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#86 Not being American

August 29, 2011

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…”

19 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2011 11:52 am

    Because Europeans have never been responsible for anything bad happening in a developing country…EVER!

  2. seb permalink
    August 29, 2011 12:25 pm

    Oh JN, so american of you to say…

    • August 29, 2011 2:42 pm

      Thanks! Seriously though, can’t we agree that it is silly to judge people based on their country’s foreign policy unless that person actually happens to have final authority over their countries foreign policy. There is no country in the world that hasn’t had at least one period of destructive policy. I know this post is a joke, but it is really annoying and sort of pathetic to see how often people actually engage in this kind of behavior in the field. I mean that for both sides, the people who judge and anyone who has ever put a fake flag on their bag, you’re just making it worse for yourself in the long run.

  3. KTM permalink
    August 30, 2011 1:39 am

    What is really annoying, as an American EAW, is the EAWs who criticize American projects and the American government…while working on an American project and taking American tax dollars as salary. Bite the hand that feeds ya…..

  4. August 30, 2011 3:55 pm

    If US funding is so detrimental, we Americans should do everyone a favor, then and just quit sending $$$$ down the black hole of international development.

  5. August 31, 2011 10:18 am

    After 25 years overseas, boy have I seen this. When the sparrows (death squads) were targeting Americans and shooting people in Manila, some of our colleagues would carry around maple leafs etc so as not to identify with Americans. They didn’t realize (or maybe care) how it made those of us who were Americans!

  6. August 31, 2011 5:40 pm

    As an American I find this hilarious… especially the last paragraph!

  7. September 3, 2011 12:02 pm

    Christ, lighten up, it’s a joke, no? And lets be honest, pretty true too.

  8. Kelti permalink
    September 3, 2011 2:46 pm

    As a Canadian, i go out of my way to identify myself as not American, whether I’m overseas or at home because that is the main part of the Canadian identity – not American!

    And none of the projects I’ve done overseas have been American funded…geesh – don’t you Americans have a sense of humour (yeah, this is how we actually spell it here – we don’t through in the ‘u’ to piss u off).

    • Herbie permalink
      September 6, 2011 12:36 pm

      “Canadia”… “American”… You say “poTAYYYtoe”, the rest of the world says “poTAHHHHto.”

      Lighten up, Kelti. You’re American, too. A few extra “u”s and a maple leave sticker don’t change that.

  9. September 5, 2011 6:27 pm

    I have heard it said that Canadians have a small maple leaf on their backpacks, while Americans can be identified by their large maple leaves.

  10. Sofo permalink
    September 6, 2011 12:53 am

    I sometimes find very useful to trill my “R” and to eh-speak Englich with a beRRy eh-strong accent. That will automatically cause people to ask where I am from…

    EAWs from the US and from other agencies (national or multilateral) could have a grand competition of self-righteousness. There would be perennial ties.

    US EAWs are often mocked by their peers in other agencies because sometimes those from the US have to, as part of their job, “explain” (defend) why priorities have changed when some former international pariah is suddenly rehabilitated as a friend of the free world. But all EAWs from non-multilateral have government agendas to push.

  11. lady permalink
    September 6, 2011 1:50 am

    This is a joke but it has some truth to it though…..let’s be honest, Americans are the most annoying, arrogant people overseas and frankly not a lot of locals appreciate them. All I can say is “for the love of god, if you were a looser enough to leave US because you can’t find a decent job back home don’t act like god once you’re in a developing country”.

    • Symm permalink
      September 7, 2011 4:28 pm

      “frankly not a lot of locals appreciate them” spoken like a true EAW with TONS of field cred.

    • been there too permalink
      September 14, 2011 10:47 am

      and which country were you “looser” enough because you can’t find a decent job back home?

  12. September 21, 2012 6:27 am

    Don’t forget about purposefully using the metric system when talking to other Americans, and when the person asks “how high is that in miles?” the EAW can take the opportunity to say “gee, I’ve been living abroad so long, I can’t even remember how to convert from the metric system…”

  13. Alan permalink
    January 26, 2013 3:25 am

    Have no problem whatsoever with Americans (and I certainly don’t think anyone who comes to work in a third-world country is a “looser”). I’m more annoyed with my own countrymen because I keep on having to explain that I’m not American, I’m from the country next door. Where the heck are my fellow-patriots? Too busy complaining how the country is going down the tubes and doing bugger-all about it, and certainly not doing anything about a neighbouring country, let alone one on another continent.


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