The ‘America Fuck Yeah’ mentality has been agitating me a lot lately. It’s just…been incredibly grating in a way that’s been rather difficult to explain until I finally had the ability to sit down and synthesise it today.
The problem isn’t even national pride, really; it’s the jingoism and the idea that the United States is objectively the ‘best country in the world’, or that American ways must trump all others. I’m not bothered if people are happy with where they live and the culture in which they were brought up. It goes further than that. It’s the idea that because you’re from a particular place, you’re better than people from other countries, or that other countries’ ways should be set aside in favour of your own. It’s the sort of thing that I, and other members of our system who agree with me about the problems with the ‘America Fuck Yeah’ mentality, don’t usually mention in conversation offline, as we know that it’s a touchy subject, and people will probably leap on us.
I won’t talk about my own (or any other system-member’s) national identity, which is…not within the scope of this entry.
I suppose we’ve lived in and visited enough places – countries and US states alike – to realise that the ‘America is the best place in the world’ canard is…a load of nonsense, really. No country is ‘the best place in the world’ objectively. (I also refuse to call a country that cannot care for its ill and engages in unnecessary imperialistic foreign wars ‘the best place in the world’.) Every country in the world has its good bits and bad bits and I really don’t feel comfortable declaring that any country - not the UK, not the US, not Germany, not China, not Russia, not South Africa, not Chile or France – is the ‘absolute best’. Having unthinking patriotism shoved down our system’s throats for years and years has backfired. I am not saying that the US is a ‘bad’ country. It is a place. It has its good parts and bad parts. I don’t think that it’s even saying that it’s ‘the best place in the world’ in the way that everyone does at an important national event, regardless of what country they’re from. There’s a particular way that it’s done in the US that is rather obnoxious and tiresome. I don’t know if I would be bothered as much if a Brazilian said that ‘Brazil is the best country in the world’. I think that it’s because Brazil doesn’t exert the sort of global dominating influence that the United States has right now. It seems to be rubbing it in when Americans do it.
I feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘American as default’. There are hundreds of countries in the world, each with their own ways of doing things. Some may be similar to America, others may be different, but it’s hardly fair to hold one country up as the exemplar of How Things Are. The same applies to the concept of…seeing the United States as the only country that allows free speech, or free elections, or free movement of its people or other democratic values. There are other countries which have the same values; they’re not the sole property of the USA. ‘America stands for FREEDOM! No-one has the freedoms we have!’ (Except the Canadians, British, Germans, Australians, Spanish, French…) It’s certainly not the best country where economic equality, health or living standards are concerned. Statistically, the US doesn’t have the highest standard of living in the world in all areas. Income inequality in the US is unlike any other industrialised country. The US is the only high-income, developed country that does not provide universal health care to its citizens and permanent residents; instead, it’s in thrall to the private insurance racket that ensures that poorer and working-class people don’t have the same access to healthcare that people in similar situations enjoy in other countries.
I’m not discounting people’s visceral connection to the country that they love. I am, however, criticising the idea that people should be able to shout down people from other countries (or their disgruntled countrymen who want to see the United States adopt good ideas from other countries) with ‘USA! USA! WE’RE THE BEST IN THE WORLD, DON’T CRITICISE IT, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT, THESE COLOURS DON’T RUN,’ ad nauseam. It’s this blinkered mindset that really frustrates me and I’m tired of seeing it over and over from certain people.
This even extends to comparatively trivial things like spelling and writing style, and to be honest, I’m really tired of it. (Please be forewarned that I’ll start babbling on about language, as this is one of my personal perseverations and it’s something I’ve been noticing for ages.) This is most prevalent in computing and in publishing. The only widely used software I’ve found that includes international (that is, non-American) English localisations as a matter of course are free and open-source applications, certain web browsers (Firefox and Chrome definitely have international versions) and Apple’s iOS. Ubuntu Linux is the only desktop operating system that we’ve ever used that allows users to have non-American user interfaces. On the iPad, you have the option of choosing from several dialects of English for the user interface: British, US, Canadian and Australian, from what I recall.
Commercial software tends to give you English, as long as it’s American, even if it’s made by a British developer. (Scrivener, I am looking at you.) One notable exception is Adobe InDesign, which has a British or International English interface if your system is set to use it. Other Adobe applications don’t have non-US-English localisations. In Proloquo2Go, a text-to-speech application for disabled people, the only voices that users can’t delete are the American ones. (What if you live outside the US and have no need for those voices?)
Apple, for several years, did not have non-American voices by default in their speech-synthesis software for accessibility (loads of novelty voices! but no non-American or non-English voices); now English Received Pronunciation, Australian, Canadian, Scottish and Irish voices are available for English, and I believe that Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese are also available. American English is often displayed as ‘English’ on websites and in computer applications, whilst non-American dialects are marked: ‘British’, ‘Australian’, ‘Canadian’ etc – if they’re even available, that is.
Books written by non-US authors are routinely edited to contain US spelling rather than British, especially if they’re fiction. (There are a few exceptions – a few Roald Dahl books here and there may or may not have the British English particularities left in.) It doesn’t happen the other way round, though; even American children’s books published in the UK usually have their American spellings left in. I was having a look at amazon.co.uk and specifically looked at British editions of American books through the ‘Look Inside’ feature. It feels as though Americans have to ‘protect’ themselves from the way The Rest Of The World does things, and it’s infuriating at times. Whilst US speakers do form about half the English-speaking population, it’s actually really frustrating to see everyone try and cater to one country, while avoiding the conventions that more countries use. Will Americans honestly shrivel up and die if they see a ‘u’ in a word like ‘favourite’? (I suppose you could turn the argument round and ask whether international English writers can deal with a ‘u’ omitted from ‘favourite’, but the dominance is only going one way.) The United States is one country. It is a large country, with many native speakers. But it is still one country. Only one country uses these spelling standards by default. The rest of them do have a system that’s closer to the British one. Do we see Mexican flags to indicate ‘Spanish’ on websites with a Spanish-language option, even though Mexico has a larger number of native speakers than Spain has? No, you see a Spanish flag. So why the hell is there an American flag when ‘English’ is to be selected?
I haven’t any quarrel with people using a written dialect of English that’s different to mine (I don’t use AmE myself). James and Em write differently to me. There are loads of people who write differently from me! That’s not the point. The point is that one country’s way of doing things is often seen as the ‘default’, and I don’t feel that it’s necessarily fair, especially when there are many other native English-speakers who use a different style.