Two weeks ago, I called my bank to inform them that I would be out of the country starting tomorrow. (My Personal Francophone is very excited that I am coming in time for his birthday–and New Year’s.)
“When will you be going?” the teller asked.For convenience’s sake let’s call her Cindy; this is for her protection as well as my own.
“December 28 to January 6,” I said.
“Where will you be going?” Cindy asked.
“Belgium!” I said, with a big grin on my face.
“Would you spell that?” Cindy asked. My smile faded.
“Belgium,” I said. “B-E-L-G-I-U-M.”
“Is that a country?” Cindy asked.
“Belgium!” I said. “The country between France and Germany!?”
“Oh,” Cindy said. “I thought you spelled that differently.”
“You thought I spelled it with a T or something?” I asked.
“Yes,” Cindy said.
“No,” I said. “I meant, Belgium.”
“Will that be all, ma’am?” Cindy asked. Routinely what she SHOULD have asked, was, “is there anywhere else you will be using your card?”
“No,” I said. “I may be using my card in Paris as well.”
“Is that all, ma’am?”
“Yes,” I said.
Now the question here is not whether Cindy was incompetent, or the cold virus I was suffering through at the time made my consonants come out sounding funny (which may well have been possible–I remember going through a lot of soup, tea, and tissues).
The question is, why did I have to spell “Belgium” at all?
Belgium knows who we are; we are the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. We have HOLLYWOOD and NEW YORK CITY (and in my Personal Francophone’s case, CLINT EASTWOOD and THE MARINES.). We are AMERICANS who speak ENGLISH and have ALL THE MILITARY THINGS.
We know that they have Tintin (by the way, see the movie, it’s excellent, even though not completely faithful to the original comic), beer, chocolate and frites. Also rain. Also the European Union. Yet somehow, as Americans, we manage to push them aside.
Perhaps because they are so tiny (you can cross the country in about two hours.) Perhaps because we have less need to learn French and even less for Flemish. Perhaps because they’re a monarchy and we hate monarchy. We like them for their food.
(Don’t get me wrong, I am TOTALLY going there for the food. Sorry, sweetie. 😉 )
I am a HUGE believer in American exceptionalism. This country, put simply, is incredible. In less than 300 years we have been able to build and develop and grow into who we are. We have diversified our peoples and unified them under one nation, one Constitution, and one belief in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We work hard for what we have and love what we do. As a nation we are by and large optimistic, cheerful, hard-working, and persistent. We have some of the best schools, some of the most impressive technology and newest developments in the world.
In a word, America, we are INCREDIBLE. I am proud to be an American, proud of this country and what she has accomplished and will accomplish. Nothing, not bad leadership, not economic recession, not terrorists who hate us, can hold us back.
But maybe it’s time we start learning how to spell the names of foreign nations. Maybe it’s time we look a little further beyond the size of a country, beyond even the things that country is famous for, and at the things that country is capable of doing right now.
Next up in the international spelling bee, everyone: Uzbekistan.