Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Discovering Americans

An incidental exchange in Mike Nicol's novel Black Heart, probably just a bit of color, offers an amusing version of the hearty, optimistic American:
"In English he advised a young American couple to take a booze cruise on the Spree. They looked like kids, early twenties at best. `Not long ago there were gunships on the canal,' he told them, `now it is a tourist pleasure. The world changes.'

"The couple laughed. The boy-man said, `Great, hey, thanks, man.' The girl-wife doing a full-length teeth display. ...

"Richter smiled. What was great? The world changing? The gunships? The outing? Perhaps it was George Bush-land that made them peculiar."
Granted that youthful (over)optimism is a stereotypical American characteristic. Granted, too, that George Bush is an easy target. Still, the proverbial bluff good cheer of Americans lives on, and Nicol does a nice job of capturing its rhythms.

(Don't think the stereotype is accurate? Try getting served by a waiter, waitress, bartender or bar owner under age 35 in my gentrifying South Philadelphia neighborhood. The awesomes! and absolutelys! will explode around your head like desperate fireworks.)

What's your favorite glimpse of Americans and their ways in crime writing by a non-American author? If you're not American, what's your favorite glimpse at your country in crime fiction by an author from another country?

When not writing crime novels, Mike Nicol is an energetic promoter of South African crime writing at the Crime Beat blog. He has also written about South African crime fiction here at Detectives Beyond Borders and also here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Lee Child does a fantastic job catching small-town middle-America, both the scene and the people.

Maybe I admire that in his books, because I also see them as a non-native, and by God, that's what they look like. :)

July 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if Lee Child ever lived in small-town Middle America. That's an interesting segment of the country for a non-American to focus on.

July 07, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Cultural commentary is a rather dodgy business, since, as in the example you provide, it seems far too often to consist of little more than looking down on other people, whether because of their ignorance, or their tastes, or their vocabulary. Europeans looking down on Americans, older people looking down on younger people are examples of rather commonplace prejudices. Was the character Richter suppossed to be a jackass?

Making highly judgemental comments about people that you have been able to observe for all of five minutes should be considered a sign of general witlessness, but useful, nevertheless, because of how nakedly it reveals the prejudices of the one doing the observing.

Looking at examples of that kind of cultural commentary from the past often makes hilarious reading.

July 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, you're right, which is why I made sure to mention that the observation was nothing more than a detail -- and that it was well in line with stereotypes of Americans. So far, such commentary does not bulk large in the novel.

July 08, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Well, actually you'd have to be an outsider to see things clearly. When you put your house up for sale, they tell you to do a walk-through pretending to be a stranger.
Come to think of it, they also recommend that for a read-through of a finished ms.

July 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The old not-your-spouse-your-mother-or-your-best-friend advice.

We who hear awesome! and great! every day (and I do, in certain places) might grow inured to them or, if we think about them at all, regard them as mere quirks of verbal fashion. But they do bear some examination, and they get it here.

July 08, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

I should take time to blog about the way Americans appear to the very different Europeans who populate our increasingly neurotic continent.

The question posed is really difficult to answer.

As ever, I seem to be more up to date with film. "The Guard", which is being called an Indie film is getting rave reviews and is worth seeing by anybody who is interested in cultural differences.

The West of Ireland is a land of mystery and strangeness even to those of us who visit from outside. I cannot imagine what American and Canadian visitors must make of it.


July 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have not been to the West of Ireland on my visits to that country. I know something of its reputation, though.\

And I shall look for "The Guard."

July 11, 2011  

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