A Truly Ugly American

Yesterday was a pretty interesting day in international relations. I got to see an experienced, intelligent, articulate and aware government leader in a press conference with an inexperienced, arrogant, monosyllabic and egocentric government leader. It was enough to make press conferences great again. Believe me.

In 2004 I went to Italy to learn Italian. OK, that’s already a bit odd since the stereotype of people traveling the world to do things like that is that the people are in their 20s, they’re discovering themselves or they need the language for work AND they live in Europe. I was 52, studying Italian because I wanted a good reason to be in Italy beyond the superficial business of being a tourist. I went to Verona because Goethe had spent time there. I was excited to be able to see an opera in the Arena. I hoped to have the chance to visit a good friend in Trieste. I just wanted to BE in Italy and that was a good way — and inexpensive. School and an apartment for a month were just $1500.

A 20 somethingย Swiss woman, a schoolmate, learning I was American, immediately jumped me (verbally) and began asking me why I had started a war. I told her I hadn’t started the war and she said, “You Americans…” As a teacher at an international school, I’d been in controversies with 20 something Swiss people before and I wasn’t going there.

“Yep,” I said. “We Americans,” and I walked away from her. I didn’t need to defend what GWB was doing in Washington. I didn’t like it any more than did the Swiss girl.

I was not very well-liked at my school, except by my teachers and the two older students — one from England and one from Germany. My schoolmates took exception to my being American, to my being older, to my Italian being strangely mixed with Spanish. I didn’t even KNOW until the last week of classes that everyone went somewhere together for lunch. I was never asked. It didn’t matter to me when I did find out. I’d used my lunch break for wandering the streets of Verona, talking to people, looking at old frescoes in even older churches. Sometimes I took a nap.

The second-to-last weekend we had a field trip to Padua — especially to see Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel. In spite of my poor Italian, I’d been allowed to take an afternoon class in art history for advanced students. My teacher realized my listening comprehension and ability to read were at a pretty high level. I had the usual language skills people develop when they seldom have the opportunity to speak. We took the train. I’d traveled on my own in Italy before, a fact that surprised everyone. I knew how. Many of my schoolmates didn’t. We met our teacher at the chapel — which I found by reading the map and paying attention to signs. I also knew something about how frescoes were painted in the 13th and 14th century. I knew about Giotto. I was amazed and moved by the work I saw.

An AMERICAN???? ย (There are actually a lot of us like me…)

My schoolmates began to look at me differently. How could I do this? Stupid, ignorant, semi-literate American ape that I was? Suddenly people who had refused to speak to me wanted to speak to me. Suddenly I was invited to lunch with the group. Suddenly this, suddenly that. Suddenly they wanted to go to an opera with me though they hadn’t wanted to go to an opera at all. (We all went to see Madame Butterfly. It was rained out during the last act but even that was beautiful.) Suddenly, suddenly, but I had already developed my niche and already hung out sometimes with a nice woman from Manchester who’d accepted my failings almost from the beginning.

Yesterday I watched this miserable news conference and I thought that Old 45 was exactly the European stereotype of an American. Too big. Too fat. Too arrogant. Too loud. Ignorant. Out of tune with the rest of world, rude, lacking situational awareness, intent on our own way, lacking respect for other cultures.

As for Angela Merkel? Well, she has a job to do. She has to get along with that guy. Whatever HE thinks about globalization, it exists and the EU and the US are dependent on each other. But it was clear to me that she has the rather supercilious contempt for Americans I’ve often experienced when I’ve traveled and when teaching international students. The disturbing part was this time, we deserved it.

I’m still embarrassed…


29 thoughts on “A Truly Ugly American

  1. I think I’ve moved past embarrassment to actual worry that we don’t really have a government anymore. I don’t know what we’ve got, but it’s not a government. I feel like the U.S. has been privatized. But … as what?????

    • We have a government. It’s working pretty well in spite of this joker. It’s stopped the Travel Ban twice, it’s doing what it has to do. And the part of the government that hasn’t been working so well in a long time — We the People — seem to be getting our shit together. I do not have such a bleak view, Marilyn. Mostly this is interesting.

  2. It was awful to watch. He was like a bad host who had no idea what he was supposed to do. The expression on her face was almost relief on my part.

    • Merkel is amazing. A scientist, she’s experienced life in the GDR, she KNOWS, lives, far beyond the trivialities of that idiot’s reality TV show mentality. I have always really liked and admired her.

  3. Truly, an ugly American surrounded by ugly American’s. That he is representing this beautiful country saddens me…mostly because he has the support of so many of this citizenry, make me want to cry.

  4. I will sidestep the bad man, very bad man theme (see what I did there?) and jump to this: “…[you] had the usual language skills people develop when they seldom have the opportunity to speak.”

    I know you only through the blogs, so in my mind, you are articulate and accomplished in the spoken word, as well as the written. Plus, you are opinionated (in a good way), and know how to express same. Yet, it sounds like you had/have precious little opportunity to speak your words.

    I’ve always declared that I am better on paper. Is this the same for you? Are you shy in person?

    • I studied Italian on my own before I went to Italy so I seldom had the chance to speak, and, when I did, it was to people who loved me and wanted to understand me not to people who were trying to learn a language and get it right. BUT my experience as a language teacher and when I was living in China and had limited language ability, was that it was less important to get it right than it was to express yourself. Not everyone shares that philosophy…

      In real life, I don’t like parties and stuff — in that sense I’m shy. I also am shy speaking in public, but I learned to through teaching. I’d rather write, though. Most of the time when people listen they’re not listening; they’re waiting to say their thing. Me too, sometimes. Writing kind of gets around that. If I’m going to say something I want to be heard. In vocal communication, I say a lot less than others and I’m not good at small talk. So yeah; I’m better on paper. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I’ve run out of adjectives to describe that man; I just wish he had never happened. I alternate between disgust and a kind of horrified fascination when I see him on television.

    On to better things: I enjoyed your post very much. You’ve led an interesting life, Ms Kennedy! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I view him as a kind of entertainment. I’m very, very proud, so far, of what the system in my country and the people in my country have done in response to him. He and his Nazi henchman call it a “deep state” and say Obama is behind it, organizing it. That is just stupid (as are they). What it is is that he didn’t get many votes — 75% of the people in this country DIDN’T vote for him — and his ascendancy has awakened the sleeping giant of the American people.

  6. I was interested to hear of your time in Italy and glad you finally broke down the barriers.
    It’s so easy for people to judge others, often wrongly! As for Trump, I feel very sorry for Americans at present. That interview was a doosy! Not sure how to spell that word!
    This man will manage to unite the population against himself, so best wishes for this!

    • That’s my daily hope and prayer. His favorability is now down to the 30 percentile. Incredibly low for any president, but especially for a NEW president.

      Yeah, that Italian experience was interesting — actually the Italy part was wonderful. My international school mates were something else, as if bad Italian were a contagious disease. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I spent my first year in Italy really isolated, as I was ashamed of my poor Italian.
    I did have one really good friend called Marta, who helped me feel less embarrassed about my poor language skills. You see, your name sake saved me! โค

    • ๐Ÿ™‚ Lots of people are afraid of saying dumb stuff in a new language. I think living in China with limited Chinese made a big difference in the way I see that whole problem. It’s impossible for an American to correctly pronounce Chinese. I know I said some strange stuff, but I didn’t have a choice. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Where I lived, only my husband spoke to me in English. He didn’t encourage me to speak his native tongue, so that he’d keep me to himself!

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