In many ways, the most American thing that U.S. citizens have is something that is so deep rooted in their culture, they cannot imagine life any other way. It isn’t coca-cola, or Hollywood, or patriotism. That thing is enthusiasm (the current political climate notwithstanding!)
I’ve observed that there is a very distinct way that Americans behave. Even walking down Malcolm X in Harlem, at full New York pace, I’ll notice that Americans tend to smile at people, even strangers, and greet whomever they meet with wide eyes and seemingly excessive gratitude.
Now, one can be cynical and say all the, “Have a nice days,” are rote and superficial, but I think it has a positive influence whether you acknowledge it or not. And it makes me want to wish them well in return.
We have a joke in our French American School that two families are dropping off their kids at the first day of a new semester. The French dad says, “Bye, kids. Work hard.” The American mom says, “Enjoy yourselves. Have fun.” Stereotypes for sure, but not so far from the truth.
Not all Americans, not all the time, but in general they’re kind of known for being glass-half-full smilers who like to say “awesome” and “amazing” a lot. Offer a new farmer’s market cheese to try to your French or British friend, and in response you may get a, “pas mal,” or, “not bad.” Whereas your American friend will rain down a few superlatives from”banging” to “insane.” Listen, if you think that cheese is really good, turn to you hamster and say, “Wow, that was flipping’ awesome, Sylvester. Want try some?”
I think being positive and optimistic can only foster more positivity. Why? Just to put that little moment of positivity into the world.
Silly? Overly American? Maybe.
But fake, exaggerated or superficial? Nope.
I think it’s really important to find the little joys in life and to get excited about things. Halloween costumes, cute dogs on your walk, little trips to the park, sunny days… Life is more than just meh. American enthusiasm is one of the best things about this nation and and it’s contagious! The kind of thing that I wish there were more of in the world.
One of the questions on the US OKCupid (online dating) site fascinates me as I don’t think you would find this in Europe: Which is worse burning books or burning your country’s flag?
Having driven through more than two dozen states, I have been surprised at how from the wooden houses of New England, to a colonial house of Georgia, to a downtown apartment in Oakland California, so many fly their national flag from their homes. They unfurl them on their front porches on any day they feel like it. They turn to field-sized version of the stars and stripes at sporting events when they rise to sing our national anthem (a song that is all about the flag). Kids still stand and pledge allegiance to the flag in public school classrooms from kindergarten upwards across the country, despite efforts by many to cool it. The flag is even in many US churches, too — to heck with that separation of church and state thing.
Americans are flag-waving enthusiasts like maybe no place on Earth. Why? What is it that makes them so passionate about the Star-Spangled Banner? What is it about those 13 stripes and those 50 stars that has made them elevate the flag to almost untouchable iconic status? In a country these days so sharply divided along all sorts of fault lines — political, social, racial, geographic, — why is that millions of Americans protect and revere the flag so? Is it one symbol that somehow unites Americans above politics? Is it simply a symbol of a country of united immigrants? I don’t know the answer, I just know for a foreigner it is striking.
By the way, to return to my opening comment, it is a myth that is is illegal to burn the American flag. It was illegal until 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in Texas v. Johnson that burning the flag is a form of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment.