When most people in Sweden ask where I am studying from, I respond by telling them that I am from California. Never do I state that I am from the U.S., and rarely do I say the words “I am American”.
This might come off in a way that implies that I do not like the rest of the United States, aside from California. And at times I even believed that these were my intentions, as international media and media at home focused in on the dumbfounding things proposed by certain presidential candidates (#SendTrumptoAntarctica2016), or the ongoing policies that I fail to agree with. But as I continue to live outside of the United States and gain exposure to external opinions of our country, I realize that I do not, in any way, feel shame in the presence of our nation.
I am proud to be American. And what being American means to me is, essentially, what it means to be Californian.
So when someone says, for example, “I would not want to go to America.” Well, for me that means, “I would not want to go to California.” And in that case, I take you as an idiot.
Why? Because California is amazing. And I would not trade any aspect of it for all of the pros of living in Sweden, Denmark, or any other country I have visited.
The United States is a vast, diverse, and contrasted place. To define it in any generalized or singular way begins to construct your opinion from a foundation that I cannot take seriously.
States are different, some so drastically different that a parallel could even be drawn to the differences between two countries.
The Hawaiian Islands and Oregon are two completely different environments. Louisiana and California are two completely different worlds.
So to attempt to compare the 50-state nation to any, say, European country is, in of itself, a ridiculous and unreasonable ploy.
And let me take a step back here. I do not mean to say that the popular or outside opinions of American policy are falsified by the size of the nation. I disagree with many of the policies that are put in place, many of the irrational fears felt by the American nation, and many of the general systems that the majority of Americans work, educate, and invest by.
However, living in America does not equate to knowing American policy.
In fact, I can guarantee you that a majority of people living in the United States know relatively little about the policies of our country. And by experience, many foreigners (and many of the Swedes I have met) know far more than the average American.
Which is funny, and quite ironic, but also proves my point. Swedes don’t know more about what it is like to live in the United States because they know more about American policy. Those actually living in the United States know more, because policy and the relay of international media often depicts RELATIVELY NOTHING about living in America.
And to be honest, it took me a while to realize this. There were points where I thought I would never want to live in the U.S. permanently again. Points where I thought, if given the opportunity, I would denounce the entire country for many of the ridiculous political actions taken that I wholeheartedly disagree with.
And even before arriving to Sweden, I attempted to generalize the Scandinavian country based off of singular ideas. That this country was in every way happier than the rest, based off of popular psychological research. That this country was “greener” than the rest, based off of carbon footprint measures (which turn out to be less relevant than I thought). Or that this country was more progressive than the rest, based off of equality measures and more open, liberal policies.
And in some senses the ideas do fall into place, in that gender equality is far more progressed here than in many other countries around the world. And in the sense that a majority of Sweden’s policies align with my personal beliefs, especially pertaining to refugee asylum.
But drawing conclusions and making comparisons is simply an inaccurate thing to do. I would not, in any way, say that Sweden is happier than the rest of the world. Nor would I say that Sweden is better than the United States.
They are different, and there are things that I love about living in both places. And even then, these differences are not all or nothing.
I love that Swedish people avoid conflict, and prioritize good relations more than anything. I love that education is free (and to some extend paid for) at Swedish universities. I love that the majority of political agendas are carried out with other people in mind. I love that the seasons are defined, and fall, spring, and summer are all celebrated with joy.
I love that American people celebrate individual differences like no other country. I love that our nation hosts extraordinary amounts of innovation and opportunity for exploratory careers. I love that you can travel within the same country but experience completely different environments, and completely different people. I love that people regard each other with some sense of openness, and strangers smile to each other on the streets.
I love all of these things, but also understand that they do not define what it is like to live in each place. And so I do not accept the legitimacy of any comparisons made between the two countries. For Swedish people to judge the American country in comparison to their own, or vice versa, is, in my opinion, simply stupid.
Because there are things you could judge about any person or any place. And there are an infinite amount of comparisons to make between whatever you may think certain countries or certain peoples can be dumbed-down to. But none of these judgments will ever be accurate. And none of these comparisons will ever be true.
Because no matter how convinced you may be about your idea of a certain place or person, the idea will never align with reality. Reality is complex, changing, and contradictory in itself. America can be defined by every positive idea, just as it can be defined by every negative idea.
So I guess, really, I’m just fed up with all of the often-demeaning conceptions people have about what it is like to live in America, the blatant ignorance about the diversity of the experiences of living in America, and the generalizing spotlight put on the American peoples.
There should be some guidelines for forming opinions about other countries.
- Don’t generalize what people are like from a given country based off of your (probably stereotypical) conceptions. Different kinds of people exist EVERYWHERE, and nationalities do not always define the personalities or beliefs that people hold.
- While you may have certain opinions about the politics of a given nation, you may know relatively nothing about that nation, its people, or its multiple places. Politics DO NOT always give good insight into what it is actually like to live within another country, and WILL NEVER give a well-rounded perspective on life within that country.
- You may disagree with the lifestyle of another place, or the policies of another country, but this gives you no right to hold judgement or illusions of superiority. It could be you living in that country, you holding those beliefs, or you leading those policies.
To explain number 3 more comprehensively: You are not special. You are not more intelligent or right-minded based off of your genetic complex or biological makeup than anyone else. If you had been born in America, you would be the receiving end of the exact stereotypes and generalizations you now think of.
I am a democrat, and disagree with many of the views of the republican party. However, if I had been born into a republican environment and had been raised more conservatively I might stand in support of everything I currently judge and denounce. We cannot say that we wouldn’t be different if we were born into different circumstances, because we truly do not know. And honestly, we probably would be different. That’s just the way the world works.
In the end, there is absolutely nothing that separates you from the people or ideas you disagree with. Other than the environments you were born in, the experiences you had, and the ideas you formed along the way; all influenced by circumstance.
So when it comes down to it, just be reasonable. Notice the differences and develop your philosophies, but without judgement.
I am fully aware of the many aspects that the United States could improve upon, and agree with many of the points made against our policies. However, I also recognize that it is my home. While I do plan on living outside of the United States for a great deal of my life, I could not imagine living anywhere else permanently (well, maybe Canada).
So I choose to celebrate the amazing aspects of what it is like to be an American, and what it is like to live in America. Because honestly, those define my experience as an American far more accurately than any of the opinions held by external media or the residents of another country.
Respect and consideration: That is all I ask for. And all I hope to give in return to others, the nations they identify with, and the cultures they thrive in.