Cultural relativism; civilizational equivalentism; American unexceptionalism; call it what you will, the myth that all societies are created equal seems to be pandemic in the one country that’s more equal than others.
Despite its prima facie absurdity, this misconception takes hold at an early age among US students, as a new NEF report, released yesterday, is the latest to confirm. Here’s what the lesser outlets are saying about yesterday’s announcement.
In Europe there’s an entire tradition of jokes predicated on the American tourist who operates (loudly) under the assumption that other societies enjoy the same freedoms and standard of living as “back home,” only to find out the hard way that the local culture is retrograde in some way.
A film poking fun at the phenomenon—named If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be A Vibrant Technology Hub With High Female Literacy—was the runaway hit of 2012 in a particularly backward sliver of Europe known as the Basque area.
(As trivia-lovers and Scrabble champs will attest, Basque isn’t a word we just made up. The region is very real; its eponymous inhabitants have been dubbed the Kurds of Europe, but tend to object to the comparison to Mid-eastern, and therefore even worse-off, people.)
The filmmakers stuck to English throughout production—not just for obvious reasons, but also to avoid prison. In much of the Basque-speaking world it’s against the law to speak Basque.
Our reputation for cultural naivete precedes us almost as far East as it’s possible to go in the Far East.
“You Americans are all the same. ‘Back home nobody tells us what kind of sugar to put in our coffee. Back home we get to choose what to call our dogs, who to vote for, what to think. Back home they don’t arrest people for this. Back home we get to make one last phone call, oh god for the love of humanity please, wah wah wah,’” mocks Kim, 33, who works as a Supreme Leader, just like his father and grandfather before him.
Basketball is Kim’s real passion, but under intense pressure to carry on the family profession he resigned himself to studying Economics at Yale.
College overseas was an eye-opener for the sheltered princeling, who was shocked to find that real Americans were nowhere near as cross-culturally sophisticated as their one-dimensional portrayal back home led him to expect.