America is one of the most disliked countries in popular opinion around the world and bashing the country and the people is a popular topic of discussion. This is no less true in Russia where the usual complaints and fears of American global hegemony are supported by personal attacks on the American people themselves.
"Americans are fat and uneducated." a student told me (who was ironically fat and making an ironically uneducated statement). "They want to rule the world and are rude and aggressive." As an afterthought she added "And they're racist."
In the past I've tried to educate my American-hating students about the fallacy of popular anti-American opinion but now I've just given up. Funnily enough, when these students meet actual Americans, either as teachers or out in public, they are incredibly congenial and genuinely interested in them.
Nowhere is America-bashing more popular than in my home country of Canada. Canadians probably understand America better than any other nation (who is not America) and are the single most-similar nationality to Americans in the world.
The type of America-hating rhetoric that I hear in Russia is mildly amusing when compared to the venemous insults that spew out of Canadian mouths to their southern big brother, and all of it is a lot more educated-sounding than what I hear in Russia, although as equally-unfounded.
We have a popular political satirist in Canada named "Rick Mercer". He got his fame (and his own show) as a reporter for a CBC program called "This Hour Has 22 Minutes". Rick Mercer's segment was called "Talking To Americans" and involved him travelling to the US and grabbing the lowest, most uneducated dregs of society, putting them in front of the camera, asking them ridiculous questions that they couldn't give intelligent answers for, and then pandering them off as typical Americans. Needless to say that "Talking To Americans" was a big hit in Canada.
Other insults to America and Americans I've heard in Canada range from "All an American needs to be happy is a handgun, a black man to shoot and a bag of crack" to "Americans can't find their own capital on a map" to, simply, "Americans are dumb and overweight"
There is no denying that popular opinions of America in Canada are linked to world opinions, and that America hasn't helped itself in the hearts and minds of Canadians. After September 11 Canada was the first nation to jump on board the War on Terror, where a US F-16 pilot promptly bombed a Canadian military convoy in Afghanistan. Following this episode the Marine Honor Guard at the White House hung the Canadian flag upside down as the Prime-Minister stepped off the helicopter to meet the President. America has reneged on NAFTA by imposing trade tariffs on softwood lumber, and have continually reneged on mutual agreements pertaining to the protection of the Great Lakes.
When pundits like Ann Coulter bash Canada on Fox TV it sends our country into an uproar. She is responsible for saying things like "Canada only exists on the North American continent because we let it" and "Those [sic] faggity Canadian soldiers wouldn't know what a rifle looked like if you made them eat one." (Despite having over 30% of our military fighting in the Kandahar region alongside US forces, and losing hundreds of soldiers in the process).
But imagine if the American equivalent of Rick Mercer came to Canada and did a piece called "Talking to Canadians"? The uproar would be deafening! The message Canadians send is "We can bash you all we want, but don't bash us!"
America is Canada's biggest trading partner, and Canada is America's. Canadians speak the same language (and we don't have an accent), wear the same styles, drive the same cars, watch the same TV programs, eat the same food and play the same sports! Our only differences lie in our political values. So why, then, all the hatred?
Myself, I am a fan of America. The US practically invented democracy, which we in the western hemisphere enjoy and take for granted today. Despite some of the poorer southern states lagging behind, America has some of the best schools in the world and has produced some of the greatest minds in world history. If you think of the 10 most influential inventions in world history, at least half of them will have been invented in the USA. How can an uneducated nation accomplish this?
Yes, Americans are getting fatter, but for all the smug Canadians out there, so are you. So are the British and the Germans and even the French and Japanese! We're all addicted to fast food, and that's not America's fault, either. It's yours, for choosing to eat there.
Indeed, the fact that you can choose to eat a salad or a cheeseburger is largely thanks to America (and I DO thank America for the cheeseburger...whoever invented it should receive a medal).
People claim that America is warlike yet America has stopped more wars from breaking out than has started them. Iraq has definitely tarnished America's image, and when Ann Coulter and other ultra-conservatives attacked Canada for not joining up we Canucks were incensed that Americans didn't notice our contributions in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, America has a fine, indeed the best, record in world history of providing humanitarian, economic, political and military aid to alleviate the suffering of people around the globe.
Americans remain unaware of Canada for the most part. They like to compare our universal health care to communist-style socialism (which it is not...alternative options do exist in Canada) and, well, that's about it. Nevertheless, I love the beauty that is the beast called America.
I have seen a fair part of the United States, including every state along the eastern seaboard, around the Great Lakes and some on the western seaboard. Is there anywhere more beautiful than Pennsylvania, Massachusettes, Virginia or Washington State? I admit that Oregon is rather boring and Detroit is a hell-hole, but Manitoba is ultra-boring and, well, nothing really compares with Detroit.
I love that in America I can visit almost every climate that exists on earth within the relative comfort and safety of the most advanced country in the world. I love that the US military is mighty but answers to democratically-elected government: as a Canadian, I take comfort in the US armed forces. I would much rather be under the influence and protection of the defenders of freedom and democracy than under the Chinese and Russians or, god-forbid, the European Union with its stifling bureaucracy.
I find American people charmingly genuine and very friendly. When I mention I'm from Canada they are usually very interested in me and want to talk to me. Americans, as a rule and not an exception, have a wonderful sense of humor and are some of the most helpful people there are. Once my friend and I had a tire blow-out in New York State and THREE cars pulled over immediately to lend assistance! In Ontario the first ten cars would simply drive by. I can count among some of my favourite friends at least five Americans, and I only have ten favourite friends.
There is no better customer service in the world than south of the Mason-Dixie line, nor can you find better restaurants. Sure, American beer is particularly crappy, but I have to admit a soft spot for Sam Adams. I also love American sports, such as baseball and football (although hockey will always remain my favourite and that is decidely Canadian).
When I see the American flag I feel like I am almost home, and I feel that the blue square against the red and white stripes is strikingly beautiful and symbolic. The Star Spangled Banner for me is an anthem steeped in the rich history of America that speaks of the great expirement of liberty and democracy. I'm not saying that I dislike my own country's flag and anthem, symbols that stand for different things, what I am saying is that I also like America's symbols.
Think of the Statue of Liberty. What better symbol of democracy's development in the world can you find than that?
Bashing America offends me, particularly when it's done by Canadians who should know better. I give Russians the benefit of the doubt because of their history and geographical/cultural distance from America, but Canadians should not be so smug. When I return home I will always remain a defender of what I consider one of the greatest, most important, friendliest and most beautiful countries in the world. The United States of America.
Hopefully one day they'll listen to Canada about how to brew better beer.