America--We Bless Ourselves

The introduction of the Wikipedia entry on the "Valkenburg resistance" in the Netherlands during WWII has this fantastic comment: "Going into hiding was dangerous, but so was keeping people in hiding. Especially hiding US soldiers was risky because they had no sense of the danger and had a reputation of making too much noise." Even hiding inside enemy territory they could be in good spirits.

A great BBC documentary I watched once about the post-WWII occupation of Germany made a similar statement about Americans. It said that in each zone of control the occupying government took a different attitude towards its Germans. The Soviets, of course, started organizing everyone into political parties. The British were instructed to be cold. The Americans were given similar instructions, but ignored them.

One of the people interviewed was a teenage waitress at a cafe in the American zone. Her demeanor was all business: it was just a job serving the American soldiers. Then her boss told her that she should smile more—some of the clientele had complained. Even in a recently hostile occupied territory the Americans wanted to enjoy themselves.

(Another illustration, this one more amusing, is that my German dictionary includes the entry "Aminutte," a prostitute who services an American customer base.)

It'd be a stretch to make a comment about America's collective national character because we're so numerous and diverse. With that disclaimer in mind, I invite you to comment on what you think this says about our national character. My comment is that this appears to be a facet of the entrepeneurial spirit the early immigrants brought with them (and that most modern immigrants bring as well). This is all one phenomenon, and it's that phenomenon that I celebrate when I celebrate America.

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My grandfather did work all

My grandfather did work all over the world for an aerospace company, from Germany to the Phillipines to Korea, from the 1940's through the 1980's. He has said to me that he always looked forward to returning home, because it was the only place he saw where people just walking down the street smiled.

Sounds to me like America's

Sounds to me like America's reputation of being folksy, optimistic, sort of "in your face"...sometimes to the point of naivete.

A good deal of the modern

A good deal of the modern reputation comes either from: A. Trendy slander of anything and anyone American, and B. the American governments "adventures" in other countries. Mind you I am generalizing, and also about to commit the sin of using anecdotal evidence but My mother works as a cleaning lady in a Hotel and according to her, the friendliest customers and the best tippers are..........Americans! Furthermore, Virtually every American I have ever personally met has been true to the image shown in the post, very friendly.

During WWII, the

During WWII, the widely-quoted Brit complaint about Americans was that they were "overpaid, oversexed, and over here".

I think the theory is right

I think the theory is right but I have observed a gradient of this friendliness and optimism within the US.

I grew up in Rhode Island (descended from many generations of Rhode Islanders) but now live in the fly over states and studied for a couple of years in Germany.

The people I live with now are far friendlier and more optimistic. My pet hypothesis is that they are descended from people willing to travel 1500 miles in the hopes of finding a better life for their families.

By contrast, my ancestors got off the boats and declared "eh, this'll do." Even today they are more likely to be resigned, pessimistic and surly.

And of course many of our friends in Europe are descended from people who never even got on the boat.

Clearly there are individual exceptions to these generalities.

Virtually every American I

Virtually every American I have ever personally met has been true to the image shown in the post, very friendly.

Americans are kind of like communists that way - individual communists like Hutterites are actually pretty friendly sometimes, but communist governments are pretty scary.

Tanstaafl- I note the

Tanstaafl-

I note the gradient goes from North to South, mainly. I was amazed at the general hospitality and friendliness of random folk in Georgia as opposed to Virginia, and on the few unfortunate times I had to visit up north in RI & VT, the people were pretty damn surly. (though I understand Philly/NY is worse, so its a lumpy gradient perhaps.)

Of course, it flips in Florida, with most of the service folk and general population being surly/aholes, but I think that is a reverse gradient from the georgia border culminating in Miami (an awful, awful city).

I think the surly reputation

I think the surly reputation of New Yorkers is overrated. While they are generally too self-absorbed to go out of their way to make you feel welcome, they're usually very friendly when approached. Philly is definitely a little more surly, but I think a lot of that is simple bluntness mixed with a lack of the neurosis so common in NYC. Philly doesn't really care if you like it. A friend of mine once explained a method for endearing yourself to southerners: make your "thank yous" as long as possible. Saying "Thank you so very much for all your excellent service" may play well with southerners, but you're likely to get cockeyed stares in Philly. We prefer a simple "Thanks".

And Brian, the reason it flips in Florida is because everyone who lives there is from New York and Philly.

A couple of "national

A couple of "national character" traits:

* I think Americans are more likely to believe that success is something earned through talent, hard work, and ambition rather than through luck and inheritance. Arnold Kling had a great article on this point yesterday. In a country of 280 million there will obviously be no unified worldview, but there are people all across middle America who implicitly hold to the "Folk Locke-ism" he describes - man's home is his castle, cold dead fingers, framing your first dollar, etc.

* I think Americans are more trusting of doing business with strangers than people in other parts of the world, where clan loyalties are more important.

* I think Americans are also probaly more violent than people in other parts of the world.

I think Americans are more

I think Americans are more trusting of doing business with strangers than people in other parts of the world, where clan loyalties are more important.

I think Americans are also probaly more violent than people in other parts of the world.

So when do we get to the interesting speculation about what, if any, of these factors have led to American's vast wealth? I like the "cold, dead hands" thing myself.

Stefan, That strikes me

Stefan,

That strikes me as untrue - a quick look at homocide rates would suggest that America is less violent then the rest of the world (and by extension, Americans less violent). I would suggest that America's ability to draw the world's best and the brightest is a continuing source of wealth - brain drain is good for us.

Alas, I didn't use the

Alas, I didn't use the italics tag correctly. :)

It's too bad the fed'l

It's too bad the fed'l gummint of such an amazing country reminds me more and more of Commiefascist lite every day. Im not just talking about the Hedge administration either! This shit is starting to become institutional at all levels.

As a dumb generalization, i

As a dumb generalization, i love Americans. I'm one of the 15 Kanadians who truly does. I find them loud, in your face, excitable , etc. and you know what? what the fuck is wrong with that? can anyone please tell me?
they seem to like you in 5 seconds, the chicks are WAY friendlier. ok so the majority are unbelievably obese, but hey no ones perfect. no speed limit anymore, great places to see. no problems
believe me friends, if you waste your holiday coming here, odds are 9 out of 10 people you meet hate your guts, but won't say it to your face, "they're too polite". never understood it, even when i was a little kid.

Stefan, Whoops, guess I

Stefan,

Whoops, guess I should have read all the comments first :). Apologies. Although to be honest, sometimes I suspect I'm more in love with the idea of America then big-government America today (I've been away too long). If I were back, I'd probably be bitching about how crappy everything is.

I was amazed at the general

I was amazed at the general hospitality and friendliness of random folk in Georgia as opposed to Virginia, and on the few unfortunate times I had to visit up north in RI & VT, the people were pretty damn surly.

Very true. Virginians can be somewhat aloof, but that's only because we're better then you.

Just kidding. Mostly.

And it does depend on where in Virginia you go. (Ties back to that "better then you, mostly" thing)

If you go west, the people are pretty much just like West Virginians, you go southern, and the people are more like North Caroligans.

But, if you're looking for kindness, DO NOT COME TO NORTH VIRGINIA!!! (Or Richmond)

If you go into a Starbucks and order something with less then ten words in the name of it, the people mutter "Redneck" under their breath. Northern Virginians are just like people in D.C., except richer.

And they have Hummers. In which they ride to the gorceiry store in. Also, DO NOT DRIVE THROUGH NORTHERN VIRGINIA/D.C.! You *will* die. The only reason we North Virginians haven't killed each other yet is because we've been in so many wreaks that it would take a Monster Truck Derby down the Beltway in rush hour to get people to bat an eyelash.

(Trust me on this, I live in north Virginia. Yes, people up, [down?] here have five car garages and drive Hummers to the groceiry store that would make any Army driver salivate over... okay, I'm getting worked up now... I'll calm down)

Qwest makes a good point! I

Qwest makes a good point! I never understood the inferiority complex arrogant dislike of Americans on the part of Canadians! Canada is a shitty second rate semi socialist country compared to its southern neighbor, thus we up here have to make sure that everyone knows we're different, at all costs. This means making fun of anything american (usually better anyhow), maintaining a bloated antional media service with all accompanying protective regulations, to ensure that there is always "canadian boradcasting" showing "canadian values" to counter the supposed american cultural hegemony! Hah, what a damn joke. This country even maintains a vast, bloated, ruinously run public healthcare bureacracy just to make sure that were different then the Americans.

While living in Germany the

While living in Germany the criticism I most often heard of Americans is that we are "oberflächlich" or superficial.

To many Germans this universal friendliness and openness must be a put on.

They also say we speak "with a potato in our mouths" but that's another story.

Marc J: And it does depend

Marc J: And it does depend on where in Virginia you go.

I have a co-worker from Southside Virginia who was curious to see the portion of Virginia adjacent to Washington D.C. referred to as "NOVA". He decided it must stand for "Northern Occupied Virginia".

as stephan says, it pervades

as stephan says, it pervades the entire atmosphere here, and i personally gave up talking about it years ago because it just causes arguments, much like libertarian discourse. your far better off to open with 'i'm a libertarian' than i like america. as a libertarian, well your just a kook, but someone who likes america should be despised and torn to shreds. its literally crazy but thats the socialist insanity that has infected most of the retards that live here.