We make assumptions about people based solely upon their appearance. Disheveled young man: rock-band drummer? Neatly attired older woman: librarian, or maybe a banker? Muscular fellow carrying a lunch pail: blue-collar working stiff.
But as my mother often said, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” (She was big on aphorisms.)
Looks can be deceiving, as Mom Landphair alternately advised.
Without trying, people give us broad visual clues about who they are and what they care about. And Americans, in particular, are quite deliberate about it.
Trust me, not all of these folks are athletes. For sure, they’re not Yankee or Capital or Louisiana State University players.
But there’s a good chance that the guy in the Yankee cap is a Yankee fan — maybe even a New Yorker. He’s as much as announcing it by wearing the blue and white, intertwined “NY” on his head. It wouldn’t be a stretch to peg the tee-shirt wearer as an LSU student or graduate, or at least a proud Louisianian. And it’s a good bet that anyone who would don an expensive, full-length hockey jersey, especially one of the thousands you see with the name “OVECHKIN” and the number 8 stitched on the back, is a hard-core local hockey fan. For those of you in countries that don’t have sheets of ice, Capitals’ star Alex Ovechkin is rated the world’s best, or close-to-best, hockey player.
Sometimes, too, you see elderly bald men or 150-kilo women in Caps’ jerseys with their own names sewn on the back. I find that a little creepy.
On my sports coat, I often wear a distinctive red, white, and blue “VOA” lapel pin, ignoring the Voice of America’s inexplicable color-scheme switch to blue and green a few years ago.
The messages can get quite specific. Americans wear VOTE!” or “Support the Troops!” buttons. We slap stickers on our car windows or bumpers that read, “My Daughter Made the Honor Roll at Millard Fillmore High!” Do they know that this can prompt a hostile response: “There goes another pushy parent”?
I keep waiting for the sticker that reads, “My Kid’s Just Average at Hannibal Hamlin High!” (Hamlin, in case you’re crazy with curiosity, was one of Abraham Lincoln’s vice presidents.)
Bumper stickers can be witty and inoffensive:
“Boldly Going Nowhere.”
“Stoplights timed for 35 mph. Also for 70 mph.”
“Honk if You Love Peace and Quiet.”
Americans also pour a lot of creative energy into devising ingenious “vanity” license plates. In place of the state-assigned plate number, we substitute our own names, mushy nicknames for our spouse or pet, or clever wordplays that are just tame enough to pass state censorship. “DE-WIFED,” for instance, tells a lot about the car’s owner.
It’s easy to guess how a person wearing a “Hey Barack, I’m Ba-roke” button feels about the president. Or where someone whose car bumper proclaims, “Guns Don’t Kill People; Abortion Clinics Do” stands on TWO combustible issues of the day.
From my own limited observations abroad, and from what my VOA colleagues who were born and reared in other cultures and often revisit their homelands tell me, this pent-up desire to tell the world how we feel or what team we follow has not yet swept the world. It is largely an American passion — or fashion.
Needless to say in a dangerous world, not everyone feels as free as Americans to walk the streets wearing more provocative symbols or slogans.
If I wore an “Impeach Obama” pin around Washington, it’s highly unlikely that it would convert an Obama supporter into a conservative Republican, let alone help trigger an impeachment drive. Likewise, an “Obama is Beautiful” button would just draw a snigger from a “Tea Party” ultra-conservative.
But wearing our emotions, preferences, or hometown pride on our sleeves, lapels, or bumpers — or atop our heads — can increase human contact.
St. Louis beer. And I’ll likely give this fellow and his family all sorts of tips for their visit to the nation’s capital.
Of course, as a kitty lover, I wouldn’t know what to say to a person on the Metro who was wearing a pin that says, “Cat. The Other White Meat.”
Where Am I?
If you’ve been with me since I started blogging two years ago, you may recall that I grew up in a lower-middle-class household where no one owned, or even drove, a car. So my chances to explore the country were limited, my geographical curiosity outsized, and my longing to travel profound.
It was a proud moment when I could inform all who would listen that I had at last visited my 50th and final state: North Dakota, on the Canadian border in the often-frigid, rather empty northern plains.
Craig Wilson, a creative USA Today newspaper columnist, awakened those memories in a recent column when he asked a simple but difficult question: “What constitutes a visit?”
Does it have to involve an overnight stay? A drive-through? Of what duration? Would sticking a toe into a new state count? How about dropping out of the sky for an hour or two on a connecting flight, perhaps never leaving the plane. For it to count as a visit, must one have a meal or a drink?
Wilson, drat it, never answered his own question.
Texarkana, Arkansas, into Texarkana, Texas, in order to check off “Texas” on your list of states visited wouldn’t cut it, since one side of Stateline looks pretty much like the other, and because you’d still have almost 700,000 square kilometers of Texas to see.
By the way, the only state left on Craig Wilson’s “to visit” list is also North Dakota. If I were on the North Dakota Promotion Council, I’d push for a new tourism slogan.
Something like “Save the Best for Last!”
What Am I?
Ethnicity and ethnic heritage are hot-button topics in the United States. Witness the furor over legislation in the Southwest state of Arizona that’s aimed at identifying, prosecuting, and deporting illegal aliens, nearly all of whom are Latino. Arizona’s education chief also advocated, and the governor signed, a measure aimed directly at the city of Tucson, near the Mexican border, where more than half the school population is Latino. Schools there have long taught a course in Mexican history and culture.
Those who oppose such a course say it perpetuates ethnic separation rather than assimilation. You’ll recall from my last posting that, for much the same reason, the State of Louisiana ordered that all school instruction, even in primarily French-speaking “Cajun” districts, be conducted in English.
Critics of Tucson’s Latino-heritage program argue that there’s a big difference between those cultural programs and what Tucson is up to. They say a Scandinavian village in Iowa, say, enlightens outsiders — non-Scandinavians — about a culture. Tucson’s program on the other hand, they argue, teaches Latino children things they already know about themselves and foments cultural separatism.
Supporters, as you might expect, counter that such programs foster ethnic pride within a population that is often stigmatized as second-class.
Washington, D.C., is packed with ethnically-oriented national museums. They include the National Museum of the American Indian, the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of African Art.
Among them is a small, new one that is raising some eyebrows. It’s the German-American Heritage Museum, installed in a downtown Victorian row house. The museum tells the story of — and this would surprise a lot of Americans — what is historically the nation’s largest immigrant group. Washington Post writer Marc Fisher reported that the museum’s supporters — rebuffed 20 years ago when they offered to help finance the national Holocaust museum if it would balance its exhibits on Nazi atrocities against Jews with a section on the positive, democratic changes in postwar Germany — “counter[ed] the Holocaust museum with one of their own.”
Reudiger Lentz, the German-American museum’s director, adamantly denied that putting the Nazi era to rest had anything to do with opening his facility. He insisted that “its focus is on German immigration to the United States since 1607,” not on whitewashing an odious chapter in German history.
The unique heritage of American Irish, American Africans, American Italians, American Germans and the like — just like that of American Indians — would be maintained and highlighted. And so, too, would the home that they share today.
WILD WORDS(These are a few of the words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I'll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of "Ted's Wild Words" in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there's another word in today's blog that you'd like me to explain, just ask!)
Aphorism. An easy-to-remember saying, carrying advice on how one should conduct his or her life.
Impeach. Formally, the term refers to an accusation or indictment by a legislative body. The term is often mistakenly thought to refer to the conviction, or even removal, of an officeholder. More loosely, to impeach something — say one’s credibility — is simply to challenge it.
Natty. Dapper and up to date in one’s dress or appearance.
Pithy. Simple, direct, to the point, using few words.
Rebuff. To bluntly and forcefully reject or refuse something.
Soapbox. While a soapbox can in fact be a box holding soap, the term more broadly recalls the pre-amplification days when speakers would have to stand on raised platforms in order to shout their messages to large crowds. “Getting on one’s soapbox” means to vigorously rant on a subject.