Saturday, August 28, 2004

A Little Personal Growth?

I can't really say "growth" but I'm still trying to read regularly and we're tossing in an interesting movie here and there. Over Jeff's visit, we saw "Raise the Red Lantern" and I read The Ugly American (Lederer).

"Raise the Red Lantern" we'll toss in with "Osama" as far as a story of hope and encouragement. I don't want to give the plot away because I enjoy movies without having much of a clue about them, but there are no happy moments from the first scene to the last. I do recommend it though. Like "Osama" it gives a glimpse into a world few Americans can understand, though instead of Afghanistan under the Taliban, it is about a Chinese "family."
Perusing the Seafront library, I came across Lederer's The Ugly American. While I was reading Summer Sisters (Bloom), Ian read it on the shuttle and found it extremely interesting. I finished it this week and also found it compelling. It takes a look at foreign service and the State Department but is written as a novel.
I'd like to purchase my own 1958 First Printing (it was that good) and am still looking for one. Yes, I know they are available on and used books at but for some reason I'm shying away from buying an older copy I can't see first. While searching for the novel, we came across a movie of the same title, though it looks like it pulls one character from the book. For now it will go on our netflix list.
While the book layed around the house, Katherine saw the cover and asked what the title meant. It opened up a discussion on the various definitions of "ugly" and what the phrase "ugly American" means specifically. It's a huge concept and one I don't think she fully grasps yet. How do we effectively get across to her that outside of the United States, Americans are viewed as loud, pushy, selfish and egocentric? That our open-mouthed and brash laughter, our swinging arms and loud speech don't paint us self-assured and competent but as over-bearing and ignorant of foreign customs? That our desire for everyone to speak English puts us at a disadvantage and learning the local language would show our hosts a true interest in their culture?
The door has been opened for further discussions. We also have the opportunity to actively watch how we behave and see if we are continuing the "ugly American" stereotype or if we give our host countries a better impression of Americans. Those who are willing to understand other cultures. It all boils down self-awareness and a respect for others.
Wish us luck. I get the feeling this will be a lifelong endeavor and not just for Katherine either. It's a family affair and one we should all aspire to when we step off our home soil.

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