Insular. Without doubt, this is the most accurate word that can be used to describe the United States of America. Having been fortunate enough to visit the country over 30 times, subsequently exploring dozens of states, meeting hundreds of Americans of all ages and experiencing all kinds of lifestyles, I am well-informed to describe America as the most blinkered country in the world.
Let me disclaim by saying that the United States is a brilliant country in many ways. It boasts a beautiful, diverse geography and for such a comparatively young nation, its global influence is an exceptional achievement. A life out there will grant you significantly more in terms of value for money than this country and I would argue that their approach to sports is bigger and better than the UK’s. However, its attitude towards being a citizen of the world is questionable.
There is a global stereotype that Americans are uncultured, immature and thus unlikable individuals. Though casting a whole nation under a generalised description like this is undoubtedly unfair, the grain of truth behind it is crystal clear.
The average American has staggeringly minimal knowledge of the world outside of their nation. For them, the United States of America essentially represents the planet and the individual states (each with their own laws and governing system) act as separate countries. The USA may be enormous and have the third largest population in the world, but this is no excuse. No other nation possesses such an egocentric mindset and Michael Henry Heim, UCLA language professor and translator, qualifies: “it’s a self-satisfaction; the assumption that we [Americans] don’t need them [people of other nationalities]…that they don’t have anything to tell us.”
We know tons about other countries; specifically regarding America, most Brits would be able to tell you basic facts, like how their school system differs or which objects are referred to with a different word. Most Americans, on the other hand, live in blissful ignorance as to how the rest of the world live. If you were to test them on how a Brit would write their dates or how their university applications differ, I am certain that most would struggle to respond. While we are arguably assisted by pop culture and American TV shows, this justification should then work both ways. Instead, many Americans refer to Europe as though it is a country or assume that our currency is the Euro-dollar – my dad has worked for an American company for twenty years and numerous ‘Ivy-League educated’ executives have genuinely made this assumption.
Undoubtedly, this whole problem ultimately stems from their school system
I once attended a literary convention which was a perfect example of this self-centred attitude. The British author described how she has to edit her books to make them relevant for the country the book is being sold in. In the case of America, she would change her cultural references (the show Strictly Come Dancing becomes Dancing with the Stars), as well as her spelling of words and general lifestyle descriptions. Upon hearing this, the American author on the panel exclaimed; “wow I did not even know this was a thing. I have never edited my books to make them understandable for the country’s readership… I have never even thought to.”
What examples like this demonstrate is that Americans (often unintentionally) force us to adapt to understanding their ways, because they are simply unconscious of anything else. “Americans live in an insular nation”, explains George Barnett, Ph.D., communications researcher and professor at the University at Buffalo. “We are deluded regarding what we know about the rest of the world. People from other countries are well-traveled and well-read but as a group, Americans are virtually ignorant of anything beyond our own borders. We think we ‘know’ a lot more than we actually do.”
Undoubtedly, this whole problem ultimately stems from their school system. I know from peers who have been educated in the States how much emphasis there is on purely American history and American geography. The little they do learn about other nations is nearly always cast in a negative light, for instance, Great Britain is depicted as a controlling power who the ‘great, superior nation of America overthrew and later won WWII for’. However, this does not make Americans blameless. They could easily go out of their way to properly educate themselves on the outside world, but unfortunately the narrow-minded majority are disinterested in doing so. “Why visit other countries, when I live in the best?” I have heard several Americans proudly declare.
It blows my mind that a country with so much wealth and power can be so ignorant of global affairs
Another contributing factor to this national arrogance is what I would call ‘blind patriotism’. Patriotism, when done in a healthy way so as to still honour and love being a citizen of the world, is commendable. But the patriotism in America would be better described as a form of cult-like brainwashing. Flags are a necessity everywhere – particularly outside homes and in classrooms – and the daily pledge of allegiance at school (where students stand facing the flag, place their hand on their heart and recite the set lines) is akin to a dystopian ritual. Americans are seemingly indoctrinated to worship their country, as you would a God, and the result is this blind, uninformed loyalty where citizens proudly declare: “God bless America…the greatest nation in the world.” Ironic I think, when I know for a fact that nearly all of the individuals I have met who say this could count on one hand the number of other countries they have been to. Do they realise that they are the only place where it is easier for youngsters to buy an AK-47 than a bottle of wine?
America urgently needs an attitude change. It blows my mind that a country with so much wealth and power can be so ignorant of global affairs. It is time that they are taught the value in understanding and experiencing other cultures and stop acting like the world revolves around the almighty USA! Collective change like this is never straightforward, but the fact that this two-dimensional mindset is not just an outdated one solely affecting adults is of concern. That said, I have met many Americans who genuinely possess a worldly outlook and are embarrassed by the rest of their nation’s closed-mindedness, but from my experiences, such individuals are rare.
Dear America…if you want to be respected, you are going to have to become a global citizen like everyone else.