more questions about who we are
the subject of that evening came up again in conversation over the weekend while i was attending the MTOC soccer tournament, and exercising my pride for one of the tournament participants, which was also very, very good. the observation offered by one of the members of the conversation was that americans seem far more comfortable in celebration of athletic achievement than they are academic. everyone agreed--there's no question about it.
so what does that say about us?
in japan, for example, (chosen because it's a favorite culture of both the afore-referenced progeny, and because they also presume to build automobiles there), if i am to believe what i'm told, the greatest celebrations of childhood and adolescence are reserved for excellence in academics. if current trends in academic achievement are to be compared, it would seem to make perfect sense as to why general motors, and not toyota, is crawling through the shame and surrender of bankruptcy these days. (yes, anecdotal, but it's a pretty sobering anecdote).
this all rang a bell with me earlier today while discussing proper pronunciation of foreign words, and whether or not being correct according to the people to whom the words originally belong was to be construed as pretentious. observing how little we celebrate our children's academic achievements, it makes perfect sense to me as to why americans so easily construe such accuracy as pretentious. after all, we're the ones who award far greater congratulations to those who kick small balls through rectangular frames than to those who might eventually be able to figure out how to build them. (and we're not even talking about phenomena like the little league world series here, just a little local soccer tournament).
i grew up in the land of dropped R's and broadly nasal vowels. i know exactly what a tonic is, and why it's as properly pronounced as "twawn-ic" as it is any other way. i also happen to go to the beach in "glosster", as opposed to "glosstah", but each of us here all know that there's no such place as "gloww-chester" either way, and that's a very simple truth. it's not pretentious--it's just where we live. but when we travel abroad, that's where it often starts to unravel.
first of all, i'm willing to bet that 95% of all glosster and glosstah beachgoers couldn't find honduras on an unlabeled map even if they were spotted the proper hemisphere. but it would seem to me to be very consistent with the attitude of most sports-eager and academics-bored american beachgoers, that anyone not pronouncing it as "hawn-dur-as", as they do, is somehow expressing some sort of pretention, and is as equally worthy of ridicule as those poor out-of-towners still asking directions to glowwchester. (not like us? then YOU must be wrong...)
barack obama ("bah-ROCK", not "BEAR-ick") chose to show respect to the honduran people by choosing "own-DU-ras" the other day. i guess i'm in the minority here, but that seemed pretty fair to me, and i was proud that he spoke of it as he did. (not necessarily proud of the policies, mind you, but i'm just sayin'). as far as i'm concerned, it's a big step up from having to endure my chief executive butchering fairly straightforward american english terms like "nuclear". (yeah, it's pretentious of me, but i'm a big fan of "new-clee-ar" as opposed to "newk-yoo-ler" when discussing the topic with other world leaders).
which is all to admit that lots of people are going to regard this entire rant as my being pretentious, and, i suppose, in relative terms, they're not necessarily wrong.