A stray comment at Quora digest claimed that Americans actually are modest about some things, despite their reputation for arrogance. Bragging about one's own accomplishments was specifically mentioned as somethings Americans consider rude. As I had been in an argument over at the CS Lewis site with a man from England and one from Holland, both of whom I thought were arrogant without being conscious of it, it set me wondering. Is there some cultural difference in which certain approaches are innocent in Europe but Americans find arrogant, and vice versa?
First, I get why Europeans find Americans arrogant. American movies, TV, songs, many publications and Americans themselves announce how great we think the country is, and how much we like our way of doing things. True, there are also many American products which take the opposite tack, dwelling on our evils, and perhaps those should be considered as balancing items when we are being judged as a group. Yet leave those aside for the moment and note that the first claim is true. Americans tell each other what a great place this is and what good people we are, and we do it a lot.
Notice my wording. We tell each other this. Lee Greenwood didn't write "God Bless The USA" in order to stick it to Belgium or Turkey. (In fact, he also wrote a "God Bless You Canada" version.) All those American hero movies that strike others as so jingoistic and offensive - you weren't the intended audience. No one made you import those. If you like our movies and you bring that in and suddenly start getting offended by Americans winning and waving flags, that's on your own head. The ubiquity of American arts and culture since WWII seems to give people in other cultures that they should have some sort of vote in this.
I don't think Americans find it all that bothersome when other countries do this. The bravest and most intelligent characters were all French. Well duh. The movie was made in France. So long as you don't single Americans out as being especial villains (and even that is okay in some situations, such as when it's historically true), we aren't offended by the idea that you think your guys are the best. In fact, if you made us the bestest in your novel, we would immediately suspect you were trying to suck up to us, or criticising your own government in some way.
The exceptions would be our portrayals of Germans up until about 1970, and the Russians until 1990. We did make random villains conform to those nationalities even when there was no reason to in the TV show. We had to pick someone, and you actually did deserve it, dudes.
The thing to notice is that we don't tend to go up to others and tell them off just because we think our way is better. (There is a large exception, which I will treat later.) We don't go to London, strike up a conversation with the man next to us at the bar and say "You English are always whining about the economy. I think it comes from having a monarchy and a House of Lords..." We would find that quite rude, and we don't tend to it in online conversations either. We don't go into your house and start insulting you.
Yet Europeans do this to Americans all the time. They do it personally and individually, and they do it in their newspapers. They do it when they visit us here and when we visit them there. America should stop saying... the trouble with Americans is... The reason you have problem x is because you don't do things as we Swedes do... Unsolicited. I think they don't notice that it is terribly rude because it is so common and natural when talking with each other that they don't hear it talking with us. there's this entitled sense that they have the right.
Now, once they've done that, they are going to get it back double-portion, and American arrogance will be on full display. Don't like out sports, and think we should get with the program and care about soccer like the rest of the world? Who asked you? Let me tell you the problems with soccer and why I don't care... You don't like our gun laws, and think those are what cause our homicide rate? Okay, mac, let me tell you the reality here... We don't go into your house and insult you.
So there, I thought, is a cultural difference. It's a misunderstanding perhaps, which can be worked around. Then I wondered if Europeans do this to each other? Do Scots go to Paris and pop off about how the French do things? Or if the French visit, do they take them to task about Le Pen or French movies? The Swedes are notorious for telling everyone else, including even other Scandinavians, how much better they are managing things. They say they prefer to mind their own business and not interfere, but apparently, it always comes up pretty quickly, like the jokes about being a pilot or people who do Crossfit. Still, I am guessing here, and would appreciate hearing from people who know better. Staffan?
And the next question that would just naturally arise is Hey! Do Americans do this to each other? What are the rules when it's in-house? That led to some very surprising speculations. What does New England say to California? What does Georgia say to Minnesota - how is it delivered, and what is considered rude?
I arrived at some odd locations after following that.
To Be Continued.