We Asked Foreign VICE Offices What They Think About America
Photo by Flickr user Mario Arias
If America were a person, she would have a tricked out Super Sweet Sixteen every year, and she would call it the Fourth of July: a party stretching from sea to sea, dedicated to getting hammered, blowing things up, and singing songs of her praise. Over three million people would attend and even though some of them would talk shit about the party behind her back, everyone would be glad they'd been invited.
Since most Americans will spend this Fourth of July stuffing their faces with hot dogs and singing "I'm Proud to Be an American," it's easy to get wrapped up in patriotism. After all, we live in the land of the free! The home of the brave! A place where it's actually encouraged to wear the national flag on a string bikini! So, as a birthday present (and an ego check) for our great nation, we decided to ask some of our international VICE offices about their countries' views toward the US. They told us pretty much what we expected: The stereotypes of Americans as fast food-loving, gun-weilding, irresponsible, racist bigots hold strong around the world. But while we might not be the greatest country in the world, we sure know how to throw a nationwide party.
In Australia, the term "American" is literally used to describe anyone or anything that's a bit too confident, open, or optimistic. Friendly waiters, big celebrations in sports, talking about yourself like you're not a complete pile of shit—these all qualify as American things to do and generally aren't encouraged.
On the other hand, Australia likes America so much that a recent video in which American nobodies try our national breakfast spread has been viewed over 8 million times. Our total population is around 21 million, so that's a lot of Aussies who care a lot about how you guys see us.
Why do we care? Mainly because every time you talk about us, it's like our favorite TV show is breaking the fourth wall and communicating directly through the screen. You're the cooler, more confident version of us that we deep down wish we could be.
Australians pride ourselves on being laid back and no bullshit, but that's only because we know we can't compete with you guys in the bullshit stakes. We'd love to talk engagingly for hours on end about nothing in particular, but we can't. Put an average Aussie on camera and you'll get a sweaty uncomfortable mess. Point a camera at an American and you'll get an Apatow movie.
It's this ballsiness and comfort in your own skin that we begrudgingly admire, even to the point where your gun laws, police brutality, and weird denial of evolutionary theory are no barriers to the thousands of us entering the Green Card Lottery every year. ––– VICE Australia
Since everyone in Spain (and maybe the whole fucking rest of the world) listens to American music, watches American movies, wears American-branded clothes, eats at American fast food restaurants, uses American technology, masturbates to American porn, and basically does all things American, there's only one thing we can say: YOU MADE IT.
We hate all the usual American clichés—you know, lots of Christian-obsessed families, lots of fast food, lots of fat people, lots of people who don't really get homosexuality; politicians and corporations generating war conflicts around the world; that weird shit you eat while you wait for the day you'll die ("beef jerky" I think it's called), and so on—but there's no doubt you are part of us, so we are forced to love you. You are like a virus inside everyone in this world. This spreading represents the success of capitalism and liberal politics. Basically, Spain is the embassy of the US in... Spain. And so on with the other countries in the west.
But it's not all bad. You've got Carver, Coppola, David Byrne, and Vanilla Coke. It's a real shame that we don't. ––– Pol Rodellar, Staff Writer, VICE Spain
We're really honored you want to know our opinion of you. Us, just folks from Queen Elizabeth's Canada. We mean, sure, America sent us an email when we were half-in-the-bag on Canada Day saying: "We kinda forgot about you up there, but we've asked all the other countries this question, so we should ask you, too." But did our hearts not soar like the titular iron eagle in the great Canadian-American film Iron Eagle?
It's hard to summarize this sort of relationship, so we initially turned to HBO's True Detective to learn about complex partnerships. Oh, did you know Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch are Canadian? Kitsch used to be a decent hockey player, we think you should know that. It's a really fast game that you should consider caring about, but we like basketball and football too. We should play sometime, would you like to come over? We have the new Madden and mom got a bunch of new chips and pop, you know, soda. Oh, you are too busy? Well, maybe another time.
TBH, a lot of us talk tough behind your back and say pretty awful things about you, but we are also still a little excited about being mentioned in the South Park movie. Can you believe that was 16 years ago? We wish it was on the Canadian Netflix.
You are America, home of where all of our stuff comes from! The TV shows, Apple and Google, Levi's and Wal-Mart, bro-country and hip-hop (Did you know Drake is from Toronto and used to be on a TV show called Degrassi? Kevin Smith was on it a few times, and oh boy, that was a big treat for us), and you give us so many things to talk about. We would like to mildly suggest that you take it a bit easier on Barack Obama; he seems pretty reasonable for a politician. Also, we are a little confused why Mad Men couldn't make Canadian whisky cool again. Dad has a great bottle, maybe we could share it and we'll play you a Canada Day playlist on Spotify up in our room? We promise not to bring up guns. Why focus on our differences when we have everything else in common to talk about?
Thanks so much for asking!
P.S. We promise to keep writing to you like Ryan Gosling in The Notebook. Did you know he's Canadian? ––– Josh Visser, Managing Editor, VICE Canada
Mexico's relationship with the US has always been complicated. There's a phrase that was coined decades ago that says: "Poor Mexico, so far from god, and so close to the United States." I think it's an idea that still resonates a lot in the country. There is a lot of trade, we consume a lot of the culture that's produced in the US, and a lot of people admire the country, but many also loath it, somewhat like a young brother would resent a bad, bully, older brother.
I personally admire a lot of things about the US: I think it's a beautiful country, I've lived there, and I found opportunity, and great people. At the same time, something that saddens me a lot is how much hate there is in the US against Mexico and against Mexicans living and working in the US. Of course not everyone thinks like that, but it pains me to see how so many people in the US see us that way, because of ignorance and arrogance.––– Bernardo Loyola, Content Director, VICE Mexico
We have a long-lasting love/hate relationship with the US. We hate the US world dominance, but we are passionately filling out forms for the Green Card Lottery. Although US planes were a part of NATO air forces that bombed us in 1999 for 78 days, we stopped queuing in McDonald's only for a couple of days. Visiting New York is at the top of the dream-trip lists for many, but we are still struggling with accepting Halloween as a holiday.
We love your music and films; in cinemas, we always wait for the end credits to check whether there is a name from our country there. We laugh at your jokes, but your political correctness is too much for us. We still think you're the world's cop, in politics, culture, and life—but we want to be you. We blame you for many things, but we want you to like us more than anyone else. ––– Aleksandra Niksic, News Editor, VICE Serbia
The United States is only as dear to us Austrians as the upcoming episode of Game of Thrones or True Detective. Which, to be fair, is quite dear. But for some reason, your run-of-the-mill Austrian will not connect the dots and see what one thing has to do with the other. We love American pop culture, but somehow, we also manage to see all that pop culture as completely detached from the actual place called America. We say things like "I love The Simpsons, but that's not the real America" as often as our right-wing assholes rant against Syrian refugees.
If you conducted a street poll somewhere between the Alps and Vienna, chances are Austrians would describe the prototypical American citizen with tag words like "fat," "unsophisticated," "stupid," and "doesn't even know that Hitler's not our Emperor." Austrians have a long history with inferiority complexes and simply can't stand the idea of somebody else not knowing every fucking detail about our home. But then again, what do we know about New Jersey, which is pretty much exactly as big, populated, and significant as our little Alpine republic? I've asked Austrians this, and when they mumble something about "cultural significance," I smack them in the face and tell them that being prejudiced against 320,000 people because of their nationality is called racism and start running like the freedom-loving motherfucker I am.
Sure—as far nation-branding goes, Bush may have almost fucked up America's reputation beyond repair. And yes, a deeply Catholic country like Austria will never fully understand how people can be proud and bold instead of envious and self-pitying. But slowly, Obamania seems to catch on even here, in the Western outback. People here are still skeptical, but at least, universal health care and a "pop culture President" strike a chord. As always, we're ten years too late—I guess some things just never change.
I've often asked myself why I never embraced the elitist notion of anti-Americanism. I guess the answer is almost embarrassingly simple: I always loved pro wrestling. So I always felt right at home at the hyperbole, patriotic sideshow-performance that is Murica. Happy Fourth of July, everybody. (But John Cena sucks.) ––– Markus Lust, Deputy Editor, VICE Alps
We like you, but we are glad not to be you. It's a bit like if you were our jacked, bodybuilding older cousin: We're so impressed and thanks for inviting us to the gym, but no thanks. Still, as younger cousins do with their older cousins' video games and T-shirts, we Italians have always unconsciously tried to imitate you. Most of times, of course, we just end up as a worse version of you.
It's all fun and games until the cousin is charged with selling steroids. Because when you guys make a bad choice, you make sure to fuck everything up in the worst way possible for everyone else and then put it in an ideologic light and it all becomes frankly indefensible.
But thanks a lot for the Marshall Plan, for swivel chairs, for Cheerios, for hip-hop music, for gay marriage, for Faulkner, and for creating an environment distressing enough for people to go mad and become great writers/singers/etc. Happy Independence Day. ––– Elena Viale, Staff Writer, VICE Italy
VICE DENMARK & VICE SWEDEN
America is all about extremes. Taking it to the max. Las Vegas, the death penalty, American football. And as Danes and Swedes, we marvel and salivate at this, loudly shrugging it off as ridiculous American pompousness, whilst secretly dreaming of being as cool. Everyone deserves the freedom to fill their bodies with as many vile, artificial, fatty substances as humanly possible, should they so desire—without some pesky health authority preventing the influx of precious synthetic goodness.
But we're oddly ambiguous about the United States, and how much America we're actually willing to saturate our innocent nations' culture with. When it's awesome stuff—like Game of Thrones, Beyoncé, or McTastys—we can't get enough. Sweden has most McDonald's per capita outside of North America.
And yet, many hardliner nationalist Danes are calling for a de-Americanization of our language and pop-culture. This is currently being given the metaphorical middle finger by the over one-fifth of Danes with Netflix-subscriptions and the recent unveiling of Denmark's first Dunkin' Donuts.
In recent history, both Denmark and Sweden have intensely been kissing the political ass of the United States. We've proudly sent our highly trained and super relevant Danish military forces into the oily frontiers of the Middle East to fight alongside our American brethren. If and when America sticks their Halliburton-tipped broom of freedom and democracy up the wrong third world hornet's nest, and subsequently ignites a thermonuclear war, we're sort of hoping the Nordics can take your place in the world. Just too bad you guys have already had all of the fun, unchecked, pre-Digital Age years of treating sovereign nations around the world as a rock band would a hotel room.
But hey, USA, thanks for all the cool stuff! The world would be a way healthier, considerably less hostile, and a hell of a lot more bland place if it weren't for you Hollywood-centric, freedom-loving, SuperSizing Americans. You'll always be our favorite Cold War-superpower. Happy Fourth of July from VICE Nordics. ––– Caisa Ederyd, VICE Sweden; and Alfred Maddox,VICE Denmark
VICE NEW ZEALAND
As a relatively tiny player in global affairs, New Zealand hasn't been made to do as much horrible stuff at America's behest as say, Australia. Maybe it's because of this that our feelings towards you guys are generally pretty good. We didn't even care very much when Kim Dotcom was telling us the NSA was spying on our metadata. The needle barely moved.
Our opinion of America centres mainly on the things you've given us. You're the people that created such crucial cultural totems as Starter hats, gangsta rap, and WWF wrestling. New Zealand would be virtually unrecognisable without that stuff. On the other hand, we don't get tipping, it's greasy for both parties. We prefer New Zealand's free culture of being able to be rude to customers sometimes.
And by the way, good stuff on the gay marriage thing. You were only a year and four months behind us.–––VICE New Zealand
In Romania, we've pretty much loved the American dream since the 80s. When we were under the communist regime, we all watched Chuck Norris movies on bootleg tapes. We were crazy about American blue jeans (we still call them "blugi"), which were brought in as contraband by sailors. In the 90s, we loved watching Dallas, so much that we rebuilt JR's ranch as a tourist attraction. Back then, McDonald's was considered a sort of deluxe restaurant, and our first democratic president (who was a former communist) appeared in public, wearing one of their aprons and eating their French Fries.
When I was little, the US embassy would put on a giant Fourth of July fireworks display, and all the people from Bucharest would come see it. Since then we've always pretty much looked to America as our savior from the shithole that is Eastern Europe. That's why we don't dub your sitcoms and movies, and why some of us end up speaking English better than Romanian. Nowadays we just hope you guys and NATO can save our asses in case of a Russian invasion.
Of course, the American dream sometimes turns into a nightmare for us. During World War II, when we were under a fascist regime, you guys bombed some of our refineries and civilian villages. My history teachers told me stories of Americans dropping expensive and shiny pens near villages, where kids would pick them up and they would explode. A lot of people here blame the Americans for selling us out to the Soviet Union after World War II. Our grandparents kept waiting for you guys to save us from communism, like you saved the French from the Nazis. And because our country wants to suck up to you guys so much, we let controversial American corporations like Bechtel and Chevron to treat our citizens like shit.
Despite all this, we wouldn't have any other benevolent Western overlords, and I'm not just saying this because we work for an American magazine. Happy Fourth of July, America!––– Mihai Popescu, Senior Editor, VICE Romania
America is hot dogs and fireworks and pool parties. America is 50 stars and 13 stripes printed neatly on a pair of bikini briefs. America is a thousand hot bullets shot into the desert sky. America is Pamela Anderson fellating Tommy Lee on a boat. America is pork products. If you asked me to paint one enduring image of America, it would be a dude in a muscle vest smoking a cigar while driving a Mustang full of babes over a row of motorcycles and into a canyon. But it would also be a suburban dad picking the mail up (Why is the post not just delivered to your door? Why is it always left at the bottom of your garden in a box?) before having a heart attack he can't afford while sprinklers jet water onto his perfect green lawn.
That's the duality, isn't it. The America we see from a distance is like peeking over at a neighbor's house party we're jealous not to have been invited to: excess, hubris, confidence, gunfire. Someone in a hot tub getting fingered. But then we never see the morning after clean-up; we never see the truth, the bones of the country. Like, why can people not afford basic medical care? Why are your police all murderers? Why are there so many shootings? How many fast food chains do you actually need? Why are your fat people so much fatter than our fat people? I mean, we have fat people—some real pigs—but yours are something more.
So much of British culture is filtered through the lens of America: Our TV, our music, our books, and our films are all in your voice. There is no Briton alive who has ever had a tense conversation in a roadside diner while someone stirs an entire pourer of sugar into a black cup of coffee, but we have seen the scene a thousand times, a million times. Neither of your two major sports make sense. The size of the country does not make sense. The weird thrill you get over shooting things makes no sense. And what is a corn dog?
But we like you. You're our weird cousin who we only see a couple times a year, and we never quite know how the party's going to end when we hang. You're our weird cousin who brings his own moonshine to the BBQ and berates the vegetarians. You're our weird cousin who is cool and confident and loud and has been arrested on more than one occasion for DUI. You're the weird cousin we like but who sort of scares us, too. Happy birthday, or whatever July 4th is. Enjoy your pork and your loud noises. ––– Joel Golby, Staff Writer, VICE UK
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