Sunday, April 25, 2010

At Sea: Mrs Connecticut

There is a woman who occasionally sits with The Ladies. She's a semi-regular, more like an associate member than a card-carrying Lady.

She is a type of person who most probably did not exist 50 years ago - a 60-plus Connecticut matron with a fair whack of money in the bank who has tattoos on her ankle and upper arm. It is probably a given that she is a loudmouth and prone to forcing people to listen to her opinions. And it is probably no surprise to discover that being based on fact is not a requirement for those opinions.

Most of the opinions she expresses are political. And most of her political opinions would sound far-right at a Tea Party rally. All of which probably goes with being 60+ and from Connecticut with lots of money. I just cannot get over the tattoos. It's kind of like finding out that they're watching Fox News all day in the Ladies Lounge at a Hells Angels clubhouse.

I usually develop urgent business elsewhere when blowhards like this woman come along, but I stayed and listened one day and gradually came to realize that I have met her type all too often in our recent wanderings around the globe. I may be looking back on my childhood memories through rose-colored glasses, but it does seem to me that Americans are changing, and she seems to encapsulate so much of this change.

My (undoubtedly idealized) memory was that Americans used to be patriotic people, proud of their country and ready to share their love of country with the rest of the world. But Mrs Connecticut is just the opposite. She gladly tells anyone who will listen how bad the US is now, how it's going to the dogs, how its leaders are corrupt, incompetent, greedy and - in the case of the current president - not even American.

I know this is a fairly typical conversation in the US lately as many people from The Greatest Generation seem to have decided the whole effort was not worth it after all given that their country did not turn out the way they had imagined it would. But in my continuing naivete, I remain astonished that Americans with a good enough lifestyle to be able to jump on a cruise ship in Singapore and travel for the next 24 days will tell total strangers from other countries how lousy America is.

It seems to me a tough sell to the rest of the globe if, on the one hand, you say you're trying to make the world safe for democracy, but on the other hand, you don't think it's working very well where you come from. And I wonder what non-Americans think when Yanks laugh about having an Obama bobble-head doll they keep in their car. Some times I think the rest of the world has more respect for the American presidency than do most Americans.

In the 50s and 60s people from the US were accused of being The Ugly Americans when they went overseas, because they had little interest in local cultures and wanted everything they encountered to be as it was in the US since it was such a great place. Now they're becoming The Ugly Americans all over again, but this time because they seem to want to make sure that everyone knows what a lousy place the US is.

Of course, Mrs Connecticut and the many others on board like her aren't really trying to convince people from other countries about the merits or lack of them in the US. They are just so used to complaining and spouting back the debate points they've heard on TV that they don't even think about how other people are reacting. And in fact, you can tell that they aren't trying to convince anyone because they assume that everyone thinks the way they do, anyhow.

Inevitably their comments turn to purely American issues, and there doesn't seem to be the slightest hesitation in assuming that people in other countries give a crap. Mrs Connecticut is happy to tell everyone how health care will bankrupt the country, and she seems blithely unaware that everyone at the table is from a country with better government health care than the Obama plan and none of them have gone bankrupt because of it.

There is, of course, still a pretty good strain of the original Ugly American. You cannot get rid of that in just 50 years.

Perhaps the best example on this cruise was another Yank who complained bitterly about the stringent immigration policies that India has for people planning a visit. After his spew, LK quietly pointed out that America has far more stringent policies in place.

"Yes," he said, sounding as if he thought she were a bit of an idiot child, "but we were attacked by terrorists."

"That's true," said Linda, "but so was India. In fact it happened in the city we're visiting tomorrow."

I believe all he said was, "Oh."

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