Impromptus

Blending and offending, &c.

by Jay Nordlinger

Over the years, I’ve had a theme: Americans abroad want to blend in. They’re horrified to be noticed as American. But they are perfectly happy for foreigners to be themselves on American soil. In fact, they prefer it that way.

Also, Americans are very keen to accommodate themselves to foreigners — at home, I mean. Americans want to adapt to others when they’re abroad; but they want to adapt to others when they’re at home, too.

Do you know what I mean? Have you seen or felt it?

The other night, I went down to the corner newsstand to buy me a cold pop. I found there was zero money in my wallet. The clerk at the newsstand is a nice young man from the Subcontinent — India, I think, but it could be another Subcontinental country. He said, “Don’t worry, just take it and pay me later.” I said, “Thanks, but I’ll just run down to the ATM. Be back in a minute.”

When I came back, I could see the guy was miffed — sort of mad at me. Mad at me for not taking the pop in the first place. I sensed that I had offended him. We had a nice chat, and I explained that I needed cash one way or the other.

I felt bad about the episode for a minute. I thought maybe I had been insensitive, culturally. But then I thought, “Hang on: I’m an American, damn it. And going down to the ATM to get money to pay for something is what I do. We’re here in America — a few yards from where I live. He can adapt to me as well as I can adapt to him, right?”

Viva la différence, I say. And that means respecting the other guy’s différence, to the extent possible.

End of my little anthropological sermon.

I wonder whether there’s any other people in the world that fears to give offense as much as Americans do.

Many years ago, I wrote a piece about the experience of being a student abroad. This experience hastened a political evolution in me. I saw the anti-Americanism of my fellow Americans — their embarrassment at being American — and it nauseated me.

Anyway, that piece is here.

My comrade John J. Miller sent me an article saying, “Thought this would interest you.” It’s from The College Fix. The article is about a “student-run cooperative building at UC San Diego called the Che Cafe Collective.” Hmmm, the Che Café, huh?

How about the Himmler Hangout? Or the Beria Bistro?

UN Watch, as though wanting to do nothing but please me, has honored two of my favorite people in recent days. The first is Marina Nemat, whom I have mentioned in my column several times. She is the Iranian former political prisoner and human-rights activist who has appeared at the Oslo Freedom Forum. She has lived in Canada for many years.

For UN Watch’s press release, go here. The group’s executive director said, “UN Watch is honoring Marina Nemat for her brave and outstanding work worldwide in bearing witness to the horrific crimes perpetrated against her by a regime that continues to assault, jail, torture, rape, and execute human-rights defenders” and many others.

UN Watch has also honored a Canadian cabinet official, Jason Kenney — part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s crack team. I have called Harper the “Leader of the West.” (For a piece of mine on this matter, go here.) Kenney has that same spirit.

The previously quoted executive director, Hillel Neuer, said, “UN Watch honors Minister Kenney for demonstrating the courage to lead in upholding the founding principles of the United Nations, and defending the true principles of human rights.” Here is an interesting detail from the press release: “In an emotional moment, the Dalai Lama’s envoy placed a traditional Tibetan scarf upon Kenney to recognize his outspoken defense of oppressed Tibetans.”

A couple of years ago — do you remember this? — Daniel Hannan said that his favorite politician in the English-speaking world was Tony Abbott. This was before Abbott became prime minister (of Australia).

I thought of that when reading this delicious article from the Daily Caller: “Australia’s conservative coalition is set to cut more than 90 percent of the funding related to global warming from their budget . . .”

Money well saved, the article makes clear.

This headline was slightly difficult to read — but fun: “Obviously wins American Stakes at Santa Anita.” (Article here.) Obviously, as you will have discerned, is a horse.

A few days ago, I was rooting around for information regarding Tojo and his family. (I will explain in due course.) I found, online, some news articles from March 1959. The one I wanted was about a Tojo daughter, Mitsue, who had “secretly married” the top Japanese general, Shigeru Sugiyama.

And right next to it was this morsel — which, in retrospect, looks cheeky: “Q. What goes with Tyrone Power’s widow and Rock Hudson? Is a marriage possible? . . . A. Hudson and Debbie Power are old friends, but a future marriage to each other is most improbable.”

A little language? Part of the bill of indictment against George W. Bush was the way he said “nuclear”: He said “nuke-yuh-lar,” a longstanding American variant. Eisenhower said “nuke-yuh-lar.” So did Carter. So do lots of people.

I know a foreign-born lady who had contempt for W. who would say, “He can’t even say ‘nuclear’!” She said this scornfully, laughingly, and would hear no response. I knew roughly a thousand times more about English than she did, and 5,000 times more about American English. But she would not give me the time of day.

I thought of all this when I was out and about in America recently and heard plenty of intelligent — very intelligent — people say “nuke-yuh-lar.” I also heard “acrosst,” for “across.”

Frankly, I think I heard people say “acrosst” when I was growing up in Michigan, too. I know that I said “heighth,” instead of “height,” until I was about 20. (Goes with “width” and “length.”)

I love this American tongue of ours.

A little music? On Saturday, I was up near Riverside Church, and Grant’s Tomb, in Manhattan. I heard some music. Honestly, I could not tell whether it was contemporary music or a group warming up. I swear. When I walked a little farther, I could see that it was a group warming up.

But, really.

A little more music? I had three posts at The New Criterion last week. The first is on a performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony by the New York Philharmonic. The conductor was Bernard Haitink (and the soloist Bernarda Fink). The second is on a concert by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, under Mariss Jansons. The third is on another such concert, this one with a soloist, the pianist Mitsuko Uchida.

Knock yourself out.

Want a name? Got one. The other day, I was doing some reading about China, and found a Russian-born author named Pantsov. I thought, “Fine name for a philanderer,” or a “playuh.” Professor Pantsov is no doubt good and sick of jokes like that.

Finally, I was arrested by an obit — of Navy commander Robert J. Flynn, who was taken prisoner in China during the Vietnam War. Five and a half years he was a prisoner — in hellish, inhuman conditions, of course. Helluvan hombre, like all of them.

He once discussed his captivity with a newspaper: “I wouldn’t want to do it again. But it was part of the experience of my life. Life is sort of an adventure. Sometimes, the adventure gets out of hand.” 

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