Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Origins of our Culture - Part 1

American culture bothers me.  Or, because it's important to be specific, suburban white upper middle class American culture bothers me. 

I went to first and second grade in San Diego public schools.  Then I was homeschooled, and then brought to Italy as a Navy brat.  The next time I was in a domestic American school was 7th grade.  But that was deep in the Pennsylvanian Poconos, which, arguably, isn't real American culture.  Appalachia is its own culture all unto itself.

In 8th grade, my parents were in a better spot financially, so they enrolled me in a swanky private school in rural Virginia.  By that time, I had spent 6 years almost entirely removed from any real exposure to what it meant to be a suburban upper middle class white kid. 

Apparently, it has a lot to do with smoking pot in your friend's parents' BMW.

But that's besides the point.  Becoming exposed to American culture as a 13 year old is like that first time you get to drink alcohol - you're so excited about the idea of drinking, but when you finally get to know what gin or whiskey or vodka actually tastes like, you're like...um...this is stupid, how can anybody drink this stuff?  But then, after you have a couple shots, you start to feel much better about the whole situation, and somehow, football starts to make sense.

I never got past the first couple shots.  Football still seems to be incredibly stupid. Same goes for all sports, really.  Barbecued pulled pork.  Disneyland.  Turkey Trots.  Chuck E. Cheese.  The electric slide.  Apple pie.  White kids playing gangster rap.  Jimmy Buffet and Fat middle aged men in Hawaiian shirts.  And while we're on songs typically played by dirty dueling pianos after midnight on Caribbean cruises, that song "The Piano Man". 

It all just tastes like rubbing alcohol, burning the entire way down.  But I think it's mostly because white suburban culture (not unlike most other American sub-cultures) is born out of consumerism and gluttony, and unless you've been born and raised in this culture, you don't really get a chance to see just how well American schools teach their marketing majors. 

So as you could imagine, I struggled to make friends in high school and college, tending to avoid the overwhelming sea of guys trying to out-BBQ or out-Football each other while blasting either "Cheeseburger in Paradise" or "Gangster's Paradise" over the radio.

This is why, I think, I became so attracted to Russian culture - it seemed a lot less threatening.  When introduced to things, I was SUPPOSED to not know anything about them.  I enjoyed so much how we could sit around the dinner table on a Tuesday night until eleven BS-ing and having tea without ever retiring to the living room to plop down on the couch and waste away the night reluctantly watching Survivor.  Or on the weekends, we would march down the streets of Washington D.C., Philly or State College, or any place that could serve as a backdrop for walking hand in hand mulling over our wants and dreams, our future and our past, as walking aimlessly isn't a huge part of American culture. Or how we could go to the Russian Sauna and spend eight hours drinking and laughing with our half naked friends where nobody cares what you look like in a bathing suit.  Or how we might start eating New Year's dinner at 11:30pm and won't finish until six or seven in the morning surrounded by the closest friends and family playing guitar and singing and dancing around like idiots, thanking the past year for all its great moments, and asking the new year to bring on nothing but happiness. 

A lot of this might be because I was unlucky with my own family - my father was too focused on his career and never around to show me how fun watching football with the guys or going to Chuck E. Cheese's could be - and very lucky in finding a woman with such a great and rich culture.  But I also think a lot of it also has to do with the fact that American culture, at its very foundation, is mostly concerned with getting you to buy something you don't want, and until ten minutes ago, you've probably never heard of. 

And this has gotten me thinking a lot about my own origins - largely Irish and Scottish, with a good helping of German lumped in there - and how almost entirely absent those cultural traditions were from my childhood.  Something I'll save for another time


  1. It really is amazing how different American culture is, compared to everything else . . . the pressure to "be what everyone else is" and "know what everyone else knows" and "look like everyone else looks like" seems unique to us, yet is pervasive.

    And you're very right - the Appalachians do not promote American culture. What you want to call that . . . I don't know, but it's different.

  2. I think that being a Navy brat skews your view of things a bit. It's something like being a "cop's kid" with a strong military family influence. When the late 60's and 70's arrived, I wasn't out protesting the Vietnam War. I was writing letters to guys I knew in the Marines, the Army and the Navy who were involved in the war effort. Civil disobedience has never appealed to me. My husband is retired Air Force and was part of an Intel Squadron during the last 10 years of his career. He retired as a Master Sgt. so he was obviously enlisted, rather than being an officer.

    Alex is Navajo and Native Americans are very inclined to go into the Military. Probably, this has to do with patriotism and with fewer opportunities in career choices for the Native population. He went to school at night and graduated from college with a degree in Computer Science. His military background and education have made him very successful in the Defense field and Intelligence Community.

    I am a Mexican woman, but I probably should say "counterfeit Mexican" because I don't speak Spanish.

    We live in an upscale area and have 3 BMW's, but we don't smoke dope or drink to excess. Our happy stuff is our grandchildren, and our 3 big dogs. Alex has talked about moving to the Navajo Rez when he retires and getting a double-wide. He would like to teach at the college there. Sounds like a plan to me!


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