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Thoughts on America

Something strange that I have noticed in my time over here has been an increased, almost militant, nationalism emerging in my thoughts and actions. For a few reasons, I think, I have begun to get the idea that America is the greatest country on earth, and, although I know that I should be more open-minded about other countries, cultures, and experiences, at heart I am feeling more and more like an American. I speak like an American; I dress like an American; I think like an American; I compete like an American; everything I do, down to the smallest details, seems suddenly to be American to me, and I think that it comes from this new sense of "otherness," that I am an outsider. At rowing practice, for example, I was trying to get my team pumped up because we were racing against other teams in the room across a hardwood basketball court. I said that we had to give it 110%, that we had to try to win at all costs. One guy said, "You're an American, yeah?" I said, "yeah." He laughed and said, "Oh, that explains it."

And even in the races, I felt like I was representing America, and I tried my best to win, to the point where I was almost ill. While at first I tried to assimilate to the Welsh culture and the UK way of life, I have been completely unable to...because I am an American. I don't care about fitting in that much any more, nor do I really care what people think about me, and in some ways this feels good and in some ways it doesn't. I am definitely glad that I don't fit in, because suddenly I am in a position where I am completely unable to assimilate myself to the society, and so I don't really try to any more. Without trying to be anything different, I have to be myself, and it feels good at times to be able to just be myself and not really care. However, part of this self that I feel I now am in control of is... American, and when people attack this part of my self, something in me wants to erupt (and sometimes does). I don't mind it as much if people attack me for an aspect of me. For example, I shaved my head today, and a girl told me that it looks really bad. Rather than being cruel and passing back an insulting comment, I held my tongue and let the other boys in my flat talk about how much they liked it and how they were thinking of shaving their own heads. However, this same girl has attacked facts of American society that I really don't give a damn about, and, in some cases even agree with her on (such as the ways in which American culture has a negative hegemonic effect on many areas and cultures throughout the rest of the world), but, since it is an English girl attacking an aspect of American life, I have reacted quite harshly, arguing not for myself, but for this greater body to which I feel that I belong. This feels bad afterwards...but at the same time, I almost can't help myself.

And this rising sense of nationalism has also made me more sensitive to what other people and things are like, I think. The honeymoon period of my trip is over, and now the grim realities of being married to a country that I don't necessarily love is setting in. I don't know if I only noticed the nice parts of Welsh culture before, but from my descriptions, it seems like I did. Now, while I still see the beauty in a city full of wonderful, kind, loving, and often beautiful people, I am also seeing the darker underside of this different culture. The first example happened yesterday, when I went to the Great Hall here on campus and watched Wales beat Argentina in the first match of the World Cup. What shocked me was that, when players got into fights, a great cheer went up from the Welsh in the audience, and, to my surprise, the women standing around me were the most militant in their approval of the violence. Also, it was obviously not the Welsh players that were at fault, but the Argentinians. I was surrounded by hundreds of students cheering as punches were thrown, and suddenly the culture that seemed so welcoming to me a few weeks ago did not seem so welcoming. Now, I'm sure that American fans of football and hockey act in similar ways, but I don't think I've ever seen them do so to such an extent.

Also, last night, I was set to stay at home while my flatmates went to the center of town and celebrated the Welsh victory. However, a girl came by our flat and told us that they shouldn't go because the center of town was "crazy" with fights and drunkenness. When I heard that, I got dressed and went down, while they they went to a small bar instead. I was suddenly in the midst of a gigantic festival/bar/asylum, with people surrounding me in various stages of getting absolutely wasted, singing, throwing trash everywhere on the ground, breaking bottles, dressed in Red and having a good old Welsh party. However, while watching two young people playing drums, I was suddenly in the midst of three different lovers' fights, verbally violent affairs that scared me with their intensity. When these three couples literally split up, all individually, and the men and women went their different ways along St. Mary's Street, I moved on, and was surprised by a lot of what I saw. It was truly amazing to me how much sexual harrassment went on and remained unchecked. Men were yelling shockingly vulgar comments across courtyards, and the women, while probably disturbed, didn't do anything about it. And literally, my thoughts at the time were, "I don't know if this could go on in America."

And of course it could, and it does, in huge but unreported amounts, but in my few years, I don't know if I've ever really seen it happen to the extent that I saw last night. I must admit, last night was, to a great extent, inspired by alcohol and celebration. But it seems as if the culture openly permits this to happen, and not worry whatsoever about it, whereas in American culture, it seems as if people would get much more outraged over this harrassment, and that many more people would be either sued or imprisoned for this type of conduct. I realize that I am probably wrong, and I know that I am naive in these things, but these are just the impressions that I got in the last 24 hours.

And one more thought, from my British professor of Spanish History; he asked repeatedly if anyone had any questions, and finally I raised my hand, and, after answering my question about a reading, he asked if I was an American. And then:
"I love American students. I've had a lot of them, and I really do love them, because they are not...well, they are not affected by the same amount of modesty that British students have. (laughter from the class) I mean, if I had a roomful, an entire lecture hall full of British students, and one American student, and I asked if there were any questions, I would bet everything I had, everything, my bicycle AND my bicycle clips, that the American student would be the first one to ask a question."