“The intellectuals, the movers and the makers and the creators, the dinner-party establishments of people who count, are united in the belief—no, the knowledge—that Americans are stupid, crass, ignorant, soul-less, naïve oafs without attention, irony, or intellect,” (Gill para. 2).
Americans are fat, dumb, and lazy. This is a common theory I have heard repeated from countless British relatives and foreign acquaintances over the years, including from my parents, to the point that until I reached some point of teenage maturity or more likely rebellion, I almost accepted it. My parents, grandparents, aunts, nearly everyone will, as a casual aside, as if it goes without saying, remark about how different and inferior the customs, consumerism, mannerisms, and attitudes of the American populace are to those of Britain or Europe.
This attitude is, without a doubt, snooty and self-aggrandizing. It is unfounded, and hilariously quite hypocritical, as oftentimes those same people will be as ready to note the flaws and recent failures of their own cultures. My dad, for example, upon returning home to England will immediately complain about how uptight people are, and how every parking garage, supermarket, and public restroom in his homeland seems to be trying to rip him off. My relatives simply act this way because it is the common farse under which Europe, fading in relevance, reassures itself of its importance.
Britain, once a bastion of global power and wealth, has now been reduced to its current, and possibly righteous position as just another indebted neoliberal democracy on the edge of the continent. With this decline and adaptation, however, the attitude towards its now full-grown daughter across the pond has not changed. This attitude was taught to each generation of British youth through to the ’90s, alongside a heaping pile of imperial glorification and denial. In the end, it’s not their fault that they’re wrong, as the realization that they are in fact believing a lie can be somewhat depressing, as seen in a plethora of modern British media. I, as a dual citizen and someone who has been educated from an entirely different perspective, can see the reality and humor of it. I’ll argue with my parents over it, but beyond that, it appears a lost cause.
This kind of denial is common to many former powers, it seems. Look at the French, who go to the bizarre trouble of “preserving the quality” of their language through the Académie Française, or the Dutch who are the literal kings of holding onto random overseas colonies. When you’re used to being on top, you like to pretend it’s still that way by criticizing the new and reminiscing about the old. America is not dumb, fat, and lazy, it is amazingly weird, clever, and diverse. Just because America doesn’t present its gifts of knowledge and culture wearing up in a suit and tie, that doesn’t mean the gifts aren’t there to be given. There is a reason that immigrants and travelers from the Old World have flocked to the New for centuries, in search of a Hunter S. Thompson-esque Wild West of opportunity. As Harrison Scott Key writes about his learning about America by traveling by the joyous mode of a Greyhound bus:
“They will remember only the people and the America it showed them and the wild and reckless reasons that drove them to it: to see a girl, or a headstone, or a mountain. And they will recall it fondly, as I do now,” (Key para. 63).