Friday, January 27, 2012

#30 Be American (I will Never Be Uruguayo)

I actually wrote the first part a month or more ago. I really can´t remember. Since then much has changed, but I still like the sentiment I am American this is becoming even more clear the more Uruguayo I belive I have become. Like a Uruguayo I drink mate, I cheer for a local team (Peñarol), I go to the beach as often as I can(Hard not to when it is only a 5 minute walk), I live in Montevideo(Over half the population does. It really is the center of Uruguay.), I play Futból 5, talk about porteños(Argentines from Buenos Aires known for being full of themselves and least to me and Uruguayans) derisively, own a Forlán jersey; the brazilian sandals; a Uruguayan flag(Functioning as curtains in my apartment); and the ubiquitous house shoes that everyone has, and I very much enjoy dulce de leche(especially in alfajor form) and carne(or meat, especially in asado form).

Surprisingly, my looks(white...really white, blue eyes, and apparently quite similar to James Blunt) don't distinguish me too much from Uruguayans. Yes most are more tan or darker(due to Spanish and Italian heritage), but the British presence here back in the day means the more pale of us don´t stick out. Although my first name trips them up. Side note: The British seem to have had or still have a strong influence here as many Uruguayans that speak English have a British accent. I kind of wonder what happened to the Monroe Doctrine in regards to the Southern Cone since Europe has quite a lot of influence.

Despite my habits, appearance, preferences, and possessions my mentality is distinctly and very obviously American(or Estadounidense). The main thrust of this is the individuality that Americans cherish and really need in comparison to most other cultures. I tend to believe that I am more individualistic than even the average American, but even so I think most Americans would notice the more community-oriented leanings of Uruguayans.

The basis of this is family is first where family events take priority more than I have seen in the United States. Social lives tend to revolve around the family with friends acting as strings that connect families to the other 3 million Uruguayans. I remember hearing that every person in the world is only six relationships away from anybody else. I believe in Uruguay it is more like 2 or 3. For instance, through my Spanish friends I met people that ended up being a close friend of one of the sisters in the family and another who is the cousin of the recently-married brother´s wife. It is a small world, Uruguay is exponentially smaller.

Secondly, there is a very laid-back attitude and acceptance of the way things are as the way they will always be. For instance, Uruguayans are freaking out because of recent escalation in violence and robberies. This seems to be a symptom of the 2002 economic crisis which fostered growth in pasta base(crack-like drug) and planchas(will be explained later, but basically thuggish types). However, in my view this uptick is from leave-your-door-unlocked-safe to welcome-to-the-world-remember-to-be-careful-at-night. It isn´t that bad, but to Uruguayans it seems to be on the same level as the cartel violence in Mexico, which I view as a very serious and worsening problem.

Also they are very laid-back content to lay on the beach or walk down the rambla or sit in the park with mate and watch the world go by. Or go to an Asado and chat until midnight with friends and family. Maybe it is just me, but as enjoyable as these things are at times I get bored of it. I have to be active which partly I think is the runner in me, but I think also an American doing nothing and I really mean nothing will find something to do as quickly as possible. In that I believe we are a little ADD as a culture. Uruguayans could do the same thing week in week out day after day in their free time and they seem content. As much as I have come to like the traditional tranquilo(calm or tranquil if you prefer) lifestyle every now then I need to mix-it up.

Even with their food Uruguayans eat the same things and although they are tasty they have little spice. Milanesa, Pizza, Pasta, Arroz(Rice), Ensalada(Salad), Potato Puree(Mashed Potatoes), Beef(in all forms), Tostadas(Toast), Dulce De Leche(in nearly every dessert), hamburguesa(this should be obvious), Queso(Cheese), and Chorizo(Sausage). I would say there are only a hadnful of meals that I have eaten here that were not made up of the preceding foods.

Another view I´ve noticed is they refer to themselves as third-world. Despite the fact this an out-dated term and developing is a much better description this seems to be only about 25% true. Some parts are third-world such as the Interior part of the country, living conditions in some areas, wages, and the general lack-of-quality goods and infrastructure. However, the functioning politics, economic growth(even during the global recession), security(see above), access to education and healthcare, and economic diversity put it in the first-world easily. True it is behind the U.S., Germany, France, and the UK. However, it sure as hell beats parts of Spain and Italy I saw which with the recession I'm sure are not doing any better. As for the coming powers of the 21st Century including Brazil, Russia, India, and China or the BRIC´s it is much less third-world than any of these countries although western Russia is probably close(although much colder).

Finally, geopolitics has created distinct mentalities for Uruguayans and Americans. First of all, the United States´ position as a world-power means we are very sensitive to changes in the balance of power and through means good and bad seek to manage the world in a way. Additionally, we do have a sense of entitlement for better or worse that is helped by Hollywood and American culutre permeating the world as well as the position of English as the dominate language.

Uruguay, on the other hand, is a small country that is and has historically been overwhelmed by its large neighbors especially Argentina and seems to have developed a bit of an inferiority complex even while trying to fight Argentina for a piece of the global economic pie. Also the third-world mentality creeps in here just like I believe the rest of South Americas after years of domination by Europe, the British, abd the United States.

Consequently, they look at the world differently. Americans see the world at our doorstep and ours for the taking. Uruguayans see it more as a place where the powerful seek to constantly keep them in check and as such play very much an underdog role. Most objectionably to me they fight for the idea that there are 6 continents with the Americas as only one continent.

With my need to be right and my American arrogance this simply is not true there are 7. One reason is the U.S. and interestingly enough China believe there are 7 and they are the most powerful countries in the world, so the South American view really doesn´t matter. Also we are way to culturally different in which the U.S. has dominated North America and Central America(not a continent, but part of North America just like the Mid East is part of Asia) while South American has more or less done its own thing(like fighting the dominance of the U.S. and Western Europe) since achieving independence from Spain and Portugal.

Even getting my cedula, improving my futból skills, perfecting my Spanish, or even living here longer won´t change the fact I´m not Uruguayo. I am Rian ¨Madafaca¨ Clark Kent, the James Blunt of Uruguay, and the Shankee. Perhaps I´ve become American-Uruguayo by realizing I will never be Uruguayo or maybe I'm just an arrogant American...

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