Saturday, April 19, 2014
A Casual Observation in Old San Juan
Contrary to the deluded views of many Americans filled to the brim with their own awesome awesomeness the rest of the world does not enjoy standing around waiting for the current, but probably soon to be replaced, rulers of the world to make up their tiny minds. I have been lucky enough to travel outside the United States several times, both as a civilian tourist and while wearing Uncle Sammy's army uniform, and I have seen some really unfortunate examples of how ugly Americans can be to their fellow human beings around the world.
Now the extreme end of this indifference is good old American unmanned drones that ply the skies of unfriendly countries firing off missiles at what seems to be any gathering larger that two people. Yes, I understand that there are some really evil people out there who in the immortal words of the fictional Alfred Pennyworth “...just want to see the world burn,” and those people need to be quickly dispatched for the good of all. The trouble with this logic is that telling the difference between a gathering of fanatical terrorists and a joyous and perfectly innocent wedding party is nearly impossible from several thousand feet up in the air. Such inconvenient and unfortunate attacks on simple wedding parties and other peaceful human functions tend create more of those types who want to do nothing but firebomb the world and everyone in it.
From my perspective it would seem wise to reduce the use of the stick and emphasize the carrot in an effort to build goodwill. But because of religious nutcases giving fanatical support to Israel, longtime support to Arab dictators because they were in bed with oil companies, and simpleminded fools who fear some Muslim boogeyman out to force their daughters into burkas, the relationship waters have been so muddied as to make that next to impossible. But hey, I'm just some Utopian fool who still clings to the strange idea that we should treat people the same way we would like to be treated.
For an example of American douchebaggery not on a geopolitical level but still enough to make people want to spray paint “Yankee go home!!!” on a wall I have to relate an event I saw while on my recent trip to Puerto Rico.
The tour group I was part of spent Thursday walking through Old San Juan. As I strolled down the narrow cobblestone streets and admired the colonial-style architecture I could almost imagine the long dead era when Spain was the alpha dog of nations and the British were still struggling for a foothold on North America. The connection was tenuous at best because evidence of our modern era was unavoidable. One of those examples of twenty-first century life was the deli the group leader brought us for lunch. Because the deli was in a colonial era building not built for large groups it was crowded to nearly overflowing with a bunch of tourists all immediately wanting their food. Had the better angels of human nature prevailed with customers being considerate and patient as the staff worked in their own small area to make the food the stress level would not have been as high.
However, as I stood in line to buy a couple of extra items there was an American woman in front of me having a very difficult time speaking with the young Puerto Rican girl behind the cash register. In the course of the seven to ten minutes I looked on as the American lady changed her elaborate order three separate times with the obviously new deli employee struggling to get everything right. Of course, the American woman was displaying a seriously arrogant attitude with her pulling the talking slowly and loudly gimmick as if the cashier was mentally challenged. Once the order was finally taken the American woman added insult to injury by changing her mind and deciding to pay with a credit card after having handed the cashier money. I guess because the cash register was already open the manager had to come over to cancel the sell and ring everything back up.
From my observations of the woman's attitude, it was clear to me that she seemed to believe that because Puerto Rico, while not a state, is part of the United States and therefore like all good Americans the people living there speak English. This ignores the fact that Puerto Rico comes from a completely different cultural and national heritage and that the island was originally a spoil of war taken in the late nineteenth century and was treated that way for years afterward.
All jokes aside the American's woman's attitude was totally uncalled for no matter where her childish behavior could have taken place. The young cashier was genuinely friendly at first and as the encounter continued to go downhill visibly shaken by the affair. After the manager cleared the canceled sell so the order could be done with a credit card he whispered something to the cashier who then walked off.
Americans have often clung to a mental idea of ourselves that we where the innocent and good natured guys on the world stage. That it was the nasty Europeans who through their usual games of imperial pursuit and ideas about racial superiority caused a majority of the problems in the world. Yeah, there is a seed of truth in that assumption in some respects but Americans are exceedingly quick to forget, or just plain ignorant of, our genocide of the Native Americans on this continent, the gleeful involvement in African slavery, and how we learned to play the imperial game in that latter half of the nineteenth century. Yeah folks, as much as we mentally sit secure in our own awesomeness, convinced we are some idealistic “city on a hill” there is plenty of innocent blood on our hands.