It’s Not All Greek

Americans are a funny lot. I haven’t been able to find official statistics, but a little quick research shows me that the reported range of Americans with passports is anywhere between 7% and 22%, and that high range includes some very generous assumptions. The lowest I’ve seen is 2%.

Being an international traveler and a lover of other cultures, it’s interesting figuring out how to coexist with Middle America sometimes.

Set aside the immigration issue with which so many make political hay – that’s a question for a different post, because I have a lot to say about that and frankly the coverage and attitudes tend to disgust me. The imbroglio in Arizona is ample illustration of the fact that there is still a strong nativist streak alive and well in the United States.

In a broader sense, I’m constantly fascinated by the general attitude toward other nationalities among my countrymen. I’ll grant you, I majored in International Affairs with a minor in Russian and East European Affairs, and have been to something like 21 countries in my life. Nevertheless, there seems to be very little interest outside the intellectual circles I run in regarding the things happening in areas of the world that don’t directly impact our daily life here.

I’ve always enjoyed The Economist as a news source, and BBC News, because I feel like they cover things happening all over the world regardless of whether it’s going to impact the price at the pump or our direct military commitments. News from obscure corners of Africa matter; you hear about the goings-on in Tibet; prime minister elections in our neighbor to the north; scientific and literary developments in countries that aren’t on the UN Security Counsel.

Even in a minor sense, it’s interesting trying to figure out how much internationalism will fly in casual conversation. Do you pronounce words the way they are intended, or do you bow to the way things are bastardized into American English? You wouldn’t pronounce “Mexico” as Me-hee-co in most circles, although that is the name of that country. You wouldn’t call Japan “Nippon.” At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with pronouncing “quesadilla” with the “iya” sound for the Spanish double-L. Murkier are questions about words like agave (“ah-hav-eh”). On the one hand, you want to say words the way they’re meant to be said; on the other, you don’t want to come off as some pretentious globe-trotter who’s throwing in other people’s faces the fact that you’ve had the chance or inclincation to go places. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about hockey.

It’s not surprising that we can’t have a productive conversation about our place in the world, when we can’t even agree on what dialect to use to do so.

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2 Responses to It’s Not All Greek

  1. pithypants says:

    Can we agree that the Tour de France should not rhyme with “ants?”

    • popdialectic says:

      God, I hope so.

      I forgot to include the whole issue that sparked this post for me – I was on a conference call a couple of days ago and people were talking about data custodians. They were stumbling over names like “Julio” and “Chirac” (Really? You’ve been on this planet for the last several decades and can’t pronounce CHIRAC?). The thing that struck me was the general shrug at the ignorance of pronunciation, though, as if foreign words had been set out just to trip people up and they weren’t going to take the bait.

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