That Very Ugly American

The title of this post is a riff on a 1958 political novel by Burdick and Lederer called “The Ugly American“. It is about American bumbling in Vietnam. Burdick and Lederer’s title is a riff on a 1955 novel by Graham Greene called “The Quiet American“. Greene’s main complaint was about American arrogance.  Errr … he may have had a point there. Of course, it is a bit ripe to hear that complaint from the culture that produced Lord Curzon, among others of his sort.

A while back, I attended a rather nice party in Tallinn. One o f the guests, however,  chose that moment to tell me that she disliked America in general, and especially Donald Trump.

It was a bit awkward. On the one hand, I can sympathize with her point of view about the president. I dislike him as well. I also dislike the notion that he represents the country, so that we are all so to speak, “under his umbrella”. Yuk! Gross!”

At the same time, I am American and I like being American. But why? I thought of that this morning when I read a short article by an American psychology professor who has been teaching here in Tartu. He writes that Estonians are more reserved than Americans and that he likes that.

It is true. Estonians ARE more reserved than Americans. And this does have its blessings. Folks tend to leave you alone. And one can find a  certain gentleness in this culture that is to be treasured. BTW, if you like reserved, head north to Finland. Compared to the Finns, the Estonians are almost Mediterranean.

On the other hand, I am also reminded of a book by Isak Dinesen called “Babette’s Feast”. Isak, whose real name was Karen Blixen, was not as fond of nordic reserve and you can see that in the Babette’s Feast story.

Dinesen’s point of departure is whether one is open to or closed to new things. In the book, the Danes are relatively closed.  And sadly, it is sometimes true that a reserved nature is the product of a closed mind.

Americans, if you have not guessed it, — warts and all — are more open. I do like that.

What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “That Very Ugly American”

  1. I too am glad to be American. Not inclined to defend our ways these days. Objectively all established nations or peoples have their good and ugly sides, and our own outside opinions are usually born of ignorance. That said, Babette’s Feast may be a great book; it is a fabulous, dreamy film. And I love the Danes!

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