My Spanish tutor has a habit of frequently asking me if I miss New York City or the U.S.
Each time, my answer is the same: not really.
While I certainly miss bits and pieces of my former American life — my friends and family, the wide open sky of Texas, the wackiness of Astoria, Queens — overall I am quite happy in Mexico City. A lot of this has to do with one easy fact: It’s not America. Not only is Mexico City a fascinating place, it is almost 100 percent blessedly free of the stereotypical American. (Yes, we have tourists, but the American tourists who come here are quite different than the sort of tourists who visit Cancun).
Who is this stereotypical American that so bothers me? It’s the sort mentioned in this fantastic piece from The New York Times, “Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?”
“A popular video on YouTube shows Kellie Pickler, the adorable platinum blonde from “American Idol,” appearing on the Fox game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” during celebrity week. Selected from a third-grade geography curriculum, the $25,000 question asked: “Budapest is the capital of what European country?”
Ms. Pickler threw up both hands and looked at the large blackboard perplexed. “I thought Europe was a country,” she said. Playing it safe, she chose to copy the answer offered by one of the genuine fifth graders: Hungary. “Hungry?” she said, eyes widening in disbelief. “That’s a country? I’ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I’ve never heard of it.”
There is so much about this two-paragraph passage that reveals Dumb America: The obsession with a vapid show like American Idol (who is more vapid: the judges, the contestants or the audience?), the existence of a game show involving intelligence comparisons between adults and grade-school students (for the sake of my argument here, please ignore my previous post), and the inability of a semi-famous young American woman to recite basic geography facts.
It also reminded me of the last time I was back home in Corpus Christi, Texas, (pop: 280,000) during the Christmas holidays. I was getting my hair cut, and the hairstylist asked me where I lived. When I replied Mexico City, she blinked and innocently asked me “How many people live there? Is it about the same size as Corpus?”
It also reminded me of every time I read my hometown newspaper, The Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Readers can leave comments on the stories online, and the the comments always follow a pattern: First someone makes a joke, then someone else makes a joke, someone posts something inflammatory, and then someone else gets offended, and this pattern goes on indefinitely, until it ends with a giant fight bordering on complete, absurd stupidity. For example, a smattering of comments from a recent article on a fire that damaged a local Mexican restaurant:
“awe dang, I was on my way over there to get my morning taquito.”
“The roaches were probably hungry and decided on a late night snack.”
“stingy people they deserve it. they didnt even want to sponsor our youth!!! i know first hand”
“Why are you looking for a hand out? I have an idea…why don’t YOU sponsor your kid! Lazy people feeling that everyone owes them something are IDIOTS.”
“Fight, Fight, Fight looks like 3:30 behind the cafeteria…….. This is funny all from a simple fire. POOP HAPPENS”