understand a little better, so any Americans reading this can help me. 

(Actually, there’s something I want to mention here that didn’t fit in anywhere else. Why are Americans so obsessed with their heritage? And what on earth is so good about being Irish? I wish I had a penny for every time I’ve been told ‘I’m like, one quarter French, a third Irish, half Dutch and an eighth Apache…’. You’re not Irish. You’re not English, or Serbian, or Polish, or-)

From people I’ve met, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle-ground in cultural and political perspectives, but maybe Americans just don’t have a healthy injection of apathy at birth like we do. The people I’ve met seem to be head-in-the-clouds liberal or dangerous Republicans. A few instances really stick in my mind. 

Gay rights is a seemingly hot-topic at the moment, especially when it comes to marriage. I have a friend, Chris, from New York, who is heterosexual but a gay rights advocate. I support what he does, to be honest; I don’t see how being gay changes things one way or another when it comes to marriage or military service.  Then again, gay marriage is already legal in New York State as far as I know, and isn’t the point of a Federal Republic to have both state and federal laws? But in Britain, a lot of us don’t understand why straight people get involved so passionately (yes yes, I know all about ‘equality for all’ etc. we believe in all that, just read on, blast you).

Well, we understand it, but don’t much see the point. Most people in our country morally support gay rights, but it’s ‘their fight’; it’s up to the gay community. This is probably coming across awfully, but to use me as an example, I support them in their endeavours, but you won’t find me on a gay rights march, simply because I’m not gay and it’s nothing to do with me.

On the flip side, why are so many people against it? Ultra-conservative Christians do make me laugh. As a Christian myself, I have asked Republican acquaintances when the issue is raised, ‘Matrimony is holy, right? And we’re all God’s children? Made in His image, etc.? So…not quite spotting the problem, here…’ (not a safe attitude to have in Georgia, but the hell with it). My extensive experience with Republicans came when I met good old Steve and Janet, which is documented elsewhere on these pages. And a damned nightmare it was, too.

Liberals perplex me just as much. ‘Murdering U.S. soldiers’ and the like seems to be everywhere on the Internet these days (my opinion on that is kicking about here too somewhere). I’m not a big believer in the Afghan war (and dead set against what went on in Iraq), but the fact remains that even though the country is a complete mess, NATO forces have been successful in eliminating scores of Al-Qaeda operatives and senior commanders. No one knows better than me how badly Afghanistan is turning out, despite every other NATO press release trying to convince the world it’s now Disneyland Asia, but imagine if those men hadn’t died. Another 9/11, perhaps? Something worse? Maybe the perpetrators went down with a bad case of bullet-between-the-eyes. One can hope. At least then it was for something. 

I’m somewhere in the middle between both views, I suppose. I’ve already documented my loathing of American imperialism and the way both the Iraq and Afghan conflicts have turned out. Then again, I don’t make the mistake of taking it out on the military, seeing as it’s governments who choose to deploy or withdraw the armed forces. It isn’t their fault Obama (the man who was going to save the world if you’d heard the liberals in ’08) hasn’t fulfilled his promises. Plus, despite several tragic incidents, one mad redneck reservist shouldn’t reflect on the military as a whole. 

It’s important, too, to remember that my disdain for foreigners in Georgia isn’t limited to Americans. I feel a mixture of embarrassment and disgust when I see British embassy employees trotting about the place wearing a backpack and sandals, remarking to their pig wives in that pathetic feminine Tony Blair voice ‘Oh, I say Jemima, see how the natives live! How quaint!’. I also tire quickly of the overweight academics who prowl this website dishing out their ‘expert’ opinion on how Abkhazia and South Ossetia are seemingly hotbeds of saintly activity and Georgia is, and has always been, in the wrong. I highly doubt your average citizen anywhere in the world gives a flying fuck about the complex political legacies if he’s struggling to put food on the table or his life is in danger. Damned Armchair Generals, not a bloody clue about the real world.

So there you have it. Or maybe you don’t. I can’t even remember why I started writing this. I’m not even happy with the end result, I just can’t be bothered to change it. Enjoy. Or don’t. Megan Fox!

PS. Who’s coming boxing this week? 

 

About tcjogden69

Former soldier, current boxing trainer/student living in Tbilisi.
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4 Responses to American appetites

  1. Didn’t mean to embarrass you–thanks for this post though; it’s quite interesting.

    I can speak a bit to the question of Americans and their heritage (Interesting aside: the only time I’ve ever had it come up as an introduction was when I was in London and introduced myself as an American. My Scottish interlocutor said “But what are you REALLY?” so she got the whole saga…She did ask for it!) In my experience, the question of family heritage generally comes up while talking about or participating in “American culture” with other Americans, and realizing that our traditions are different–generally, this comes from different family origins (or growing up in a community with strong ties to another country).

    For example, I was hanging out with American friends this weekend, and my knee-jerk reaction to someone sneezing is to say “Gesundteit!” (I actually don’t know how to spell that, which gives you even more insight), because that’s what I grew up saying…and that led to discussions of where our families came from. For me, at least, talking about this sort of family history and culture is a deeper discussion with close friends (or potential close friends).

    Sometimes I think it is also a way of being polite and finding common ground to talk to a foreigner with. Perhaps you get so many Americans telling you about their Irish heritage because they’re searching for some sort of common ground to share with you. (Thought process something like this: “What do I talk about with this British person? I don’t know what to say. Isn’t Ireland over there? Great-great-grandpa was from Ireland. I can talk about that”) The curse of American friendliness…

    • tcjogden69 says:

      Ah, well, there you see; I never knew it was a conversation starter with foreigners. But there you have it, because of the way things are in our country, we’re very suspicious of people talking to us, it’s tragic really. I have to say, though, I’ve always thought there is a certain fascination amongst Americans with being Irish that i’ve never really understood. I remember I saw ‘The Departed’ with Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, and everyone is charging around yelling ‘I’m Irish!’ in broad American accents which sounded a little odd to my ears. But I suppose being a nation of immigrants, heritage is a rather more important issue for you than it is for us; family heritage for us is Dad’s side were all Welsh and Mum’s are northern English, but seeing as we were raised in the Midlands we describe ourselves as Midlanders. It’s become a little more topical for our family recently, though, since of three brothers two of us are with foreign girls, my wife obviously being Georgian and my older brother’s partner from the Republic of Ireland, so my parents will have a very interesting set of grandchildren one day. I think what worries them most of all is where they’ll fit into it; they live in France, which is another cultural twist, and are likely worried how to find common ground with one set of grandlings whose home is Dublin, another from Tbilisi, etc. When I think of it like that I think I understand Americans a little more when it comes to heritage malarkey.

      To be honest, I find Americans the most easy people to talk to in the world, they’re so much more relaxed than us, it’s a real shame Britain has become the way it is now.

  2. Hmmm..... says:

    I forgot to say this in my earlier post but……there’s going to be a Wendy’s soon in Tbilisi. I figured I’d post it here since “American appetites” is very appropriate for this topic. I live in America – love this place and people (well, NOT ALL, but the average American is decent, honest, and hardworking); it’s a shame that the whole world just believes all the stereotypes about the U.S.

    • tcjogden69 says:

      Yeah, it’s a shame there are so many offensive stereotypes of the American people, or an opinion too closely based on unpopular US foreign policy. Americans are amongst the most friendly and helpful people I’ve ever met, I was absolutely gobsmacked when I first went there, it definitely motivated me to live there. Which part of the United States do you live in?

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