I’ve never learned so much about myself or my country than the day I left it.
Distance really does give you perspective. And the lesson I’ve taken away from it is this: we are our own worst enemy. It’s only normal that Americans like to think America is a great place. And it can be, don’t get me wrong. But what has become even more apparent to me is that Americans are their own worst enemy when it comes to spreading our culture and our ideas. And why is that? No matter how much embassy workers and politicians do to improve relations with foreign nationals and heads of state, at the end of the day that’s not the message that’s heard. The real image of America comes from movies, songs, tv shows, and the like. And is that reeaallly the image we want people to have of the good old U S of A?
Let me give you an example, living in Albania the things my students “know” about America is that high schoolers ride in limos to prom, people drink from these strange red cups at parties, everyone is always getting drunk, school is easy (we just party, never study, never ever get homework, and spend the whole day eating in the cafeteria), people are always getting murdered, everyone is rich, and my least favorite- that using the n-word is totally okay.
Think about it. When you watch your favorite shows or listen to your favorite music, is that the general theme?
Just last week some of my best and brightest kids in Shkoder thought it would be funny to start referring to each other by the n-word. No matter how much I asked them to stop they just kept doing it, laughing, and telling me it’s okay. “All the rapers call each other that! It’s in all the songs!” I dare you to try and explain to a foreign kid why it’s okay for African Americans to call each other that yet it’s not okay for them to use it. Good luck. It just doesn’t make sense to them why a word used in every one of their favorite songs could be so terrible. (And if we’re being quite honest I don’t like it when anyone uses it, regardless of their skin color or chosen profession.)
It’s taken me 2 years, but I can honestly say I’ve tried my best to dispel the strange stereotypes of Americans that I hear from Albanians and I try to correct their political incorrectness. But at the end of the day, it’s like banging my head against a wall because I’m fighting against an advertising machine. And it’s hard to fight against an entire industry and try to convince these stubborn kid that they are wrong and shouldn’t just go around repeating everything they hear on tv or the radio. But 9 times out of 10 they just don’t get it and 1 week later they are throwing the word around again on facebook like’s it’s nothing.
Unfortunately, American (big and small, famous and not) probably don’t even realize just how big their influence is on the rest of the world. Everything is printed and released in English nowadays, so like it or not if you want to participate in world affairs of any genre you need to learn English. And beyond that Americans somehow have taken over way too many other stages (whether it’s Olympic sports or Nobel Prizes). So people in different countries all over the world often look to the US for direction (among many other countries, I know, don’t send me hate mail).
But my point is this. People of all ages rely celebrities for a glimpse into their definition of a glamourous lifestyle, an American lifestyle. US Foreign Service Officers are trained for this daunting responsibility of representing and entire culture and population. What to say,what to do, how to walk, how to talk, how to represent your country with pride and dignity. But these loose cannons in Hollywood and across the US releasing videos and songs to the susceptible public abroad? They have no clue.
Instead the world is filled with youth who think it’s cool to throw around racial slurs and stereotype Americans from what they see on Pretty Little Liars. So for what it’s worth, you’ve been warned. You are your own worst enemy. The next time you get upset about someone misrepresenting you, your country, your ethnicity, or your culture just remember- you were the one who showed them in the first place.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked down the streets and had 5 years say “Fuck you!” and “Kiss my dick!” (Yes, kiss, not suck. And yes I correct them everytime.) and “What’s up my nigga!”. It’s horrific. These kids don’t speak a word of English otherwise. These are the only phrases they know. And they unknowingly walk through the streets portraying this side of America to anyone and everyone who will listen.
So please, think before you talk. Think before you sing. Think before you act and press submit on that youtube video. Someone out there is watching and looking to you for direction.
As Americans we are lucky, on one hand, to be born in a country that seems perpetually 1 step ahead of the rest of the world whether we like it or not. But as the age old expression says, with that comes great responsibility. You are representing all America. So work with me here and try to help the youth of the world become better people, not worse. More open-minded and not closed off. More accepting, and not prejudiced. It’s the least we can do.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”