Thursday, May 24, 2007

American White Boy Minstrel Show

We had esteemed colleagues from Ireland visiting this week, and a veep had the idea to take them all for drinks at Bloomington's 'Irish Lion', the local approximation of an Irish pub, complete with menu items like 'Blarney Puffballs', 'Leprechaun Wings', and (they really loved this one) 'Offaly Salmon' (Offaly is landlocked, and has no major rivers). This was after he took them to the local steakhouse, 'Janko's Little Zagreb', where John Mellencamp occasionally eats. I've never eaten there, not in my 13 years of living in or near Bloomington, and since I wasn't invited for that bit, the streak continues.

The veep in question is much loved by the people at the European subsidiaries. He's in several photos on the walls at the facility in Limerick, and people have stories to tell about hanging out with him. A prevailing theory to explain this popularity is that he plays into those cherished American stereotypes with his full-on Hoosier accent with vulgarian tendencies, and his impressive gun collection (a favorite cherished memory for some of our European counterparts is going shooting with him. I did my part to reinforce the American gun-nut stereotype by lighting up and saying 'yeah, going shooting, that's a real American thing to do!' when I heard a story about a shooting outing). So he can get away with anything. I can hardly wait for the Australians to visit, we can all go for Bloomin' Onions at the Outback Steakhouse and maybe watch 'Crocodile Dundee' in his home theater (or, if he's really wanting to push the envelope, maybe 'Kangaroo Jack').

There is something to be said for playing into and reinforcing stereotypes as a way to get people to let their guard down and feel more at ease (but mostly, superior) around you. Actually a couple things can be said: that there's something artificial about it, that it's a lazy way to establish a superficial and weak rapport, that it's, in a word: pathetic. As Colonel Jay Garner, who was the interim president in Iraq for 3 weeks once said: we should all look in the mirror and say 'Damn, we're Americans!' But not while the superior programmers trained at the Indian Institute of technology are around, because they'd put that shit on YouTube, and suddenly a billion people are laughing at your sorry Yankee ass.

Of course, I could be totally wrong, and it could all be genuine. I have a Hoosier accent and vulgarian tendencies. I like to shoot guns when the opportunity comes up. I have been failing to appreciate classical music for almost 40 years now.

Tony Soprano reminded us all recently that ''remember when' is the lowest form of conversation'. The exception to this is when meeting with people from foreign lands. Then 'do you have XBox in Ireland?' is the lowest form of conversation. Sadly, the conversation never really rose above that level, but the Irish folks had a good sense of humor about the whole thing, and actually at one point a couple of them started singing some traditional Irish songs because the music ('that shit they play in tourist places') was getting on their nerves. Much beer was consumed, but nobody spilled the beans about the inner workings of either place, we were all too professional for that (in my case the need to drive home limited the beer consumption, and I refrained from telling too many tales as a result). They will return home to tell their friends about the silly place with the Leprechaun Wings and wonder at how much cheese Americans put in their food.

No comments: