A Little Pride Isn’t So Bad

Passing through Johannesburg enroute to Cape Town for vacation, we stopped for arosetta stone english quick breakfast where my wife was given a grammar lesson by a 19 year old South African waiter. “It’s not ‘cream’ we put in tea, it’s ‘milk’. Cream comes from a can and is what ‘we’ put on top of hot chocolate. And that napkin you asked for, it’s a servette; I’m too embarrassed to tell you what a napkin is”. “Just simple English for your stay here in South Africa”, as Benjamin said with a big, infectious smile.

This exchange led to a longer one about South Africa in general where he was more than willing banter and crow about his homeland. How refreshing; a young man so proud of his country that he would sell it to anyone that would listen. Upon finding out that we had arrived from New York City, he smiled and announced, “Ah, Obama-land, aren’t you proud”? Yeah, right, I guess so > schooled again by the teenager.

His sense of national pride made me reflect on my country and the American esprit d’ corps that we tend to want to cower from until confident we’re in good company. To hear some tell the story, we should be embarrassed to drape ourselves in the same flag that so many foreigners still admire. Regrettably, even some Americans find this exercise in self loathing somewhat vogue. What happened to the bravado we once carried to every Olympic event? What happened to the red, white, and blue cheerleaders that would talk of their country the way our new, young South African friend did about his? Is national pride so bad?

Over the next several days I began to observe the way South Africans went about their lives. They seemed to take genuine pride in what they did, no matter how menial the task as if how they performed reflected directly on their nationality. And if it was found out that we were Americans, their desire to engage somehow became more important.

The rest of the world discovered what a beautiful country and wonderful culture South Africa is when they hosted the World Cup this past summer. The natives from this beautiful country realized that who they are and what they have can compete with anything the rest of the world has to offer.

I remember when most Americans felt this way. Where did it go wrong in terms of our nationalistic self esteem? Some would point to our racial issues, or elusive gains in our war on poverty; maybe it’s our politics, our military power, past sins against humanity, or the current economic freefall.

I’ll go out on a limb and say we have a slightly bigger problem that encompasses our very culture which carries with it an aversion to acclimating anyone into the American way inside our melting pot.

“…Y’all come on in and just do what you do, and don’t worry about our language, history, societal rules of conduct, or interaction with those that have been here for a while. We’ll adjust for you.”

What a contrast to receiving Benjamin’s impromptu and congenial language lesson at the airport on speaking “simple English” in a new country.

In being so concerned about being everything and providing everything for everyone that arrives here have we lost our own sense of US identity? The American culture of the new millennium is trending toward becoming a mish mash of everyone else’s by default and we have no one to blame but us.

A good start toward restoring some sense of pride in our own country would be to cease with the never ending apologies our leaders feel compelled to make to anyone they judge we may have offended in years past.

Secondly, stop making excuses for our strength, power, and position in the world. No one gave it to us, we earned it and despite what our detractors would insist, we don’t make a habit of abusing it.

Thirdly, our ideals of liberty and freedom are foundational to being a nation where human exceptionalism can be cultivated and success is within reach from any level of society. Making the most of this opportunity comes from first learning the English language and assimilating key elements of our culture ….. and it starts at our ports of entry by Americans …. at say, airport coffee shops.

Finally, we need to stop shrinking behind our vulnerabilities and begin extolling our virtues, of which we have many. Sure, we have our social issues and make our share of mistakes on many fronts. Our finances are a mess, our military gets themselves spread too thin, our own government is strangling the life out us, and when we go on vacation we’re too loud and tip too much in restaurants.

But we are who we are, Americans.

I, for one, will take a lesson from young Benjamin that he didn’t even know he gave. Benjamin prompted me to recalibrate my own perspective and remember that my own country is still pretty great and worth bragging about.

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