Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Finesse and grace 

One thing about living abroad is that it gives you a different perspective, and new appreciation for, your own country. One of the great things about the Brits is that we don’t take anything too seriously, including ourselves. I’m sure that this urge to undermine everything with deprecation or witticism must get on the nerves of everybody we deal with, especially most of the European Union, but that’s life. I think that this state of perpetual mild amusement with life is the ultimate, or perhaps only the latest, stage of cultural evolution.

The South Africans are still at that stage in the party when they are being terribly polite, desperate not to offend anybody. They know that they have arrived with a bad reputation, so they are doing their best to get rid of it. The Americans are working the room, collecting business cards, and working out how they can use their new contacts to further their own requirements. The Brits at this multi-national gathering are slumped on the sofa, making sarcastic comments and drinking too much, while the French are in the kitchen with your sister, pretending to help with the cooking.

I reckon that the Brits were in the same cultural mindset as the Americans at about the turn of the century, when God was an Englishman, and half the map was pink. That attitude of knowing what’s best for the smelly foreigners, which coincidentally is best for us, is what Rhodes brought to Africa, and Bush is taking to the Middle East. The South Africans are further advanced, in that they are in the apologetic stage that England was in about 30 years ago, where they are well aware of recent misdemeanours, and are looking to make up for them, and make everybody love them again. The smarter, more culturally aware Americans are here too, but they are still waiting for the rest to catch up.

What America needs is something like the Truth & Reconciliation Commission on a cultural level so that its citizens can realise what they are responsible for, and can set about fixing some of the mistakes they have made. Yes, you are the biggest, and the strongest, and the richest, now sit down, put your gun away, and let’s talk about your issues, dude. If you’re an American reading this, please vote for John Kerry. I know he’s only the lesser of two evils, but that’s a step in the right direction.

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