Friday, December 09, 2005

Knee Jerk Patriotism

Many Americans assume that when another American leaves the country that it is either for some sort of philosophical difference with the country or for military service reasons. Why leave this great country, right?
Well, I did not leave the States for philosophical reasons. Life as an ex-patriot does not involve sitting in Parisian cafes and smoking cigarettes and railing against the "man." At least for me it does not. I'm sorry, I am simply not that deep. No really, I'm not. And I did not leave the States for military reasons. I have never fired a weapon and I am not keen on ever doing it.

No, I left the States for love. Which is not to say that sometimes I do not have some sort of philosophical quibble with my home country. In fact, sometimes I go back and think the whole country is on crack. Really, does everyone need to drive a huge SUV and no I would not like to supersize my meal, thank you, my cholesterol is just fine the way it is. You could say that my politics lean to the left a little. My father jokingly calls me a "socialist," which I am definitely not. I think the free market economy is good . . . in moderation.

Germans, on the other hand, see me as an American, and therefore I must be a flag waving, George Bush voting, Iraq bombing freak. (Yes, I am exaggerating.) In fact, after meeting someone new I always get my least favorite question, "Did you vote for George Bush?" or its variant, "What do you think of George Bush?" I think these questions are the height of rudeness. It is like they are setting you up to say something stupid. Now, I am not a big fan of W, and I certainly did not vote for him, but every time I am asked this question, I want to shout, "Yes, I voted for him. Isn't he great!" I mean, really, after meeting a new German I do not ask, "Did you vote for Merkel?"

I do not think Germans mean to be rude, but some how things in their culture get a little twisted in my American brain. Although I consider myself enlightened enough to take a critical look at my country (because I want it to be better), now that I live abroad, I am susceptible to a syndrome that I call "knee jerk patriotism."

Knee jerk patriotism kicks in when people start to slam your home country with no apparent good reason. It happened to me yesterday. I teach American politics at a university here in north west Germany. After my lecture on political participation in the U.S. a student came up to me afterwards and made a comment about how screwed up America can be. "Boy, you guys sure do have problems with your democracy! You must all be on crack!" Knee jerk patriotism kicks in. "No, we Americans are not really on crack. You just need to think about how values can manifest them differently in other countries." Inside I was a bit angry. This person had never even been to the States. What the hell does he know! I am sorry if I am hesitant to take democracy lessons from a country that elected Hitler.

Although I have to admit that he is a little right. How can a country that disenfranchises thousands of people give lessons on running elections to others? However, I think what my young student was missing was the idea of "constructive criticism." I don't mind critiquing and suggestions about my country, but just telling me that is crap is not very helpful. The worst is when I am told to not take it personally. Yeah, right, I will keep that in mind. I do not want to give the impression that Germans hate Americans. Because they don't. They love Americans and the U.S. In fact, someone once told me that I am not a "real foreigner." It is George Bush that the Germans could live without.

Yes, I have definitely become more critical of my home since I left it. On the other hand, knee jerk patriotism will hit you in the chest sometimes, and all I want to do is sing the national anthem and eat apple pie.


Foilwoman said...

A lovely post. And I hope you are enjoying living in Germany.

George Bush said...

Hey. This is one smooth blog. I can't understand how some people do it. Mine isn't this good. I've got a website, but it's not finished. Try to stop by if you have time. I'll stop in again when I have more time. George Bush

Arthur said...

Just stumbled on this blog and I have had many instances of knee jerk patriotism. Does this go away over time as an ex pat?

Claire said...


I wish I could say it does. I still consider myself to be patriotic and after 7 years of living in Germany, cannot imagine giving up my citizenship.

On the other hand, these days when I go home, I think many people in the US are going a bit crazy. But I am the only one allowed to call them crazy - not my German husband.

Thanks for stopping by! I really need to update the blog . . .