Blending and offending, &c.


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?”

Vive 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.”


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