Oops, I just got outed as the intellectual version of "ugly/provincial American"

I majored in history in college. I am a political junkie (as evidenced by all my posts in the Elections board) with a detailed knowledge of current political arcana as well as U.S. political history. So I was excited that my 16 year old son was assigned to do “domestic extemp” for the speech competition, which would apparently focus on U.S. politics (I say “apparently” because although I was aggressively recruited for forensics in high school, I was way too much of a slacker to sign up). He already knows quite a bit about it, and he and I enjoy discussing and debating the subject.

But then a senior decided he wanted to do domestic, which meant my son had to take international with ten days notice before the meet. My son emailed a big “Help!”, expecting me to be a knowledgeable source, like I am on the other topics we tend to discuss.

My blood froze.

I do know quite a bit about the history of the French and Russian revolutions, and about 20th century European and Soviet history. But my knowledge of the current international scene is, I suddenly realized, limited to the stuff that gets a lot of attention in U.S. political debates. I made a count of how many current world leaders I could name, and it was pathetic: Canada’s Trudeau; Germany’s Merkel; France’s Hollande; Syria’s Assad; Cuba’s (Raul) Castro. That’s it. I don’t even know who the president of Mexico is, for chrissakes. (I know the PM of the UK is a Tory, and that the Labour Party has been taken over by a comically stereotypical left winger, but I couldn’t name them…one of them is Jeremy something, maybe?) My wife consoled me with “well, most Americans wouldn’t even know that many”, but I found that cold comfort, as I consider that a low bar to clear.

My son is about to find out his “know it all” dad doesn’t know it all, after all. :frowning:

I knew a guy who was so dumb, he thought manual labour was the president of Mexico.

::rimshot:: Here all week? :slight_smile:

BTW, it just occurred to me that I do obviously know the leader of Russia is Putin, so that makes six. That was an oversight, but I do think that’s the extent of it.

A lot of people complain about Americans being ignorant, and there is some truth to that, but here’s something to think about:

Europe has about fifty countries. It has twice the population of the US, and is just about equal in terms of land mass. If you think of the US as a single state, of course Americans seem ignorant. Many of our states are bigger than entire European countries. But in some ways, trying to understand America is like trying to understand fifty separate countries. I mean, there are plenty of forgettable states in the middle (Southdakotacough) but some states are so radically different that they might as well be considered their own countries. A big part of the problems we have in America are caused by the fact that we have such incredibly different places and yet we try to contain them all under the same federal umbrella.

But that’s besides the point.

Also, I apologize for my imprecise language, because it’s hard to talk about a “State” in a geopolitical sense and a “state” in the American sense at the same time.

But anyway, next time someone asks if an American is ignorant of foreigners, try asking them to name all fifty European states off the top of their head. Then remind them that we have to keep track of fifty states with fifty leaders and fifty problems, all before we even leave our own borders. If Europeans can pay more attention to foreign affairs, it’s because they have the luxury of living in a region 1/50th the size of America with correspondingly fewer domestic demands for their attention.