Patriotism by Alex Thomson
“U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” That’s what the crowd of Americans seated at the table next to mine were shouting. My housemates and I were in a sports bar, eating cheeseburgers and buffalo wings and watching the World Cup football (soccer) match between England and the United States. While this may have resembled a typical scene from any TGI-Fridays across America, we were in fact 7,655 feet above sea level in Bar Tecun in Xela, Guatemala.
“Or-i-gi-nal! Or-i-gi-nal! Or-i-gi-nal!” my housemates yelled back, which just caused the Americans to shout even louder. I took a bite of my cheeseburger and tried to pretend that I didn’t think it wasn’t at all strange that I was:
2. Sitting on the British side of the bar, surrounded by Europeans with a vested interest in seeing my country lose. Some of my housemates had bet money and one had even declared that he would renounce his British citizenship if England lost because the humiliation and shame would be far too great to handle.
“No offense or anything, Reannon,” they were all quick to add. That’s something I hear a lot.
“I’m not offended. Seriously.” Which is something I’ve said in response to every ‘I’m so sick of the arrogant Americans’ or ‘You want to hear what one of my American co-workers said today?’ comments that are thrown around a lot in my house of mostly European or Guatemalan citizens.
Sometimes I’ll walk into a room and catch one of them saying “He’s such an American…” but then as soon as I’m spotted, they’ll look at me guiltily and the conversation will be immediately dropped. Which I think is funny, because I honestly don’t take offense to their comments. Half of the time, I agree with them.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that I grew up in Hawaii (which is both so physically and culturally removed from the continental US, it’s practically a separate country), or maybe it’s just that I’ve spent more of my adult life living abroad than I have at home. But when my housemates or friends speak negatively about Americans, I don’t take it personally because most of the time I don’t think of myself as one. Sure, I was born there and I’m probably American in more ways than I’ll ever know. But I don’t identify with it. I consider myself a human being, a traveler, a writer and a coffee addict. But an American? Meh. That’s just where I happened to be born.
I have a friend back ‘in the States’ who, whenever people ask her where she’s from, answers: “Planet Earth.” Although I would never go that far with it, I admire her attitude. And it makes wonder if sometimes Americans take patriotism too far. As a culture, we’re fiercely nationalistic, and damn proud of it. The national anthem is sung before each sporting event, in nearly every Hollywood blockbuster hit, America is solely responsible for saving the world from British bad guys or invading aliens. And every morning, children across the nation, place their hands over their hearts and pledge their allegiance to the national flag. Which is a fact my European housemates find incredulous.
“What!” they exclaimed, open-mouthed after I stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, one night over dinner. “They let people brainwash little children? And no one has a problem with this?”
“I think that most people don’t consider it brainwashing, they consider it teaching their children patriotism. Which most Americans consider a good thing.” I shrugged. But is it? I think there’s a fine line between being proud of your country and thinking that your country is better than all of the rest. And that, unfortunately, is what a lot of Americans believe. How many times have you heard, for example, “America is the best country in the World”? Sure, there are certainly numerous countries that fare far worse, but the best?
This past fourth of July, I went grocery shopping with one of my housemates. He’s from England.
“Today your country is celebrating the deaths of my country’s people,” he commented, referring to the battle that eventually led to America’s independence from Great Britain.
“Huh. I never thought of it that way but yeah, I guess you’re right.”
What do you think? Do you think that patriotism can sometimes be taken too far? When is it a good thing?