Everything you always wanted to know about the USA

For my own amusement, I decided to have a look through Culture Shock! USA, which purports to be a guide to the manners, customs and culture of the United States.
It didn’t take long before I was boiling over with rage. The author, Esther Wanning, claims to be American, but the entire book is written from the point of view of a Guardianista Eurosnot. Hardly a page goes by without some sort of casual leftist slur, pop psychobabble, or anti-American and anti-corporate whining. I present to you a selection of quotes from the paperback edition. Emphases, alas, are mine.

p13: “In 1782, a Frenchman, St John de Crevocoeur, noted that it was in going from a servant to a master that a man became American. Actually, many people through the years remained downtrodden, but there have been enough examples of upward mobility to keep the myth of equality alive.”
p17: “[I]ndependent as Americans like to consider themselves, in the area of work they are not. Most corporations operate in a dictatorial manner and are not expected to accomodate complexities in employee’s personal lives…Most people think employers have a right to make such demands; the employee after all retains the freedom to find another job.”
p18: “Businesses, also, resist regulation. It has taken a long time to convince the public that free enterprise does not mean that a company should be free to pollute the air, foul the rivers, and destroy the forests. Such problems, of course, are not unique to this society.”
p19: “The Puritans would not have smiled on the conspicuous consumption of today, but they would have admired the unrelenting effort that goes into the acquisition of goods. Americans have much greater admiration for businessmen than most other peoples do. An Englishman who has made enough money may well be happy to retire to his country home. The American only wants to go on making more money, driven as much by the Puritan work ethic…as by the desire for more money.”
p20: “Time is money, we say. Nothing is more American than the supermarket. Food is prepackaged, and shopping is impersonal, but the efficiency of the operation produces lower food prices and less shopping time. The food’s lack of taste has not created much customer resistance.
p21: “It does seem that Americans often lack the capacity to enjoy their achievements. We find more satisfaction in acquiring the trappings of the leisure life than leisure itself.
p21:”According to Alan Roland….in the United States ‘a militant individualism has been combined with enormous social mobility’, leaving very little group identity.
p24: “Expect also to find innumerable exceptions to any of my claims about Americans. Just as not every Japanese is hard-working and deferential to superiors, nor every Chinese devoted to family, not every American is ambitious, patriotic, money-grubbing or even unsophisticated.” (Ed: I love the “even”.)
p37: “Southerners were once considered to be more racist than Northerners, but this is no longer the case. Even if it were, their racism is unlikely to extend to Asians whose numbers are small in the South.”
p46:” Politeness also depends on where you are. New Yorkers have a far-reaching reputation for rudeness, although they can also be surprisingly helpful.
p51: “The person who never relaxes may turn to drugs for help–hence we may have some clue to the popularity in American life of alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and the ‘boob tube’ (television), which induces a drug-like lethargy and a dullness of mind almost as effectively as the real drugs.
p56: ” There is an unfortunate prejudice against fat people, which comes from the viewpoint that the fat person is a person lacking in self-control, rather than the victim of a metabolic problem. Foreigners in particular, surprised to see so much obesity, often suffer from this prejudice.” (Ed: the foreigners are the ones who “suffer” a “prejudice”? WTF?)
p72: “Many social analysts now think that television’s domination of the American home is a major contribution to social problems. Television rivals family and church as the dispenser of values. Repeated thousands of times a day in advertisements is the message that acquiring stuff is a worthy goal. It is a message that children easily succumb to, and the loonging of even young children for brand names is a product of television.”
p86: “The American dinner has fallen under medical disapproval due to its high cholesterol content. The meal typically consists of a large piece of meat, ketchup, vegetables with butter, potatoes (fried or with butter), and a sweet dessert.” (Ed: “Typical”? Not even close. I have yet to meet an American family for whom this is a “typical” meal, as in a dinner consumed the majority of days of the week. And needless to say, ketchup is not consumed at every meal.)
p89, regarding American diners/coffee shops:”A waitress will often offer coffee as soon as you sit down. In the hospitable western part of the country, she will refill your coffee cup as fast as you can empty it. On the East Coast… you will have to pay for your second and third cups of coffee.” (Ed: Patently false. New York diner waiters will also give you free refills, and in fact there is usually one waiter roving the tables whose sole job is to keep customers’ cups filled up. I have yet to experience an exception to this rule.)
p122: “[F]undamentalists are not usually highly educated…”
p126: ” Currently, our schools are a source of intense distress because many of our younger citizens, despite 13 continuous years’school attendance, are profoundly ignorant…One of my friends, the principal of an exclusive private school, discovered to his chagrin that not one of his 8th graders had any idea what the circumference of the world might be.” ( Ed: Anyone here know that off the top of their head? There are lots of things to be chagrined about regarding our schools, but that particular factoid is not one of them.)
p177: “The rich have often rechanneled their killing instincts and are satisfied to go out with their tennis rackets and golf clubs to expensive country clubs.”



  1. BAW

    Yeah, and check out the customer reviews on Amazon for more chuckles.
    Good Lord. I had no idea I was such a backward, poorly educated, money-grubbing rube. Thank you, Ms. Wanning, for opening my eyes!

  2. roy edroso

    Boy, she’s got our number, huh?
    I like especially the idea of rechanneling the killing instincts of the rich into golf and tennis. Comes the revolution, let us send the parasites to sports camp.

  3. Sam

    Actually, there’s a good number of Asians in the South. I’ve been through small Texas farming towns which one would think should be whites-only areas because of their rural nature, but they’re home to Mexicans and Asians too. Major metroplexes like Dallas-Ft.Worth and Houston have their own ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese areas. Small numbers of Asians in the South….what kind of crack is this person smoking? Have they even set foot in the South or did she get crib notes from “Deliverance”?
    Like I was saying to a friend last night, if it wasn’t for all the south Vietnamese fleeing here, I wouldn’t be eating as well as I do.

  4. Ken

    What especially got me going was “It does seem that Americans often lack the capacity to enjoy their achievements. We find more satisfaction in acquiring the trappings of the leisure life than leisure itself.” Just because this author is a money-hungry, materialist snobbist, doesn’t mean the people she is neighbors with are too.

  5. Mike

    Sounds like another wanna-be. She wants to be accepted by the cool kids in their ironic hipster, psuedo-intellectuallista, oh-so sophisticated euro-pose, so she mimics them and puts down all of the “losers” in the school. Its pathetic, though understandable, in an adolescent, but in a supposedly mature adult? How terribly needy and empty her life must be.
    Thank God only her fellow fashion-slaves are going to give a rat’s hiney about her little book.

  6. Dr. Weevil

    The circumference of the earth is around 25,000 miles, and no I didn’t have to look that up and am nevertheless confident that it’s correct within a few percent, i.e. more than 24,000 and less than 26,000.
    As for Asians in the South, there aren’t a lot outside of major metropolises such as Atlanta and Dallas. When I taught at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa (1990-97), less than 2% of my students were Asian, and just about every one of those was a professor’s kid. I had the impression that if it weren’t for the professors of various hard sciences, there wouldn’t have been more than 20 Asians in a town of (I think) 70,000 plus the surrounding county. Subtract the families who ran 2-3 Chinese restaurants in town, and the number would have been in single digits. Of course, that’s just an impression, and even if it’s correct things may have changed in the last 7 years.

  7. Scott Wickstein

    I know the feeling. Europeans have been saying things like that about Australia for 200 years. She is just selling to her market, telling Europeans what they want to hear.
    I’m blissfully ignorant of America and it’s people- the only Americans I’ve actually met are Sasha herself and James Morrow. Hopefully I will rectify this with a visit in 2006 and then I might form an opinion of my own.

  8. Sigivald

    Sam: I have often thought that the only good to come of Nixon’s shameful actions (ie, cutting and running when the North was essentially licked) in Vietnam was the flood of Vietnamese people to the US and their subsequent cooking.
    I’d still trade all that tasty Vietnamese food for a free South Vietnam, though.

  9. Dave Sheridan

    De Toqueville she ain’t. But I’ll bet she’s packing a few extra pounds, and has enough upper body strength for that giant chip on her shoulder. Doesn’t sound American though, at least not a native. Not much of a writer, either.