I Am Not One of Them
Via Olivier, in Ici & Ailleurs, I discovered La lanterne brisée some time ago. And the first post I read was one called Regards, which means Looks (as in gaze, not as in what you look like). I won't translate the whole cartoon, but know that basically, the main character (the author) is in Japan and wonders why everyone there looks at her in a funny way. Is it how tall she is? Or her clothes? Something else? That's for the French part, the rest is in English, you don't need me to translate).
This cartoon reminds me of a class I had ten and some years ago, for which we had to write an essay. The class was called "American Culture" and was taught by an American woman. She gave us, I found, a very interesting insight into American culture. I recall some speciific themes she tackled, such as her vision of the right to have a weapon on which she gave a historical explanation (a right entrenched in the Constitution). She was all in all a very interesting teacher. But poor her, she also was American. I say poor her although I must say that until she actually asked us to write this essay, everybody in the class had been rather nice and polite. Some debate had occurred, but nothing out of hand or out of place.
The essay she asked the class to write was rather straightforward. It went: "How has this class changed your vision of the United States". A bit dangerous I guess, but we were in post-graduate degree, so one could argue that we were smart enough to write some constructive criticism. As usual, I postponed my writing to the last minute, which gave me the opportunity to read a few of the others' essays. I was simply appalled at the tone in which some of these essays were written, basically saying that this class had not changed their mind about the United States (which is a legitimate point of view) but also basically saying that the US were a terrible country which deseved its sad fate of recrudescing violence and overwhelming Mc Donalds. In short, the essays were saying that not only the class had not helped, but that the US were beyond help. Although I personally did not agree with all of this teacher's ideas and explanations, I was at least convinced that her approach was the right one, trying to find explanations for cultural behaviours and tryign to share them with a class. She made lots of efforts and did bring some interesting lights on the US culture.
What shocked me most was the utter lack of respect of this process shown by my fellow classmates. To them, she seemed to be guilty of being an American and as such, guilty of trying to find an excuse for everything "we don't like about the US" under some sort of covert agenda destined to brainwash the masses into "America is beautiful". Well. I lived in the United States for 2 years and yes, beautiful things, as well as terrible things make that country and make it a rich and amazing country to observe and learn to know.
But I guess what I learned that was most important is that wherever you come from, trying to defend your own country is probably a mistake, as you will most of the times be taxed of controversial bias. It is easier for me to defend the United States, having lived there, having been there so many times, than it will ever be for an American, regardless of their travel and living history. I was ashamed of my French classmates and wrote a somewhat funky weird essay which tried to balance it all and which you can read here. It is very conceited (*I am different!*), but I think it still carries the point I want to make today, namely that ignorance is not the best companion for constructive criticism.