Expat Life, Guatemala

Patriotism: Good or Bad?

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:

1. American


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?

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

13 thoughts on “Patriotism: Good or Bad?

  1. I list of examples of how parochial and anti-American Europeans are is some how an indication that Americans are fiercely patriotic? I don’t get it. I’m not sure about patriotism but when it comes to being nationalistic and even just plain racist Europeans are comfortable saying things that would clearly be denounced as un-PC in the US.

  2. Huh. Yeah maybe I didn’t think this post through enough. I’ll have to give it some more thought..But sometimes I wonder if identifying yourself as an ‘American’, ‘Australian’, ‘Guatemalan’, etc. is limiting somehow. We’re human beings first, citizens of a particular country, second.

    Sometimes I grow tired of all of the pre-conceived notions people have about me when I tell them where I’m from. Sometimes I feel like I’m unfairly pigeon-holed.

    But as far as Europeans being un-PC, I like that! I think Americans are way WAY to PC for their own good.

  3. Well, I’m not European or American, but I think it’s plainly obvious to anyone else in the world that Americans are (imo, overly) patriotic. I’ve been to the USA more times than I can count (heck, I live five minutes away from the border) and it just permeates everything that is said and done even in the process to just get to US. Now, to say everyone is “soooo American” is unfair, like you pointed out – you clearly are different than this stereotype! It would just be nice if when I came across Americans, they wouldn’t fit this mould. But they do. Ack! I’m sorry! This comment wasn’t useful at all.

    It just seems that when they say that they are the best country in the world, its like they are a parent from school insisting that their child is the brightest…even though they are clearly not! Yikes!

  4. i don’t think they recite the pledge of allegiance anymore, do they? i thought someone made a big stink about it saying, “one nation, under GOD” or something…(and i agree, some people take being PC to a whole new, unnecessary, level) either way, i too could probably still recite it, much to the amazement of my japanese friends.

    as for the national anthem, many of my japanese friends, and the majority of the middle schoolers i taught in japan don’t know the words and/or the meaning of the japanese national anthem. but if that’s the alternative, i would much rather have the national anthem played before every sporting event and be accused of being overly patriotic.

  5. Really? I thought the deal was that children are required to stand, but they don’t have to say the pledge if they don’t want to or they can say it and omit the ‘under God part’. But I could be wrong…anyone know the answer?

  6. Hmmm, well in my opinion nowadays (some) Americans are taking patriotism too seriously. It’s like you’re either one of us or you’re hoping for the downfall of this great country. I don’t know if it’s the recession that’s wacked some of the minds of Americans, or if something greater finally just revealed the arrogant side that exists in some people.

    I’ll always love this country, but I’m yearning to explore the rest of the world and get away from the US for awhile. If I can find a place that I can call home other than the US then I don’t know, after serious consideration I’d consider giving up my citizenship.

    Regarding saying the pledge, well I’m a junior in HS and it’s not required that you stand. Though if you don’t then it’s wise to expect some comment or look from the teacher aftwards. After 11 years of repeating the pledge every day I’ve gotten bored of it. I stand but usually just mumble along or don’t say anything at all. Rules may be more lenient for high schoolers than for younger students.

  7. It’s so cool that you don’t take this personally because Americans really have a bad name in the world. And it’s not just out of spike or pure hatred. It’s just that even the most endeavors Americans are equipped with the bliss of ignorance. But I see it as a quality that allows to move forward.

  8. Patriotism is not fair. Nobody is better than anyone else based on their homeland or hometown. That is just being pigheaded. And flag waving is just plain annoying. If you are in the USA, why wave the American flag? Did you forget what country you are in or do you just wish to be an in-your-face jerk?

Comments are closed.