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I received these interesting letters from a young Russian immigrant in America who wonders why he is "de-Americanizing" and asking great questions. Anyone want to provide some answers or input on his questions?
Love your website. Very informative and a breath of fresh air. I am Russian myself and your assessment of Americans and the American way of life is very accurate. Also, your understanding of the many negative aspects of the Russian character are also correct.
According to the most recent statistics, the US makes up 4% of the world's population but produces 75-80% of the world's serial killers. Why do you think this is? Do you think it can be traced to a certain defect in the American character? Perhaps their psychopathic tendencies?
I would appreciate your response.
Thank you for replying to my email.
It is sometimes difficult for me to articulate my thoughts into words regarding the way I feel about my situation. Usually, it's easier to explain it orally -- but here I'll try my best.
I've been living in the US since 1989, when I was six and a half years old - my mother decided to immigrate here. For me, it's been one downward spiral since. Deep down, I know that I am not American and will never be an American, although everyone to whom I tell this doesn't seem to register it in their minds. I don't feel ANY kind of affinity with America or Americans, and I find them vacuous, shallow, and painfully superficial. I cannot relate to them at all. The weird thing about it is, that ten years ago it didn't even cross my mind that I would someday feel completely alienated from this country. I felt pretty much assimilated and adjusted, not realizing my future predicament. Only now has this problem manifested itself to a degree where I can no longer hide it or ignore it -- it's not simply going to pass easily.
The other problem I have is my projection of US crimes (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) onto US Americans themselves, i.e., I identify the actions of the state with the people because, most often the population itself supports US terrorist aggression abroad wholeheartedly. This has made me even more resentful towards Americans, and out of this I don't have much respect for them either.
I also have some questions for you. Have you encountered the following in the American character?
1. Cowardice -- from experience I have not noticed that Americans, especially the men, tend to only act "tough" or "macho" when in groups or in a "gang" -- they seem to gang up on others and overflow with confidence when in a group, acting alone they rarely utter a word. Could this also be related to the fact that they attack ONLY countries which have absolutely no means of defending themselves?
Also, on the subject of cowardice, I have noticed that if an American, also especially an American male, who holds pretenses about being someone's "friend" - almost never stands up or speaks up for his fellow "friend" - he just has this blank, empty look on his face. Often, they will try to act innocent and ignorant, and always claim they don't know. In theRussian culture, most men will stand up or speak up for their friends, even if the friend happens to be just an acquaintance. I truly admire that in the Russian character -- the manliness and courage of the Russian.
2. Denial -- also from experience I have noticed that if someone points out the obvious in another person, that person will instantly deny or repress this fact, usually for fear of losing his or her job. Also, an exchange between an American and myself:
Me: What gives the US the right to militarily occupy Iraq?
American: We're not occupying Iraq.
This denial is very common, I think, in the American character. They will act inappropriately or in a juvenile, infantile manner and the very next day act like absolutely nothing occurred.
3. Political correctness to the point of benign totalitarianism. This one really takes the cake. From experience, working with Americans is sometimes like trying to swallow a dead rat. They are so politically correct about everything that it becomes tedious and painful to the soul. The society is so totalitarian in my opinion, that it probably borders on the insane. I have been reprimanded so many times on the job for saying things slightly one centimeter to the left or to the right (not in the political sense) of conventionality that I just have to bite my tongue and not say a damn word for fear of upsetting or angering them.
One example I can give you is from my job at a Marriott hotel.
I approached the manager at the front desk as I was ready to go on my lunch break and I asked her,
"I'm going to lunch now, do you need any help?" She replied, "No, I'm fine."
About twenty minutes later she approached me in total hysteria and scolded me for saying the word "lunch" at the front desk, because there was a customer in front of us!!! This is something that you might find only in an insane asylum.
I apologize for the length and breadth of this letter, but I think that if fully encapsulates my position regarding these freaks.
Thank you for answering my questions.
Yes, you may use my letter below on your website. No problem.
Also, another question -- why are so many Americans scared of each other? I live here in the Midwest, and the fear is just so palpable, even from a distance. Their favorite expression when they see anything happening is, "May I help you?" For example, I was parking my car in a rather urban part of the city, and some lady pulls down her car window and asks in a very alert voice, "May I help you?" Or, they like to ask, "Are you okay?" -- because they become paranoid of something that looks unusual or simply unconventional. The suburbs are the worst, where paranoia is almost a standard.
Or maybe I'm just intimidating, for some reason?
The total lack of genuine human interest amongst them is what really irks me. Being completely enveloped in a shell, like you write in your many observations, and always in a hurry to get rid of me. They have developed a whole array of phrases to get people out of their lives. The easiest way for them to perform this maneuver is just to tell you, "Alright, have a nice day" or "Oh, ok!" or "It was nice meeting you." The killer is "I have to let you go." The person cannot respond in any way but to just nod his head and just leave, otherwise, he is perceived as a stalker or harasser. Almost never have they ever asked me about my origins or the meaning or root of my name, Dimitri, which is quite uncommon in the West.
On the subject of freedom, which Russians regard in a completely different dimension, dissident author and speaker Ward Churchill perfectly conveys my emotions when he writes:
"As things stand, persons residing in the US are subject to a greater proliferation of rules effecting a far broader range of their day-to-day activities than any people in the world. To the degree that 'freedom' may, as it must, be socially defined as the latitude of personal autonomy retained by individuals--or, again to put it another way, by the relative absence of an overarching authority regulating/regimenting the minutiae of each person's daily existence--US citizens now enjoy the least freedom of any people. In the "land of the free" one is "free" to do exactly what one is told in virtually everything one does, every walking moment, -- and for the most part, every sleeping moment as well -- of every single day."
Russians have the concept of volya, which translates literally as "will". In essence, it is the absence of the "overarching authority" of political correctness which has developed to an advanced level in the US akin to a totalitarian society. And it applies not to only words and speech, but to simple human behaviors as well. It is difficult to breathe freely in the US, because the schmucks are like you wrote, bred to be conformists. Everything is packaged and programmed. In the previous letter I mentioned the incident with my manager when I used the word "lunch". Well, at the same hotel, she would tell me that I am not allowed to sit at certain tables in the breakfast area to eat my lunch. Talk about your freedom!!!
Also, one other question which I desperately seek an answer -- why did I 'de-Americanize' so to speak? In 1999, I felt rather at home. Yet since, year after year, up through today in 2009, I feel less and less American. Have you ever encountered this phenomenon where immigrants suddenly have an urge to return to their native lands after so many years here in the US? Do you think that you 'de-Americanized' in any way?
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"It takes far less effort to find and move to the society that has what you want than it does to try to reconstruct an existing society to match your standards." - Harry Browne, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World
Well, the thing is before it was not possible because the US was the richest country in the world hence American behavior was seen as something superior by immigrants, and you could build a lifestyle there that was superior to back home. Other countries were war stricken, dictatorial or poor. No more. The US is becoming a second rate country with a grim future while many other countries are developing and some are now better off than the US with even higher salaries. And it is not easy to go back because of yet another reason- those ol' countries do not want you now! Many make it hard to restore citizenship there. So, while mental de-Americanization is easy, asking the ol' countries to take you back is hard. Plus the people there see you as too foreign now. When you go there, people call you " an American" and 'a foreigner'.
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!
I'm an American who has never left the country--but desperately want to for the very same reasons that Dimitri explained. I'm afraid people in other countries will view me as too different.
Actually, there is one point that Dimitri brought up that I disagree with here in Wisconsin. People will stick up for others. However, it's usually the person who is a sociopath, and can hide it best from his buddies whose character is being stuck up for (in other words, has all the qualities that we all hate in other Americans). In fact, the more proven your social skills are, the more you will be derided for them. The person who defines the creepy group atmosphere that a particular group has will be considered golden.
I have learned to be wise- while in the US, I put on an American facade and blend in. One needs to learn to be a chameleon to avoid conflicts. I even grew facial hair in the Arab world and tried to blend in with them.
It is in the Philippines where I can just act normal and not "cool" and be accepted especially when I speak the local lingo.
In Latin America I can also be myself although that is the place where they often think I am gay and I do not know why. So even there I have to adjust my behavior, not dress too nice or act too intellectual or be too buddy buddy with guys- you cannot even hug in a photo for the fear of being labeled gay.
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!