Friday, December 18, 2009

What does it mean to be an American?

Growing up, it never occurred to me that I was living a life of privilege. I didn't know that it was a luxury to wet my toothbrush under a running faucet so I could brush my teeth (and floss) before I jumped into my very own bed. I never thought it special to reach into the cupboard and pull out baking soda, flour and sugar so I could make a cake with my aunt in her kitchen. I never considered it a right to sit beside my grandmother during Catholic mass and offer up prayers to our God.

As a child, none of those activities ever cross my mind as being privileges and I'm ashamed to say that they haven't really crossed my mind (enough times)as an adult.

But watching a brief program tonight on what it means to be American really moved me to think hard on what it means to me.

I have no answers yet.

Sure, I have a few ideas. Just sitting here and sharing my thoughts with you is an example of the freedoms I enjoy. It's an example of my relative wealth and right to speak freely. Both of which I acquired just by being lucky enough to be born in this country. My mother was not born in this country. I am indeed lucky.

I encourage you to watch the video. The stories shared by the individuals are as varied as the people who share them. I was especially touched by a refugee family being showed how to use the shower and kitchen sink (about 24-25 min in).


  1. The thing is, the examples you've given really have nothing to do with being an American. They're shared by every wealthy industrialised nation (and by the wealthy elite in just about every other country on earth). Some even do it better than the US. The crux of being an American, of how that is different from being a Briton or a Norwegian or a Canadian or an Australian, is much more fluid and harder to isolate.

  2. leave it to quimby to knock me into reality and make me think harder about ideas.

    damn you woman!

    be back in a bit after i've done some thinkin'

    ps. come back to fmh. we miss you.

  3. what makes us different than those other countries?

    we can lose everything we own to stay healthy/alive or keep our family members helathy/alive.

    we suck.

  4. Don't get me in trouble and put words in my mouth. I'm not saying the US is a horrible place. But there are two sides to every coin - Americans tend to be very self-aware but this can also lead to a higher level of selfishness. Americans tend to be quite competitive when it comes to business but this can also lead to an attitude that anyone who doesn't do as well, is just lazy or incompetent. Americans have great customer service - probably the best in the world - but it's because the people who serve are so dependent on tips they have to suck up to the customer. And so on.

    You can concentrate on the good or you can concentrate on the bad or you can see them as all part and parcel of the same package. There are some really terrific things about the US (for instance great customer service). There are also some not so great things (for instance the lack of a living wage). And they tend to be inter-connected.

    At the risk of being shot down here (perhaps literally) I also think the claim to freedom of speech is a bit overblown. It's true if you're not critical of the US, but I have been told before, when I express an opinion that is critical of US policy in some way or another, that if I dare show my face in the US again my family will find me dead in a gutter. And I've been told pretty much the same way in much, much milder language. The people saying these things always say, "But I have freedom of speech." What they don't seem to realise is that when they use their freedom of speech to try to limit my own, they are threatening the very concept of freedom of speech - because what good is a right if you don't feel the freedom to practice it?

  5. i was mostly being snarky with my last comment. i thought you would know that.

    wow quim. you're having a rough go these days.

  6. I wonder what makes you say that? I'm not having a rough go at all.

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