18 March 2016

Story

Amish traveller on State Highway 87 near Russell, Ohio
As an Americophile, I have lots of  memories of times spent on the other side of the Atlantic. Back in the seventies, I met numerous people in inland states who had never seen the ocean, people who dreamt of visiting California or New York one day. Given that America is essentially a land of immigrants, I found it surprising how unworldly many of its citizens have become.

I remember having a rather awkward and slightly heated conversation with a fellow in Skip and Ray's bar in Newbury, Ohio. He insisted that the language he spoke was American and was affronted by any suggestion that he in fact spoke English. He seemed to have no idea about the first English immigrants or The Pilgrim Fathers - none of that stuff. He was American and therefore he spoke American and damn anybody who said any different! It's possible that he was Donald Trump in disguise. It was a long time ago.

Anyway, moving on with those stock stories I was talking about. Here's one that I have often trundled out to illustrate the surprising parochialism you may encounter in America even today. Each time I recount this tale the listener has the illusion that it has never been told before... but it has, many times...

"It was when I was a camp counsellor in Ohio. My friend Chris who was the art counsellor had kindly lent me his Ford Mustang. It was a Sunday morning and I was heading east on Highway 87 though I can't remember where I was going. Anyway, just outside Russell I saw a young man at the side of the road. He was hitch-hiking so I pulled over to give him a lift.. He was obviously a biker with a worn black leather jacket, grimy jeans and lank hair. In fact he was on his way to a moto-cross meet the other side of  the oddly named township of Mesopotamia.

There was little traffic around and as we followed the road through Burton we chatted away about this and that. A couple of miles before I was to drop him off, he said:-
"Hey man, you've got a funny accent."
"Yeah, that's because I'm from England," I said, smiling across at him.
He paused and thought for a minute.
"England? Ain't that somewhere over near Maine?"

Well, you could have hit me with a wet haddock. He was confusing England with New England! And before I dropped him off I had the humbling experience of explaining to him that there is a country called England on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I said, "You know. The place where The Beatles come from".

But as he closed the passenger door and thanked me for the lift, the expression on his face proved that he was none the wiser. In fact, he probably thought he had just had a ride with a deranged lunatic."

Addendum  Fortunately, the American bloggers who visit "Yorkshire Pudding" are all cultured citizens of the world. We should be very wary about  generalising from the particular and of course  I never intended to imply that the young hitchhiker was somehow typical of your average American.

23 comments:

  1. Nice post today.

    Yes, there is a lot of parochialism in America today. I think about it often, and the reasons for it. It seems to me that people here are becoming more and more insular and distrustful of the rest of the world. I can't speak to what things were like in the 70s, since I was born in the 70s, but over the last twenty years or so I've seen a lot of changes (and not for the better) in how people think about the outside world. 9/11 changed EVERYTHING and we still haven't recovered from it. Fear, dislike, and distrust of foreigners is still quite prevalent. I don't remember it being that way at all when I was growing up.

    And the economy here is total shit. The corporations have taken over everything and a tiny, tiny number of people have all the resources. The middle class and working class people have been seeing wages stagnate and prices for everything rise enormously for decades now--the middle class is slowing getting squeezed out of existence. Life is hard for average people these days, and combine that with the fact that large areas of our country are rural and very, very isolated...well, it's a prescription for creating Trump voters.

    Poor, under educated, under employed people who live in a constant state of stress can't be expected to find the time to be but so curious about life and the outside world. That's my take on why Americans are the way you describe.

    Ok, I'm done with my essay now, Mr. Pudding. LOL.

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    1. Well I am so glad that my post stirred such an interesting response Jennifer. It is always good to have an insider's take on things. Thank you.

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  2. Your students would have loved your stock of stories YP.

    I had a Year 9 boy today in class who genuinely had no idea what The United States was or where Canada or Britain was in relation to us. We were reading an article about Emeline Pankhurst. I might as well have been talking about life on Mars to this boy.

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    1. It is amazing how a child can have advanced so far in the school system without learning very basic stuff like that. Does he know where his belly button is? Does he know where the TV remote is? Does he know where the school toilets are?

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  3. In my yute in Texas I knew several people who were convinced that New Mexico was not part of the United States. When I worked in Florida, our department secretary was stunned to learn that Jewish people did not observe Christmas. Someone has said that ignorance can be repaired through education but you cannot fix stupid.

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    1. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment on the occasion of your 75th birthday! I am honoured to discover that visiting "Yorkshire Pudding" is your idea of a birthday treat... or am I also being stupid? HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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    2. I love that saying, " You can't help stupid".

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  4. Interesting post YP.
    Years ago when we were on holiday in California, we were looking for overnight accommodation in a small town somewhere south of San Francisco. The Tourist Office gave us the address of a pleasant house in a suburban street, presumably a B&B., flying a multitude of strange (to us) flags outside in the garden. When I knocked on the door, a tiny oriental lady answered, and obviously didn't understand a word of what I'd said. She went away and came back with a man who was a Colonel Saunders lookalike. Before I could repeat my request he bellowed out something, in an accent so broad that I couldn't understand much of what was said, but something like "We don't take foreigners - only people who speak the good Lord's English" When I tried to explain that I was English (probably in my best Hyacinth Bucket accent, and definitely on my dignity) he slammed the door in my face screaming that I didn't speak English anymore than these here chinks ! Back at the Tourist Office we were told that we should have spoken to his daughter, as the guy was completely crazy, and relived Civil War battles most evenings ! We've often wondered how many other people may have had the same treatment.

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    1. Good job you didn't get in that place CG! Imagine sleeping in an establishment run by an angry Colonel Sanders lookalike. You'd have probably had fries and finger lickin' good chicken wings for breakfast while the boss raised the Confederate flag in the yard.

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  5. Oh wow, that story in Coppa's girl's comment has me almost speechless! (Something that does not happen very often, I assure you.)

    Three of my cousins grew up in Beirut and Damascus. They went to an American high school in Damascus before coming to Europe to complete their academic education. During their Damascus-American-High-School-years, we spent a lot of time together when they were in Ludwigsburg for their summer holidays, mostly staying with our grandparents.
    With the cousin closest to me and my sister in age, we often talked about school. She usually had her books with her (her mother made her study hard even during the holidays), and we looked at them with curiosity just as she looked at our German school books.
    I was often astonished as what passed for High School material compared to what were doing. Things have probably changed a lot since those days (late 1970s to mid-1980s) in the educational systems of both Germany and the US, but I remember how low key and US-centred a lot of what my cousin was learning seemed to me.

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    1. My daughter spent a year at university in Alabama and she found the going tough there... though there was less room for self-directed, independent study.

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  6. Mr. Pudding, I feel sure that I could write a book on this topic. That is the lack of education of the populace of the United States. Really it is a gross lack of education.

    Where to start? I guess I will start with my spouse who came here in the '60's and spoke no English at the time. But he had plenty of time to learn English as he already knew all the math and science that they were teaching in his first two years of college. He had learned those things in high school....in what people in the United States might consider a third world country! And, that was 1965! Progressively worse in the years since.

    One of the worse things to me is that young people will giggle and laugh and really seem proud of themselves when they cannot name the Vice President of the United States or how many members sit on the Supreme Court. These are high school and college kids, too. But show them a picture of Kim Kardashian, and they will ramble on and on about her, her family, etc., etc. It is really disgusting.

    My mother told me when I was a girl that if I got to college and make it through that I would be lucky if I learned as much in college as she did in public school in Brooklyn in the 1930's. She was right!

    We have not educated our young for too many generations now. That gives rise to factory or mine workers with low skills and low wages. Then, in the last 20 years, even those jobs have dissappeared. What we are left with, then, is a large percentage of our population that now live with not much hope and a small wage with which to feed their families. They rely on their religion for their peace. This has given rise to a very angry, very sad, very hopeless large group of people who need someone to blame for their hard work not getting them anywhere in life. And, this has given rise to a political party that would be unrecognizable to Lincoln and to a person who is very willing to tell them who is to blame. And they are listening to Trump no matter what lies he tells or no matter that he has no plan and no vision for anything in the future. Just feeding his own ego.

    When people say that this is an exceptional country, I just want to laugh. But I can't because it is just too sad.

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    1. Dear Mama Bear,
      I feel as if I have just stirred a mama bear from her hibernation. Like Jennifer above you appear to be saying that The American Dream is over, that the train has come off its rails. I just cannot see The Donald making things better - quite the opposite in fact. By the way I never knew that your Big Bear was not born and raised in the US. Did you find him in a marketplace? Marrakesh or perhaps he's from France?

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    2. Actually, Mr Pudding, we are celebrating Persian New Year this evening with his traditions and traditional foods. I'm sure that you can now guess in what bazaar I found him years ago. And kept him all these years.

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    3. I hope you polish him occasionally Mama Thyme!

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  7. I like the US and the Americans but I'm frequently left with my mouth open at their lack of knowledge about what goes on elsewhere. Through the years I've been amazed at some of the things said.

    And being one never to let a chance go begging...I've given some really ridiculous answers to ridiculous questions asked (given with a straight face) and my tall tales, which were done purely in jest and not meant in any way to be harmful, thinking the person I was talking with would know I was joking...and I've been believed.

    I was asked a few years ago how I got from here on Mount Tamborine to Brisbane or the Gold Coast and straight of face I answered I hopped in the pouch of a kangaroo and off I went! I was believed!!

    One woman from the States in all seriousness said to a friend of mine that her son couldn't wait to visit Australia and Queensland because, he, the son wanted to cycle along the Great Barrier Reef!!!!

    I rest my case...and yours. :)

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  8. Your main point is that you can actually find people like the ones you described. As you say, fortunately it's not a huge number. They also have trouble understanding Canada.

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  9. Is that your version of a Norman MacCaig story?
    It is sometimes a sobering experience to discover that your part of the world is not as well known as you might like to think.

    Ms Soup

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    1. Not a Norman MacCaig story as such Alphie. I was just exploring that notion that we all have a number of stock stories that get rolled out from time to time.

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  10. I do think we imagine all Americans to be sophisticated 'townies' whereas we have met many on our US travels who are really very much country people, who live miles from anywhere and have quite insular lives. As a country I absolutely love this diversity.

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  11. The US is such a big diverse place that I imagine us sort of like the elephant in the middle of the room and the blindfolded guys that reached out to touch a part of it. Each had a different perspective, but each was in a small way correct. I live roughly 100 miles from either Seattle or Portland - both huge cities, but our county has a very rural mindset. Does your Walmart stock animal feeds (goat grain, chicken feed, etc.)? Ours does! The news, of course, would have us believe that criminals & evildoers are the norm, but there are still a lot of really good people here, some educated & some not so much, but it makes life interesting for sure!

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    1. You are a good people, Hilltophomesteader...and you have a massive population. 318m or so people is a huge number.

      New York State alone has almost the population of Australia as a whole! The difference between NY State and Aus is only 5m or thereabouts. Yours is a big, wide and diverse country.

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  12. I have always believed that the diversity of the American public meant that the majority are better educated, more tolerant, etc., than we sometimes sound. However, in the state I live in, the differences are easily visible in every election between the three largest cities and the rural areas. I can only attribute it to the lack of exposure to other cultures and people in the rural areas (they don't see many people who are very much different from themselves), and as I live in a border state, there is a very strong religious element in the rural areas that is not so much found in the cities. (I don't mean to say that there aren't many very educated, cosmopolitan people in those areas; there are, but not as many as otherwise.) Add to that, what loosely might be termed liberal arts--history, geography, English, civics, etc.--are no longer emphasized in school. So, there is not a lot of exposure or education, and an influence which leads them to believe that everyone who doesn't see things as they do is inferior.

    I never used to worry about that, because no matter what, I found the majority of Americans to be essentially kind personally. With the rise of Trump, however, many of us are left wondering about our national character. When people don't know enough about other people and cultures, it is a lot easier for them to be frightened or hateful. And that is altogether very unattractive.

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