Call me an elitist, a snob, judgmental, whatever, I don't care, but I have come to the conclusion that Americans are ugly, dumb, fat, and mean for one simple reason: They have no taste. In fact, they are trained to reject anything that suggests good taste, because 'taste' smacks of elitism and judgment.
Exhibit A: Cheap off-the-rack clothes are made of nasty synthetic materials and cut to cover, not to fit. Nobody knows how clothes are supposed to fit anymore. No one dresses for dinner, or the theater, or to go out, or to visit. The emphasis is on comfort, rather than appearance, ignoring the common sense that looking good makes you feel good and perform better at work. Sure, there are hundreds of fashion articles about how to pick the best jeans for your body, but generally they fail to mention that NO ONE--fat, skinny, hourglass, or pear shape-- should expect to pick up a pair of jeans or a jacket off the rack and have it fit perfectly without some kind of alteration. Heck, I wear 2 or 4 in most specialty stores, but I still know that any dress pants I buy will need to be taken in at the waist, skirts tapered at the hips, and jackets bought to fit the shoulders and then taken in at the waist and hip. But try telling somebody they could get their clothes altered and they look at you like you're crazy. "Who has time for that? How can I afford it?" It's simple, really--buy less, buy quality, make it last. Don't waste money on the latest trends, except for the odd accessory or two (and shoes--a single quality pair of shoes each year is plenty; they will outlast 3 cheap pairs). I have clothes that are 10 years old that still fit and still look current. But you know what? I think Americans are suspicious of anyone looking dressed-up. Even the CEO's at my old office looked as if they'd dressed out of a Goodwill bin.
Exhibit B: At my old job we used to play Trivial Pursuit during our weekly production meetings. The department head had a day-by-day calendar with questions on it. In 2001, the questions were about world history, sports history, literature, classic cuisine. By 2010, the questions were about rap stars, reality TV, and Tiger Wood's marital infidelities. One might legitimately argue that knowing the names of Henry VIII's wives is no more useful to modern life than knowing the names of the Jersey Shore cast, but which makes you look smarter?
Exhibit C: Cracked.com ran a brilliant article titled The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor. (I am frequently amazed at the socio-political genius of Cracked.com.) But the item that startled me was the bit about developing a taste for cheap, filling, nutrient-poor food. I should have realized it sooner. I think we were slightly better off than many of my friends when I was growing up (a couple of my high school friends were actually on food stamps), but my folks had different priorities than most. We rarely had the latest fashions or gadgets, but we always ate well. My mom insisted on cooking at home and buying whole foods, long before it was a movement. I have never eaten boxed macaroni and cheese, or Uncle Ben's rice pilaf mix. My sister once had to do a bit of science homework involving mashed potato flakes, and she had never heard of such a thing. Yes, I ate some TV dinners when I was a kid, but those were occasional lunch time treats, and by the time I was twelve, I was doing most of the prep work for dinner. I am the only person I know* who can cut up a chicken. Thank you, mom.
Exhibit D: I live in Kansas, which generally has a reputation for being a podunk, small-time, cousin-marrying, evolution-refuting state. Maybe some parts of it are. But I live in an area that has a whole lot of the population imported from somewhere else. In fact I used to work in one of the richest zip codes in the U.S. I saw a lot of New York license plates around town. And people here are mean. I don't know if it's the arrogance of money, or hostility at the culture divide (because don't get me wrong, there are hayseeds here, too), or just that modern life frowns upon good manners. I have been cut off in traffic, cut off in grocery lines, had people walk between me and the store display I was looking at and stand there chattering ("oh, I didn't see you..."). Nobody smiles. No one says Please or Thank you. Some actually look annoyed when I say Please and Thank you, as if I am wasting their time. As if I am one of the slow-talking, cousin-marrying, right-wing red state voters, perhaps.
I guess I must resign myself to being an elitist. I'll wear a dress to dinner and ignore the daggers glared at my well-fitted waist. And I will fill my shopping cart with dairy fat and red meat and chat pleasantly with the clerk as the bitter frumpy woman behind me unloads her Lean Cuisine and her Diet Coke and eyes me up and down and scowls. I'd tell her if I thought she'd understand: cultivate some taste, dear.
*Excepting my Chinese kung-fu teacher, who is also a cook. Figures.