2L Dispatch: The Ugly American

I’ve noticed a trend developing in my classes here in Sydney (all of which have an international law focus). In the early parts of class, the Professor and/or another student will speak of the U.S. in less-than-flattering terms. It’s no surprise considering that in any discussion about WTO intellectual property requirements, the United States is the elephant in the room and it would be absurd to talk about international agreements without mentioning the driving force behind them. Nor am I shocked to discover that the rest of the world does not look as favorably on America as America looks on herself.

The most splenetic vitriol usually spews from other students, and not form the Professors. I picked my previous graduate degree up in Cape Town, and what I’ve been noticing is a continuation of the trend that began there. What’s interesting to me is to watch the reactions of the class after I make my first comment or ask my first question and my American accent alerts them that they have an Imperialist in their midst. I tend to be the lone American voice despite the high numbers of international students in my UNSW classes. The demographics skew more toward the Asian and European, with a lonely Canadian being the only refugee from North America. Sometimes I agree with a point and sometimes I disagree. Generally, the my contrarian streak prompts a rise in patriotism whenever I’m away from home, usually in an inverse relation that involves a complicated calculus factoring in time away from home, distance from America, number of pints consumed, and level of discourse (serious or just law students doing what law students do best- argue). Suffice it to say that I’m never more Pro-America than when I’m surrounded by classmates who are clearly anti-.

I tell them to hate the Game, not the Playa.

And it’s not like the realization that there is a U.S. citizen in the House slows down the haters. But usually after I make my nationality known people tend to glance at me as they are making their points. Perhaps they want to make sure that I’m not about to fly into a jingo-istic rage and demonstrate a Washington Consensus to  dropkick them or put a Toby Keith-ian “boot up their ass.”

I won’t, of course. But it’s amusing to see them glancing at me out of the corner of their eyes as they comment. This even applies to Professors. I’ve noticed a few sidelong glances from my International Contexts of IP Law prof as she discussed the strong hand of the U.S. Trade Representative.

I suppose that there is some expectation that I will react, if not with cartoon violence, than at least with a vigorous and spirited defense of my homeland. Sometimes I do. Sometimes, I agree with the criticism. I’ve never been a fan of knee-jerk reactions and my relationship with my country is a complicated one.

I get the feeling that this surprises some of my classmates. After a small group discussion about what it means to be [whatever Nationality you are], one woman told me that she thought it was strange that I listed negative aspects of the American character.  She didn’t list any for Australia. She said that wouldn’t be too wierd, because she knows that there are Americans who are critical of the government and culture. But she said she was taken aback by the fact that I also listed a number of positives. She would have been more comfortable with a binary state. I am an American who (circle one) Hates/Loves America! The fact that my feelings are more complex struck her as odd. When I asked why, she told me that her image of what an American is tends toward more rampant boosterism.

This is largely true. But it also largely untrue. We are large; we contain multitudes.

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