…is a question I find myself asking myself more often these days. I’m writing this chiefly as a response to a blog entry by a chap called Benny Lewis, a linguistically talented polyglot I very much admire (check out his website; fluentin3months.com). Since my travels across the world have taken me all over Europe, Mexico, Japan, North America and Eastern Europe, I could write several books on social cultures, but since America is so globally influential and Georgia so personal to me I’ve decided to focus on these two only.
What frequently strikes me as odd about Americans my own age is that they seem so much younger than me, but their immaturity manifests itself in the most peculiar of ways. The clothes they wear, the hairstyles…it all reminds me of when I was 14, a time when I was straightening my hair like a female and making sure I took that ‘right’ photograph. By the time I was six months into my fifteenth year, I was well out of that, and simply sporting a short-back-and-sides with a little gel when I was feeling flash. Even that went in favour of a shaved head when I enlisted in the Army a year later.
I have two young American Facebook friends my own age (the others are all significantly older), and they seem to be living an X-rated version of the lifestyle I lived at 14. Their hair is the same as the girls I was with at the time, and they have the same ridiculous earrings, but now they’re sporting tattoos and boasting of taking drugs. Their menfolk aren’t any different, trapped in the emo culture wherein they attempt to appear sensitive at the same time as being ‘tough’. One of these girls’ boyfriends angrily responded to a picture comment on her Facebook who called her hot…even though it was a picture of her, standing in her underwear in front of a mirror, pointing to a provocative tattoo she’d got just above her crotch.
Drinking is also a very exciting thing for them still, since it’s not yet legal, or is just about to be. We were all more or less mature about alcohol by the time we hit 16 (which is more or less the rule for Europe), and anyone who posted anything about being drunk on their Facebook was seen as an immature attention-seeking twat. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I read statuses on Twitter and Facebook from these girls in their 20s who are treating booze like we did when we were effectively kids.
The stereotype of all British people being ‘I say old boy!’ dandies is bullshit, and I watch incredulously at how many American TV shows portray the Yank drinking the Brit under the table, or the Yank beating the Brit up because he tried to sneakily steal the American’s girlfriend (not having the balls to do it honestly, you see, as if there were an honest way to do such a thing).
Me and my mate Rob did a little acid test when we were in New York. We got talking to a few American lads, really annoying characters, and they challenged us to a drinking contest. Fair enough, we said, what are we drinking? They produced a few pitches of beer, and Rob and I exchanged a glance, both thinking we’d have our work cut out for us. But as soon I drank a sip, something seemed off about it, and I only had to look at Rob to see he was thinking the same thing. This stuff was half the strength of European beer, the stuff we were used to necking. The Americans were out of it when Rob and I were only just starting to feel tipsy.
If you read Benny’s blog, you’ll note he felt very threatened in many parts of America, and here I can’t agree; I’ve felt more insecure in Britain, even in small wealthy towns like the one my family used to live in (read my previous entries). In fact, Rob and I being drunken tourists actually tried to start a few fights in New York and never got anywhere; America might have more gun crime and gang-related violence, but the average American will not fight unless he has to. In Britain, sad to say it’s a choice of first resort. Obviously it’d be different in the gang areas of NYC, but I’m talking about in regular, middle-class areas; there’s no comparison between the US and the UK.
Going back to the maturity issue, I blame both the driving and drinking ages. Getting a car symbolises freedom, the idea to do whatever the hell you want, whenever the hell you want to…with the exception of drinking. Since some places in the States let you drive at 16, there’s a whopping five year gap before they’re allowed to have a drink. Does that mean their familiarity with cars makes it easier for them to fall into drink driving habits? I don’t know, I suppose it’s possible, but there’s so much of it in Britain where the drinking and driving ages are only a year apart you could also argue that creates more problems.
I’ve always been aware of the fact that America has a different culture to Britain, but I just never realised that the people my own age were so immature; it just seems so ridiculous, to have people behaving the way I did when I was 14 but sporting tattoos, piercings and openly smoking cigarettes and weed. A crazy, fucked up situation, that.
Georgia is something else entirely. The big debate about young Georgian people these days is whether or not they’re going against the mould of the people in their mid to late 20s who are very Christian, owing to the fact their religion was oppressed until the collapse of the Soviet Union in ’91. The common belief is that kids aged from about 16-21 are defying convention, and screwing in fine European style, which has the older Georgians shuddering and the Yanks who are trying to take this place over thanking the Lord that the next generation of Georgians won’t be so sexually aggressive.
Since I’ve had a hell of a lot more exposure to younger Georgians over the last few months, I’ve come to realise it isn’t really true. The younger Georgians are just as frustrated as their older countrymen…but they are rather more unusual. While I’m sure there are some who are having sex, there are nowhere near as many as older people are saying; in fact I’d go as far as there probably aren’t that many more younger ones who are getting laid than people 7-10 years older.
One of the things I think is giving older people the impression of younger girls being sexually active is the photographs they take of themselves. They’re slutty, no other words for it, and some of them proudly flaunt belly piercings and lip rings, hardly the traditional signs of a chaste Georgian girl. I even know some girls who are 19 and work as models, taking revealing pictures of themselves but not ‘living the life’.
Of course, I’m sure you’ll be doubting me, saying ‘Ah, well, of course they’ll say they’re not having sex; they are, they’re just not telling you’. Well, I’ve done my research within various social circles, and you can take my word for it. In fact, I’ve been told by several younger Georgian girls (roughly my own age) that they feel comfortable talking to me about sex, since they feel that as a European, I won’t judge them, and since I’m not Georgian, I won’t try and jump on them and start humping.
These same people also frequently tell me they feel they can’t ‘have fun’ in Tbilisi, even though the majority of their free time seems to be spent with their friends in nightclubs, bars or just hanging around. They go bowling, to the movies, play video games…like anyone else anywhere in the world. I take from this, then, they define ‘fun’ as something to do with sex, and the fact that they can’t do it or are forced to do it in the shadows.
To be honest, I can’t wait to see the back of the Christian culture. Oh, I’m the first to admit that it’s wonderful how Georgian Orthodoxy has kept the country together through fuck knows how many occupations, and how Georgia proudly displays its Christianity rather than deferring to Muslims as the trend is in Europe. But is it worth it? Are all the failed marriages, miserable families and frustrated Georgian men truly happy? Of course not.
So there you have it. I’m sure there was more I had in mind to say about all this, but you get the picture. Enjoy. Or don’t. I couldn’t care less.