Here is Henry James describing Americans’ energy and love of work via his hero Christopher Newman, in the novel, The American:
Exertion and action were as natural to him as respiration; a more completely healthy mortal had never trod the elastic soil of the West. His experience, moreover, was as wide as his capacity; when he was fourteen years old, necessity had taken him by his slim young shoulders and pushed him into the street, to earn that night’s supper. He had not earned it; but he had earned the next night’s, and afterwards, whenever he had had none, it was because he had gone without it to use the money for something else, a keener pleasure or a finer profit. He had turned his hand, with his brain in it, to many things; he had been enterprising, in an eminent sense of the term; he had been adventurous and even reckless, and he had known bitter failure as well as brilliant success; but he was a born experimentalist, and he had always found something to enjoy in the pressure of necessity, even when it was as irritating as the haircloth shirt of the mediaeval monk.
Originally posted Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
Here is a bit of hemming and hawing about what I love and don’t love about my country:
It is strange. The things I love about my country are the very things I hate. I love the rawness of the American spirit and I hate its crudeness. I love American boldness and I despise its brashness. I love Twinkies and Ripples chips and Oreos—they reflect a special brand of American brilliance-and I also hate their aftertaste. I love the American passion for independence and yet I hate the way it dissolves to selfishness. I hate American sloppiness but I love dressing casually in cut-offs and a T-shirt and being able to go to a restaurant that way if I want. I adore the extravagance in any direction that is possible in the U.S., but I despise the rampant materialism. I love the direct look in an American’s eye, and I love the basic honesty, but I also hate the lack of style and politeness. I love and I hate the lack of rules for social interaction. I love devil-may-care and I love the perfect centerpiece. I love the egalitarianism, the true story that in America you can rise from rags to riches, that you can be born poor and gain respect. Most of all, I love the sense of possibility that suffuses the air of my country. In America, you can ride over the horizon.
Think of the things you love and the things you dislike about your home country. Lay them out in specifics.
Of Many Lands: Journal of a Traveling Childhood
Originally posted Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
Czeslaw Milosz on America:
All of us yearn for a certain point on the earth where the highest wisdom accessible to humanity dwells, and it is hard to admit that such a point does not exist, that we have to rely only upon ourselves.
Nevertheless, in the fall of 1950 I said farewell to America. That was probably the most painful decision of my life—though none other was permissible. During my four-and-a-half-year stay, I had grown attached to the country and wished it the best. Its overheated civilization may have sometimes irritated me, but at the same time I had never come across so many good people ready to help their neighbor, a trait that could be all the more valued by this newcomer from the outer shadows, where to jump at one’s neighbor’s throat was the rule.
Originally posted Wednesday, April 10th, 2013
I reflect here on the pleasure of speaking another language:
One day I went out marketing with my mother in Tokyo. At each little shop— the butcher’s and the baker’s and the vegetable seller’s—I did the talking, asking for a kilo of carrots or onions, a sack of sugar buns, a pound of Kobe beef, using the Japanese from my summer tutorial. Each time a clerk at a shop responded to my words by loading carrots into a paper cone or tying up buns in paper and colored string, I felt a little dollop of triumph drop through my body.
Do you remember the delight of communicating in a new language? Recollect a time you felt that sense of satisfaction. Or recollect your frustration with having to tackle a new language. Or bring back that time you goofed up in another language or couldn’t understand what was going on around you.
Of Many Lands: Journal of a Traveling Childhood
Originally posted Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013
Alice Kaplan on her love of France:
Why do people want to adopt another culture? Because there’s something in their own they don’t like, that doesn’t name them.
French still calls out to me in the most primitive way. If I’m in a crowded room and there are two people speaking French all the way on the other side of the room, I’ll hear, loud as day, as though a friend were calling my name. My ears prick up. I become all ears, hearing every word, noticing the words I don’t know or haven’t heard for a while and remembering when I last heard them. I’ll eavesdrop shamelessly, my attention now completely on that conversation, as if I belong in it; I’ll start trying to figure out how to get in on it.
French Lessons: A Memoir
Originally posted Wednesday, March 27th, 2012