I'm not always proud to be American. Sometimes it feels like there isn't so much to be proud of. I get uncomfortable when I get asked about my country, especially things I can't explain, like the war in the Middle East or our health care or immigration systems. I found myself apologizing profusely to my new Argentinian friends the other day, for example, over the frankly stupid and expensive hoops they would have to jump through just to come to the US as tourists. (This was after I identified myself as being from "America" and was informed with some prickliness that they were too, just South America.) The US often comes across as uptight, overzealous, arrogant, blind to logic, and tonedeaf to the sensibilities of the rest of the world, none of which are qualities I want to be associated with.
There are many things, though, that I love about being American. I love American openness and friendliness; I love our generally easygoing attitude and our inclination to laugh and our curiosity. That brings me to what got me on this topic in the first place--I was at the National Museum of Science today, and there was a large part of it dedicated to space research. There in the middle of the room was a life-size model of the lunar module that brought the first humans to the moon, and plastered across the side of it was an American flag. I got to feel a surge of genuine pride in being a citizen of a country that pulled off something so spectacularly, outrageously wonderful. Men on the moon! And now, even though the info desk lady had no idea what I meant when I asked about it, Curiosity is trundling around on Mars, blasting away at rocks with lasers and generally doing awesome sciencey things. That is simply fantastic, the result of hard work and dedication and imagination and ambition and genius and all the best parts of what has ever made America a great country. It's a great thing to remember, especially when wading through the mire of half-truths and meaningless platitudes cooed by our two presidential candidates.
Mostly, however, in America with other Americans, how one feels about being American is like how one feels about being right-handed: the majority of people are the same, so it's a nonissue until you meet someone who isn't. National identity doesn't mean anything unless there's another group to contrast with. I've had the chance to think about it quite a bit, however, because I've worked for the past year with non-Americans, and the cultural differences are thereby thrown in sharp relief. Returning now to the UK, the sensibilities, habits, and norms that I've internalized from growing up in the States are once again out of place. Not wrong, per se, or bad, just not the norm here. I'm sudden sharply aware again of how American I am--the good and the bad that comes with that.
Seeing the amazing things that Americans have made and done in the museum today brought home a lot of that good. There were brilliant things there, made by all kinds of people from so many places, and it was inspiring to see the progress we've made. There are altogether many worse ways to spend a dreary Sunday afternoon.