#86 Not being American
Everyone knows that everything wrong with aid, ever, from the original Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe packages through, oh, about ten minutes ago, can be traced back to those things about aid that are specifically American. USAID, Food For Peace, PEPFAR, OFAC, BPRM, DOD and a great many more controversial US Government aid programs and acronyms have for many years now given Expat Aid Workers around the world lots that they can love to hate.
Yep, there certainly is plenty of EAW enjoyment to be had just ranting about ridiculous marking and branding requirements or bitching about what HQ is going to do with all of that NICRA. But it’s also more. There’s more to it than the EAW simply saying that she or he is not a minion of the evil empire. Anyone can work for a non-American NGO on a non-US-funded program. What EAWs really love is not being American.
EAWs will go to all kinds of lengths to make the point that they are not American. Pinning a maple leaf or Union Jack on their day pack, pretending not to understand when others (presumably Americans) refer to the compartment in the back of a white Landcruiser as a “trunk”, or meticulously changing “color” to “colour” or “program” to “programme” at every opportunity, and so on, all help make the point that the EAW is not American. Or if he or she actually is American, it helps make the point that he or she has been around enough to have shed those distasteful cultural and personality characteristics that he or she was so unfortunate as to have been born with.
American EAWs are an under-appreciated breed, however. In addition to providing an acceptable outlet for benevolent ethnocentrism, they also enable one of the best moves in the EAW’s cultural survival toolkit: when the locals come up, as they often do, with wildly inaccurate misconceptions about EAW habits or preferences (foreigners never bathe, for example, or smear gooey vegetable protein distillate on everything they eat), the EAW can always smile indulgently and say, “Well, maybe the Americans do that… but we don’t…”