Sometimes, we can’t help but wonder how other people in other countries see Americans, besides as “devils” who are meddling in their countries business or as rich tourists that fill their pockets. We might be those things, indirectly, but the vast majority of Americans are a different breed indeed.
Maybe I’ve been thinking about it more because I’ve been working on my family tree, and while it’s one thing to see names and dates and locations…I can’t help but wonder about their lives, their hopes, their dreams, and even their smothered ones. I’m curious about their story…and I can’t help but wonder what the rest of the world sees as our story in America.
Many of my ancestors left Europe, from a variety of countries, and probably for a variety of reasons. I don’t descend from royalty or anyone important or anything like that. I descend from “average” people, with very average lives. I’m also pretty average, I’m not rich (by a long shot!) and I’m not famous, even though I do host a talk radio show, it’s not one with millions of listeners–we still count our listeners in the thousands. I’m not pretty or even beautiful, although I wasn’t a “troll” in my youth either. I was just pretty average in looks, kind of like any girl next door. Pretty enough to be a little bit vain, but not so pretty as to think of myself as any kind of a diva either.
I’ve had a variety of jobs in my life, and none of them were “important” either. They also weren’t a passion, but rather a means to an end…I needed a paycheck. Some I liked, some I despised, and some I pray nobody ever has to do again. I’ve had a bit of education, but I’m largely self educated. I’m a firm believer in continuing education by reading and exploring the world around me, learning new skills, and just generally being engaged with the world around me. I’m no brainiac, but I am also far from a moron. I may live in the South and have a Southern drawl to my speech (it’s really not, more of a country drawl, as my accent isn’t really “Southern” but has some Southern influences) but I’m also not an idiot. I might be a little sheltered in life, but I’m not too naive either.
I’ve also never, in my entire life, worn a bikini in public. I’m no prude, but I just never regarded myself as “bikini material.” I have worn some rather skimpy shorts and halter tops that probably didn’t cover much more than a bikini would have…but that’s the way I was. Not every American girl wears bikinis, let alone spends that much time in one. In addition, after giving birth, I had profuse stretch marks above the waist, hardly conducive to midriff baring clothing. As a mom, young or not, I preferred more modest attire, both for swimming and hanging out in the sun. I also have never baked in the sun in search of a sun tan. Blessed with easily tanning skin but a short attention span, I lasted almost fifteen minutes of my sunbathing experiment. I couldn’t read, hated the heat, and despised the boredom. My suntans always resulted from doing things in the sun, and rarely were even.
So obviously, not all American women are sunbathing in bikinis, luxuriating in the lap of luxury. Most of us are working, to be honest, and after the arrival of children in our lives, we work even more. I remember those days, when I had young children, a full time job, and scheduled myself for four hours of sleep on a good day, and a fantastic day squeezed in an extra hour for a nap during the day. My days were consumed by household chores, chasing after kids, and working a full time job. There wasn’t much time for hobbies or anything else then. Even so, I wouldn’t have traded a minute of that time. It was worth it.
Most American women love their children, if they have any of their own. Those who don’t, often dote on nieces and nephews, or the children of friends. Some substitute going gaga over pets. A few avoid both pets and children, fearful of being upstaged by too-cute. We worry and fuss over them, indulge them and discipline them. We teach them and inhibit them, rule them and turn them free. We’re just like women everywhere–our children are the future and we try to make sure that they will be happy and healthy adults.
As for sexual promiscuity, I’m not that familiar with the sexual mores of other cultures, but most women in America are not promiscuous anyhow. It’s just too much work and causes too many worries about sexually transmitted diseases. Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, but that has existed since man crawled out of his cave and traded a mammoth haunch for sex in those dim and distant times. Sex is probably the oldest profession, and while I’ve never walked in those shoes, I can understand the kind of desperation that would drive a woman in that direction too. Sometimes, all women feel cornered and out of options. Sometimes, women can become pawns in the games of powerful and violent men, and feel they have no options too. Trafficking of humans for the purposes of sexual gratification undoubtedly exists, and while I’ve heard whispers of such things, that’s all I know about it. It’s not something I’m likely to encounter in my life, I suppose. In my case, I’m married, adore my husband, and have no interest in pursuing sex from others. I would be devastated to discover that my husband was dallying too.
I know that many people, but especially men, have issues with sexual fidelity and marriage. I’m sure that’s not just an American problem. People aren’t that different. The real difference is that if you make a mistake here, nobody is going to stone you to death. You have a chance to redeem yourself, even if that marriage is ended in divorce over the infidelity. The world might perceive Americans as being violent, but in reality, we abhor that kind of violent end to a life, for any reason. We love the idea of redeeming ourselves, of having another chance. Maybe we’re a little bit optimistic sometimes, but sometimes, even a ‘leopard can change it’s spots” right?
Americans do have that Puritanical streak though. While we are forgiving in one way, in others, we’re all about that black and white of right and wrong, seldom realizing that most of the world is really gray in one shade or another. We want our country to be Utopia, and sometimes get very angry when it doesn’t match our vision of what it should be. We rant a lot behind the scenes, and there are many jokes about how you never discuss religion or politics because they both result in anger. It’s true–it’s always best to avoid those topics when you want to have an agreeable conversation.
We are a little bit idealistic too. We think democracy is great, and socialism/communism is bad. These are blanket statements, and far from actual tangible truths too. That’s another thing about Americans. We may be a melting pot, but you can still see the chunks in that pot. We are not a smooth and creamy whole, by any means. We are a country made up of many, many cultures, many races, many ethnicities, many ideas.
We’re a little bit conceited too, but that’s partly because of the rest of the world. We have too many people trying to sneak in this country to make us believe that it isn’t the best country in the world. It’s our diversity that is so attractive, we have it all, from terrain to climate, to population density and rainfall. We have the people to ensure that everything is diverse too.
Probably the biggest secret we’re keeping is that we are just like people everywhere. We love, we hate, we cry, we sing, we shout, we get angry, we laugh…and we bleed red blood. Our lives may be punctuated with different words and different ceremonies, but at the end of it all, we love, we raise a family, we hope and worry, and then we die. There is no difference in our lives than those of anyone anywhere, really. Sure, we have Hollywood…but that’s not a realistic view of us, any more than the Sound of Music represented pre-WWII Austria. Most of us are not beautiful, rich or powerful. Most of us don’t live in Hollywood or New York City. Most of us do spend most of our lives working at jobs that we’re none too fond of in order to take care of our families…just like people everywhere do.
So what makes America so special?
Each and every one of us is what does that. We do it with sports, with schools, with our armed forces, with our industries, with our contributions to help others. That’s what makes us special.