Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Is Donald Trump an American on Steroids?

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, January 29 / 18

Zack Gross

When Donald Trump recently used his
s**thole countries” term to put down “other” countries, many of whom have been supported by US aid programs and have contributed to US immigration, there was a firestorm of outrage.  Many African, Middle Eastern and Latin American nations – as well as many Americans spoke out against his apparent racism.  His doctors were even brought in to say that he is in perfect cognitive health!

My wife once told me that as people enter their elder years, they may lose their inhibitions and say exactly what they are thinking or feeling, without using filters to avoid insulting those around them.  Maybe she was referring to me.  When I turned 50, apparently I began to show my grumpy side!  But definitely “the Donald” tells it like it is – at least as it seems to be in his own mind.

I wonder if he is just “an American on steroids.”  After all, our neighbours to the south tend to speak out, and act out, without considering others’ feelings.  And many of these neighbours hold themselves in high regard and consider the rest of us second class in comparison.  In my own experience dealing with American friends and relatives, I’ve heard Canada called a backwater and been personally criticized for our roads, Medicare, mosquitoes and cold weather.

Canadians think of themselves as self-effacing and polite.  This might explain why Americans often attach Canadian flags to their luggage or jackets so they will be welcomed in foreign lands.  However, we have all encountered loud and aggressive US citizens in tourist locations.  This is not always the case, but we certainly notice the exceptions.  On a recent trip, an American relative of mine was not happy with Italians – when he visited Italy.  Foreigners!

To alleviate some of the tense situations that might arise between Americans and other cultures, an internet web site recently listed a couple of dozen US customs that are considered offensive in other countries.  These included using the iconic “thumbs-up” gesture, which in some countries is actually considered to be giving the middle finger!

Laughing with your mouth open is another one and eating noisily with open mouth, too (yuck!).  If you are going to a private event like a party or dinner, says the web site to its American audience, check on the custom of when to arrive – some cultures expect you to be on time, but in others, on-time is much too early!  Using your left hand is a no-no in countries where it is considered your “toilet-hand.”  Tradition has it, even in the modern age, to set that hand aside for one important task.

Wearing certain clothes in public can also insult your hosts.  For example sweatpants, flip flops, baseball caps, or going shirtless – these are not for public show.  I would add pajamas to that, as I often see people shopping in their PJs at Walmart and 7-Eleven. 

Publicly blowing your nose may put some cultures off.  Touching can be a touchy subject.  Americans like to give a big, bone-crushing handshake, slap a person’s back or offer a warm hug – but some cultures value personal privacy and space.

Food can be an issue.  To refuse food you’ve been offered can insult your host who is proud of their local diet.  Americans may want to shy away from anything but basic “meat and potatoes” fare but may be missing out and harming relations. 

Finally, Americans’ opinion of themselves and their country can get them into trouble – as the richest, strongest country in the world, the home of liberty, the melting pot where everyone is (was) welcome, the leader of the Free World.

To some extent, Mr. Trump is expressing Americans’ feelings of superiority.  He is definitely not subtle.  One wonders how many Americans truly appreciate that some of the best music, literature, recipes and more actually don’t originate in the U.S.  Going beyond culture, do they (and do we) appreciate that other countries’ political institutions, educational systems and spiritual underpinnings may be superior to – or at least the equal of – our own?

“Make America Great Again” and “America First” are just slogans.  It would take volumes to sort out what these words really mean.  Interestingly, even calling the U.S. “America” insults some people!  Latin Americans don’t think that the U.S. should monopolize the word “America.”  After all, Latin Americans are Americans, too!

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s The Marquis Project and now co-ordinates outreach for Fair Trade Manitoba.

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