MAD DOG: Why Americans Get a Bad Rap
People in other countries have a bad attitude when it comes to Americans. For some reason we're pegged as ill-informed, loud, boorish, demanding, and arrogant. Right, like we don't have a good reason to be. Let's not forget who it was that came up with the light bulb, the transistor, the computer chip, and the Talking Nanny Doll, a 12"-tall Barbie replacement that comes with two outfits, a hairbrush, and spouts three Fran Drescherisms in the most obnoxious, whiny voice this side of Flatbush Brooklyn.Let's face it, we have a lot to be proud of. We're America, after all. We've been around for 221 years, which while not as long as Greece or Rome -- where they were proudly wearing dresses, I mean, togas, since a few years before the Earth was formed -- is still better than many African countries, which are preparing to celebrate their 2nd anniversary this year. If they last that long.All kidding aside, the thing we're proudest about is that we're a democracy. True, there's a contingency of Republicans who are trying to change that since they claim it prejudices people to vote for the other party, but they're just being sore losers since they're stuck with Dan Quayle, Newt Gingrich, and Jesse Helms and no one will take them off their hands.But for a nation that thinks it has the best governing system in the world, we sure don't seem to care much about it. So far in the '90s an average of 44.1 percent of the population who is of voting age has bothered casting a ballot in national legislative elections. There are many possible reasons for this. It might be because the candidates are the lamest bunch of chowderheads to come down the pike in years. It could be because the elitist and corrupt political system which favors wealthy candidates has disenfranchised voters across a wide cross-section of socio-political strata. The truth is, though, most of them just forgot.Contrast this with other countries. In Malta 96 percent of the voters turned out. In Sweden 83 percent did. As a matter of fact, out of 163 countries surveyed by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (motto: "The only organization in existence without an acronym."), the United States ranked 139th. Who ranked lower? Don't even ask, you never heard of any of them either.It may be a cultural difference. You know, like preferring different foods. After all, the English eat kidneys, the Scottish eat haggis, and the Swedish eat lutefisk, which may explain why so many of them use the election as an opportunity to get out of the house and pick up a hot dog on the sly. In Salerno, Italy there's an ice cream maker who churns out gelato flavored with salt cod, seafood risotto, pasta and beans, salmon, fennel, celery, and popcorn. For real. And people turn their noses up at good old American chitlins.Even McDonald's is different in other countries. Thanks to Pulp Fiction we all know about the Royale with Cheese, but that's just a fancy name for a Big Mac. While McDonald's varies their menu to suit different cultures, they've hit a new high in Bolivia. Literally. When they recently opened their first restaurant there, customers were pleasantly surprised to find the usual drink selection expanded to include tea made from coca leaves, which coincidentally are the same leaves used to make cocaine. I suspect if they were to release this New Coke over here it would catch on much better than the last one. Like it could do any worse.But none of this really explains why Americans are the way we are. I strongly suspect it's because we're tired and cranky. Studies show that we're a sleep-deprived nation, which authorities say can be blamed on our go-go attitude, our always striving to better our lives, our having to juggle family and work obligations, and the compelling personality of Conan O'Brien forcing us to stay up until all hours of the night.Maybe we should all take a vacation. Unfortunately we don't get enough of them. Besides the well-known vacation syndrome of working hard to clear things up before leaving, hustling through our vacation to make sure we have as much of a good time as possible, then returning to find our desks piled higher with work than ever, the truth is we don't get enough time off. In the United States the average employee gets 10 days of vacation in his or her first year on the job. In Switzerland they get twenty. In Finland they get twenty-five. And in Austria they get a whopping 30, but that's because they need the extra time off to try to forget that Kurt Waldheim was, uh, in the army in World War II.So what's the point here? That in spite of being sleep-deprived, having very little vacation time, not voting, and eating chitlins, we as Americans have a lot to be proud of. After all, while the French are rude, the Italians sex-crazed, the Mexicans lazy, and the Germans too loud and boisterous, we are all of those things rolled up in one. Kind of makes you warm and tingly, now doesn't it?