“No one can make you feel inferior without your own consent”

Ah, Eleanor Roosevelt. The title of this post is a quote often attributed to her and it’s one of my favorite quotes.

If you read some of the more popular language learning blogs, you probably have seen the latest post by a certain European language-learner (to be precise, he’s Irish) castigating the United States of America. Here’s the thing: I am all for constructive criticism, but it bothers me that it is fashionable to criticize the United States and not other countries. Sure, the US is not perfect, but trust me, there are much, much worse places to live, and every country has its own problems, to an extent.

Why can’t we (and by we, I mean people of all nationalities) focus more on the positives encountered when traveling, instead of the negatives? I could write a blog post about the things I hate about Russia and Ukraine, but I much prefer to focus on all the lovely buildings and cities I have seen and all the wonderful people I met who encouraged me back when I spoke very poor Russian. I adored my time in Russia and Ukraine and I simply cannot wait to go back, despite some of the annoyances I encountered.

Likewise, I could write quite a few posts on things I hated in England, but what purpose would that serve? I could tell you about how some of my fellow classmates looked down on me for not being British and for choosing not to go out binge drinking every night of the week. I could rant about that time I was on the Tube in London at rush hour and I barely made it on the train because people kept shoving so rudely. I could mention the people who said nasty things about the United States when they found out I am American. Instead, I choose to remember and focus on my close friend J., who was (and is) always as dedicated to her academics as I am and who offered invaluable support during my year abroad, and G., a lovely Welsh girl who used to cheer me up every time I saw her. Being in London at rush hour was a very fun and invaluable experience, as I have never lived in a city so big or properly experienced rush hour. And for every British person who said something nasty about the United States, there was another who was genuinely interested in what it is like to live here. My friend C. once confessed to me that she desperately wants to come to the US because “America’s so cool.” My friend L. has never been here either and loved peppering me with questions (that I was happy to answer, of course) about life here, such as whether all of us own guns, if we have to show our passports to cross state lines, and what the healthcare system is like.

I do not understand writing an epic rant about why you hate a country so much. If you truly loathe it and have such a bad time visiting, here’s a novel idea: don’t travel to the offending country. It’s really that simple.

The most galling thing of all about the epic rant that inspired this post is one of the author’s criticisms of the United States is that we smile too much. First off, who is to say that smiling a lot or not smiling at all (a cultural practice) is wrong? I do smile a lot, but that is because I am happy. I smile while walking to class because I’m usually going to Russian, and that makes me happy. I smile in Russian because I love learning grammar and new phrases. I smile in my history class because my professor loves his speciality as much as I love mine and his enthusiasm is contagious. I smile in my seminar class because I love it. (But to be honest, I don’t always smile in psychology. My psych professor talks really, really fast and I’m usually worrying that I am not getting everything down.)

Secondly, I think it’s really rich to criticize a whole nation for smiling too much when you’re a person grinning like a maniac in almost every single photo on your website. Seems more than a bit hypocritical, does it not?

If you have no idea what blog inspired this little rant, and you’re very curious, let me know in the comments. As loath as I am to link to said individual, I’ll probably break down and tell you.


5 thoughts on ““No one can make you feel inferior without your own consent”

  1. Well said! I’ve always said that the reason I got into languages and communications myself was to foster better exchanges. You will never have a good exchange if you list all of the things you hate about someone else’s home.

    (As an aside, I found your blog through your guest post on Intralingo– beautiful translation of The White Guard intro! Maybe you haven’t been published, but you could and should be.)


    1. Carolyn, thanks so much for your comment! Especially your kind words about my translation of The White Guard. 🙂 It means a lot to me.


  2. That is one of the criticisms of the US I absolutely cannot stand. If your culture dictates that polite smiling is not to be tolerated, fine, don’t smile. But Americans are not like that. Get over it and stay home.


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