18 October 2007

270 tissues later...

I'm feeling pretty normal! Since last weekend I have gone through two boxes of tissues (one of the cheap kind and one of the luxurious lotion kind), three rolls of cough drops, and about thirty cups of herbal tea.

Beyond the fact that I'm healthy enough that I'm a soprano again, there's not much to report. Wednesday was the International Dinner, and I brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I had to leave pretty early thanks to the night bus schedule, so if anything exciting happened I missed it. This weekend will bring some sort of adventure, but I'm not sure what yet. I don't even have any new recipes. But, while I was studying at the laundromat I found three things in my notes that I had meant to blog about and hadn't, so here they are.
1) In France, Scooby Doo is spelled "Scoubidou." That cracked me up.
2) According to the subtitle expert, there are only a few types of audio-visual documents that don't get subtitled. Documentaries, news, and... "videos with minimal dialogue, where the image suffices." I liked her wording, and that cracked me up.
3) We were discussing the notions of "culture," "society," "nationality," "ethnicity," "community," and so on in Anthropology, and I jotted a note in the margin "US: ethnicity ≠ nationality, Europe: usually =." So I used some of my laundromat time to think about that more, and free-write a bit. This is what I came up with:

In Europe, and in fact in most of the world, there's rarely a big difference between ethnicity and nationality. One question covers the other. But in America, it doesn't. Anthropologically, the big concept that creates an ethnicity is the idea of a common origin, and America is far from having that, and may never gain it. The vast majority of Americans have a time line that goes something like this: "Jamestown and the Pilgrims, Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War, Louisiana Purchase, Civil War, Industrial Revolution, and then my family comes into the picture." For us, the "common origin" is the origin of many of our ideals, but it wasn't actually our ancestors, so we're detached. Americans have language, culture, traditions, and values from our American nationality, but there are strong remnants of culture, traditions, values, and often language from the ethnicity half of us. Just a part of our historical tie is from American history, since our political ideals were created in America, but it's hard to feel closer to some Puritans just reaching the New World or colonial white men writing a new constitution than to your blood-relatives who were half a world away at the time.
So where does "American" fit? It's a nationality, yes, because it can be on a passport. A society, since we share and validate sovereignty. But without an origin that we all share, without a deeply personal tie uniting us immigrants from all over the world, "American" isn't an ethnicity. And until it becomes one, our society can't be as united or have as much power as it should.

I promise I'll have at least one adventure to describe this weekend, and it will include photos!


Kathleen said...

Coincidentally, I also jotted down some notes today. Mine were about "The American Character in American Fiction."

Rather than an ethnicity cemented by spices and rituals and visual motifs, Americans have cultivated a rather unique common heritage of self-reliance (Tom Sawyer), social fluidity and aspiration (Gatsby), individualism (The Lone Ranger), non-conformity, courageous rebellion, idealism, problem-solving on a grand scale (Paul Bunyan), steadfastness (frontier homesteaders), and discontent (something by Henry James).

Rather like the Israelites who identify their heritage with exodus (Abraham, Moses), Americans are not tied so much to a particular land as to a common ideal. That's the reason both for our economic and social mobility and for our restlessness.

At the same time, American culture, especially in films and music, amalgamates everybody else's culture, not to a melting pot but to a rather colorful toss salad.

Our problems are then rooted in the lack of social glue (present in European societies at their best) that provides shame in wrongdoing and accepts the need for self-sacrifice so as to preserve the heritage of the past and to safeguard future generations. Self-reliance and individualism devolve to selfishness, openness and tolerance devolve to relativism, and the desire to solve problems efficiently leads to quick fixes.

It's not accidental that we're still considered "the American experiment."

Jakob said...

Interesting ideas. However I can't help but think we are not the only country who has a disconnect between ethnicity and nationality. Definitely this is so in Europe, and Asia too I'd say, but what about... Canada? Or sub-Saharan Africa, where people are generally more likely to associate with their tribe than their country? Or even South America, where most of the people are a mixture of indigenous and European? Speaking of which, where the heck do multi-racial people fit in on this whole scheme?

That's what you get for making me think... :P

Kel Miller said...

Africa's an interesting situation, thanks to the colonies (we talk about it a lot in class, and the French feel pretty guilty about what their ancestors did). The colonists weren't discriminating when they set up borders-- a concept that had never really existed in Africa before. They cut tribes in half, set up borders between peaceful alliances and tried to force peace between peoples who'd been warring since the beginning of time. And the borders stuck after these "countries" were given their freedom, and made to have a government that wasn't part of their culture.
You're right, America isn't the only place that has a conflict between ethnicity and nationality. And I wonder, with humans becoming so migratory, will the whole world soon have that distinction?

Gifted and Talented Education said...

I'm interested - where does "race" fit into this? People frequently discuss "racial background" - is that different from ethnicity/nationality? And is race something that is discussed as readily in France?

I find it interesting that you're thinking about this right now because I am, too. My environmental attitudes and concepts class has been discussing the history of American attitudes toward to the environment. Roderick Nash wrote an interesting book called Wilderness and the American Mind, and it argues that when post-Revolutionary War Americans were trying to define their culture so as to "compete" with the prominent, well-established cultures found in Europe, the main characteristic they focused on (that generated "patriotism") was "wilderness." We have massive, ancient forests and freshwater lakes galore - natural areas like ours haven't existed in most of Europe for generations. SO. Here's the issue - if the major source of patriotism in Americans is supposed to be our distinct natural scapes and resources, where do immigrants fit into this story? Nash is HORRIBLY guilty of presenting a VERY one-sided, narrow-minded perspective, mostly focused around elite white males. Little did I know that women, Native Americans, immigrants, and the poor had so little impact on present attitudes toward the environment. Seriously. I'm waiting for the opportune time to discuss this in class. "Um...I don't believe any of this is true as presented. Can we start over?" Whoops...

:) Miss you!

P.S. I don't know why I'm being named "Gifted and Talented Education" but I can't change it and I find it hilarious.

Kel Miller said...

Dear Gifted and Talented Education (a.k.a. Kristen, obviously)
Did you ever have a blog named that? Or someone who logged in as such on your computer? Or do you have a new nickname that I don't know about?
Anyway, the question of "race" is really a non-question. In anthropology, race implies physical characteristics that distinguish people, and that's not very PC. "Ethnie," which is roughly like "ethnicity" is a safer way to go. So you don't talk about race. But in general, the French and Europeans are less likely to discuss or acknowledge ethnic cultural differences. Anthropologists will point out the deep-set ideas about authority and such that cause problems, but your average Jacques-Schmaques won't even consider it. All the problems in the suburbs are put down to "rebellious teenagers" rather than cultural and educational barriers that nothing's being done about. It's weird.

Gifted and Talented Education said...

The evolutionary biologist in me dislikes that response, because the differences in physical characteristics have come about due to geographic location, which is also how most culture develops, so the two should develop simultaneously and people should be less sensitive. Simplified enough?

It's unfortunate that they aren't looking at underlying causes there. My question, though, is:
Are people in France actually ignoring the underlying causes, or is it just socially unacceptable to discuss the issues in the media/in public? Because that would be the case in Ireland. They're not dumb, they just aren't willing to verbally admit to problems.