Varifrank has an excellent far-reaching article on his blog about the American character, political system, and so forth, stemming from his frequent need to try and explain these things to his foreign co-workers. I find it fascinating, especially since, like most Americans I suspect, I've been conditioned all my life to feel just a wee bit inferior in the face of educated foreigners, especially Europeans. They speak languages! They read literature! And debate it in cafes! The implicit, and sometimes quite explicit, corollary is that us poor, pathetic Americans are soooo ignorant, soooo oblivious to any country or culture but our own. (I'm getting an earload of this crap right now in comments on this blog, from a self-important jerk in Australia who thinks he's an expert on the US of A. I doubt he's ever been here.)
So with all this global eye-rolling over those poor Uhmurrcan rubes, you would expect that the other people in the world would have a pretty good handle on us. That's what's interesting. They don't know jack shit about us!! This despite all the so-called American cultural hegemony. Maybe that's the problem, that our entertainment industry is so good and convincing that people think it's reality, when it's just showbiz, folks, not reality. Varifrank's colleagues are incredulous when he tries to describe something as simple as the separation of powers. A typical American would be incredulous if you suggested we should do it any other way.
Along the same lines, and highly recommended is Bruce Bawer's piece in the Hudson Review, "Hating America." It's largely a review of several recently published (or republished) books on the subject, but it's also a personal reflection on his experiences since moving to Norway in 1998. He moved there looking forward to living among the educated, sophisticated Europeans of legend. As he got to know them better, he found that sometimes, Europeans can far outdo us in raw provincialism. My favorite is the distinguished, respected, sixtyish scholar who said to Bawer at a literary event that while she'd never been to California, she had visited San Francisco.
Mr. Varifrank has admitted feeling a bit self-conscious about his limitations as a writer. But if can write stuff like that, he goes on my blogroll