As we wish Americans a wonderful holiday commemorating their declaration of independence from the mother country, it may be a good time to ask, "What does it mean to be American?"
Speaking of mothers, my mother-in-law went to Wellesley in her youth (well before Hilary Clinton) and every now and then, one of her university friends would visit Canada and offer me a glimpse into the mythical American woman, initially brought to my attention by Burton Cummings and The Guess Who.
The American lunch guest did not disappoint me as she wore bright red lipstick with jeans, a jaunty scarf, and was happy to discuss politics. She told me how she fell in love as a young woman and moved to Amsterdam, where she had brought up her family until recently widowed. She was now returning to America, after thirty years away in Europe. When I asked her about how she defined being American, she did so in a way that Canadians do too --by telling a story to compare the culture where she had lived to her beloved homeland, America.
She recalled her children attending a local school and the parents decided they needed a printer for the school administrator. She suggested they hold a bake sale. There was silence. The other mothers turned to stare and looked at her as if she were from Mars. In that moment in time, she realized that this difference defined her approach to her life. It is the "make it on your own" attitude which was utterly alien, incomprehensible and distasteful to the Dutch mothers who went back to their business of discussing how to petition the government for money. The school did get the money after two years, and a printer was bought for the staff. It cost just under $1,000 at the time.
This weekend, I was reminded of this American Woman and her story of fierce independence when I read Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book called Nomad and her description of what it means to be American. She admired the importance placed on the loving family unit and the support for the institution from society. (She did slip in a scathing comment about Hollywood creating films about dysfunctional Jewish and Christian families. She recommend Hollywood take a look at the dysfunctional families of the religion that shall not be named).
Ali sums up her views of America and what makes it great with her observation of the importance placed on the American family, the pioneer spirit but above all, the people getting on with their lives without looking to the state. Here is Ali:
What Americans are reluctant to do--and this is perhaps the most important difference between Americans and Europeans--is to call on the state (or the "government" as Americans prefer to say....
Unlike Europeans, Americans feel instinctively that large-scale government intervention is wrong, is at best an emergency measure.
In an ideal world, Americans would form their families and firms, build ther homes and workplaces, buy and sell their goods and services, go to a pizza place on Saturday and church on Sunday, and generally get on with their lives with the minimum amount of state interference.
As July 4th arrives, do you have any stories of what it means to be American? Can you give a story that compares Europe, Asia or other cultures to American culture?
To all Rico addicts, have a glorious July 4th!