I was asked to write this by a Georgian friend, who wanted me to comprehensively list all the things that bother me about America and Americans in Georgia, since it seems to be something that crops up fairly frequently with. So for his sake, I’d like to set the record straight (or as straight as it can be since I’ll undoubtedly forget a lot of my key points, but that’s usually the way it goes).
Being British has certain advantages in the modern age. As our country has drifted into global insignificance, prejudices against us have declined whereas for other peoples, perceptions of their nationality have grown worse. To use Georgia as a relevant example. Georgian people have strong feelings towards both Russians (‘bastards keep invading us, forcing their language and culture on us, the swines…’) and the Americans (‘bastards use and abuse us, abandoned us in ’08…), but no real negative attitude about British people.
They’re not alone, either. Australians used to detest British immigrants, but since they’ve witnessed an influx of immigration over the last twenty years or so of a different sort, there’s been a revival of affection towards the Pommies (that’s the English to you). After all, their culture is strikingly similar to ours (without the beach fever), which isn’t wholly surprising since they’re our direct descendants. Americans, too, are mostly pro-British, probably due to our close military co-operation since ’14 and again, a shared culture (in particular the ladies, and if anyone from New York, Philadelphia or Boston is reading this…actually, that’s best left. This is a family-friendly blog, so this is neither the time nor the place for reminiscing about my decadent exploits with my Australian best mate. My God, those were the days. American ladies, I am indebted forever to your sisters of the aforementioned cities for giving me the rides of my life, and you may take that to mean what you will).
Anyway, Americans seem to be universally unpopular these days, so when I criticise America I suppose it’s easy to accuse me of jumping on the bandwagon. Yet in truth I feel rather betrayed by Americans, since for years I defended them against the lampooning they suffered at the hands of my countrymen and other Europeans, who insisting on criticising them despite (unlike me) never having visited the United States.
The reason I was initially so impressed with American people and the United States was their behaviour. I’ve probably mentioned elsewhere how I loved the way in which they were so polite, in contrast to British people who are (despite popular belief) some of the rudest bastards you’re ever likely to meet, and in some places are as likely to respond to ‘hello’ with a ‘fuck off, queer’ if you’re a lucky and a swung fist if you’re not. After my first American experience I was thoroughly impressed with how they’d maintained social standards and basic manners, and I decided I wanted to live in the US. My opinion didn’t change until I moved to Georgia.
Something that I really think sets Americans apart from other peoples I’ve met is how they seem to be completely in one camp or the other, with very few in the middle ground, no matter what you’re discussing, whether it be politics, gay rights, the war in Afghanistan, take your pick. All the ones I meet in Georgia are either Republican right-wing lunatics or liberal save-the-world Americans, with honourable exceptions (Emma, darling, if you’re reading this, you’re definitely one, as is my friend Jon).
Take a controversial issue such as the current problems with the Islamic community in Britain (relevant today due to the Border Agency raiding homes and deporting people). The former group will mutter something about ‘goddamn tururrists’ without knowing what Mecca is or that the chap in the purple turban is actually a Sikh; the latter group will overreact with affected dignity and cry that any criticism of minority groups is ‘intolerant’ (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean these days), and the accusation of ‘racist!’ is never usually far from their lips.
How do they differ from British people, you ask? Well, I’d like to be a bit more niche than that. They don’t differ from the racist morons who paint English flags on their faces and march around screaming about Iraqis, or the woefully short-sighted students whose left-wing ideologies would have had Marx bolting for the door. They differ from their equivalents, in that these are supposed to be educated professionals who ought to know better, and be worldly enough to not ascribe to one position or the other. Of course, not all Americans do that, in the same way that not every British professional is a wise enlightened thinker; I’ve met plenty of British morons and sensible Americans. I’m just describing my overall experience, which hasn’t been disproved yet.
It’s reflected in their attitude towards foreigners, too. I think the American view of foreign countries is influenced by their own borders, of which they have only two, and the fact that they are rather isolated in a way. In my experience, this leads them to view countries in two lights: either by the Canadian standard of ‘kinda like us’ or the Mexican standard of ‘Third-world shithole full of immigrants who want to come to the US and take our jobs’/’Third-world shithole we can exploit and imprint our culture upon’. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a redneck Republican or a lefty Liberal, it never seems to make a lot of difference. For example, take the latter issue of a second/third world country they’re supposed to be helping. There’s a patronising self-righteousness to some of those who come to Georgia to ‘teach’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean), and an arrogance which at times can be contradictory. For example (and I’ve seen this happen) the same American Liberal who criticises (quite rightly) US foreign policy for forcing their culture and their beliefs on countries like Afghanistan or Iraq, is totally oblivious to the fact that his bleating about Georgian culture and his insistence on forcing ‘American values’ on them is exactly the same thing done in a slightly different way. Like kicking a man in the bollocks instead of punching him in the back of the head, I suppose, though they can’t see the difference. Or how an overweight American once told me with no sense of irony about the diabolical problem of obesity currently afflicted the United States.
They also seem to have a propensity to generalise when it comes to Europe. I’ve had Americans tell me ‘So, you guys in Europe do things like this…’. Let’s look at what that actually means. Europe. Aye, I’m from Europe, but although Europe is a smaller place than the USA, it’s a hell of a lot more diverse (and don’t start on how you’re diverse because you’re somehow “Irish”, “Italian” or “Ukrainian” by virtue of your great-great-great grandmother’s cousin’s aunt, because it won’t damn well answer). I might as well say I’m from the Northern Hemisphere for all the good describing myself as ‘European’ seems to do in getting across my national identity (not that I really belong to one).
So what I mean is something like this; in layman’s terms, just because the British do things in a certain way does not mean that we will do or view something in the same manner as other Europeans, like the French, Italians, Germans or Danes. Oh, to those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, I’m sure you’ll find (as I have) that there are similarities between people of similar ethnicity; I, for instance, will probably have more in common with a German or other Saxons or Scandinavians than I would with an Italian, in the same way that Italian would have more akin with a Spaniard than he would with me (this is to generalise, of course, but in my experience it generally rings true).
However, that still ignores the fact that we’re all different countries with different languages, to say nothing of different histories that stretch back thousands of years, with old rivalries and friendships still playing a part in the perception of people across the continent. The people of our islands have long memories, and none have forgotten that despite a hundred years of co-operation, the French remain our traditional enemies, and that for a long time Briton and German stood shoulder to shoulder against our former Catholic foes. In the same way, however, our neighbours in southern France where my parents live never let us forget the raids and destruction wrought upon French shores by the villainy of the Royal Navy, who were unchallenged at sea for almost two centuries (as you can probably tell, I take that particular gripe as a back-handed compliment. Mind you, if UKIP ever have their way the Navy will rise again. One can dream).
Some people also forget that Britain is technically four countries in one, and I can bore you for hours on how England’s Saxon heritage has made its culture different to those of the Celtic Welsh, Irish and Scottish, to say nothing of how England itself is so sub-divided into different regions with a whole host of accents that sometimes even I can’t understand.
Not to say there aren’t differences in America too, of course. The states of the former Confederacy strive to appear different from their former Northern foes, and life in the Mid West doesn’t often reflect that on the East Coast (or does it? I can’t see a huge difference between rural Dakota and Cape Cod, but there you go). The point is, the differences that exist between American states, while they do exist, are nowhere near as vast as those between European countries. Not even close.
It’s a sensitive point for some Americans; the fact that their country is young. I’m not really sure why it matters. After all, our country is ancient and one of the world’s oldest democracies, and look where it’s got us; lapdogs of foreign powers, having had successive governments with no backbone for almost a century. The Americans don’t seem to be doing too badly, which goes to show that the age of a nation surely doesn’t matter a damn; I think it’s just a retort for Georgians who don’t like being reminded that they’re controlled by America. Which leads me on to rant about Georgian opinions of America…
Whenever I’m talking to Georgian university professors who’ve studied for a semester or two at an American university, they seem a little shaken whenever I try and debate the points they’re trying to get across, and they get very defensive. After all, their opinions must be right, they learned it at an American university, didn’t they? That’s actually their first defence, too; ‘Well, I was told this by a professor in the US!’ as though that will make me realise ‘Ahh, of course, my mistake…you’re quite right after all, it seems…’. I put it down to a legacy of the Soviet Union, when the words written by the Press were gospel true, and since these days the Georgian newspapers are spouting the good word of Uncle Sam I can see why so many people lap it up without question. They don’t have the skeptic ‘all journalists and politicians are lying bastards’ opinion common to Western countries, especially the British and our Imperial descendants; I hope they will in time, but who knows.
It’s that same lack of skepticism that leads Georgians to believe that their country is more important to America than it really is. The British have learned that America is a fickle friend at best, and probably would have done better to cut close ties with Washington like Germany and France did back in ’03. Ah, wouldn’t that have been something? Maybe if we’d played our cards right we could have been the third major power in Europe alongside Paris and Berlin…but the British government has never had any sense since 1914, so one can’t expect them to start making good decisions now. I just wonder when I read things like the American ambassador talking about how ‘Georgia is a highly valued ally to the US’ who really believes it. They weren’t anywhere to be seen in ’08, nor would they be tomorrow if the Russians suddenly to decided to have another crack at Tbilisi.
Not all Georgians are taken in by America, of course. I had a very interesting conversation with a taxi driver the other day, who was by far one of the most extraordinary Georgians I’ve ever met. It turns out he was a big fan of the British Empire, and said it was absolutely unfair that our colonial expansionism is compared to that of the Russians, which I fully agree with myself. His point was that the places Britain colonised, such as the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, were uncivilised before we arrived and so our contributions were positive. I wholeheartedly agree. Oh, certainly there was conflict, but tell me, when isn’t there? And if we hadn’t done what we did, some of the world’s leading nations and economies wouldn’t exist (including, as some of my American friends hate to admit, the United States itself. Well, you’d probably all be speaking French, and who wants that?). Another point Americans enjoy forgetting is that during our wars with them for their independence and again in 1812, Britain was allied with many Native American tribes, and after all, it wasn’t us who pursued a genocidal campaign against them in the 1870s. So there.
My new taxi driver friend stressed to point out that without Britain’s imperial seeding, the world would be worse off, since if our territories hadn’t belonged to us, they certainly would have been owned by Spain and France, and he didn’t have much confidence in either judging by the way the former Spanish and French colonies have turned out (though I suspect he was just flattering me, but when you compare Argentine, Mexico and Algeria to New Zealand, Australia and Canada…quite). He was also adamant that we were most unlike the Russians, who had imposed their culture and language on people who already had both when they built their Empire, while we had simply introduced our way of life to people who didn’t have much to begin with. Well, that’s true to an extent I suppose, but it wasn’t as friendly as all that. We had our scuffles with the natives of the territories we claimed, but they calmed down fairly quickly, and as I’ve said, without us there’d be no modernisation (HA! “Us”. Like I was there). I know it’s very politically correct these days to say just how much Native American society influenced the modern US state, but if that was even anywhere near close to being true, New Jersey would be at war with New York because of a cattle dispute, Canada would shut its borders for fear of having its womenfolk raided, and all the skyscrapers would be shaped like giant tipis while everyone enjoyed chewing on the buffalo they’d spent all day hunting in their condo apartments-come-wickiups.
Georgians seem to have two views on America, neither of which are accurate. The one school of thought thinks the USA is the fountain of all enlightened knowledge; for example, some the people in the government (past and present), and despite how on the one hand they will be ‘Georgian liberty! Georgian freedom!’, and on the other they require the approval of the Americans for every decision they make. I don’t see how that’s much different from being controlled by the Russians, albeit the goals are different and the type of dominance is more subtle.
On the other hand, however, there are Georgians who claim that ‘America has no culture’. I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean, but from conversations I’ve had with people, I gather this is something to do with the fact that Americans have sex before marriage and that they’re a new country and made up of immigrants. I don’t see how any of that is important, really. I point people in the direction of all this chastity ring bollocks to squash the first point, remind them that Georgia as it is today has only existed since ’91 for the second, and for the third…well, I can hardly gripe about immigration, firstly because my ancestors were Saxons from Germany and Danes from Scandinavia (recent or ancient history makes no matter, they were as much immigrants to England as the Italians and the Irish were to America) and besides, I’m a British person living in Georgia.
There’s been a lot of recent talk about Bidzina recently, since it is becoming clearer every day that the guy has no fucking idea what he’s doing (he say she wants to resign before the year ends. HA! What a joke), and I was going to write more about how that might impact Georgia’s future and its relationship with America, but my hands are tired, I want to swim and I can’t be bothered. To my American friends like Tom, Emma, Jon and Chris, you know none of this applies to you, but if you’re offended I do apologise. And to the rest…enjoy. Or don’t. You probably won’t. But at least if you tell me I’m a miserable British bastard I’ll put my hand on my heart and tell you you’re absolutely right. We’re a horrible race of people, really (or races, I should say). Feel free to comment and tell me how wrong I am. Or tell me that you think I’m awesome. Yeah. Do the second one. I like that one better.