America is Not a Country

Sitting on the express train returning to Gunma from Tokyo, we were a bit tired from our busy weekend, yet optimistic because the next day, Monday, happened to be a holiday. We fidgeted in our seats, adjusting them for a comfortable trip; though not quite as comfortable as the shinkansen, riding the express train is nonetheless usually a pleasurable experience. With more room than an airplane seat and a vending machine in the vestible between the cars, the trip between our rural Gunma and big city Tokyo is usually fairly painless.

Still, on this occasion, we found ourselves in the middle of a rather active car, despite it being 8:00 pm on a Sunday. Two rows up and across the aisle, a chattering group for four took their seats. The men were slightly inebriated and a bit loud, the women rather passive and patient, and all fairly old. As the louder of the two men cracked open his can of pre-mixed whiskey and water, his voice rose and he started into a loud rant.

The first subject was America. Specifically, it was that “America is not a country”. I am not exactly sure what he meant, as my Japanese is not great, but my husband picked up much of what he was saying and commented to me every time he changed subjects. America is not a country. Why exactly? I’m not sure. It could be because it is made up of too many large states, or because it is too big. He next started in on the “whaling problem,” which may have contributed to his anti-America feelings. His next topic was the UK, followed by Wales and several other countries. We buried our faces in magazines and tried to read, but he was speaking so loud that it was difficult to concentrate.

Every few minutes one of the other three would interject something, however, he seemed not to notice. By the time he was on his second can of whiskey and water, his wife seemed the be biting back exasperation. Eventually, his ranting grew quieter and he fell asleep. His companions, too, dozed off. The car was finally quiet. Solitude, at last. The only thing that inturrupted the peace from then on, was the exasperated wife, he feelings lingering even in rest, as she began talking in her sleep. “Shut up, you noisy idiot!” and more along the same lines, but he was out cold and never stirred.

When the train arrived at their stop she roused him from his slumber. As he fell all over the place, forward onto her and finally backwards into his seat, she attempted to get him to put on his coat. She would place it over his shoulders, and he would then throw it off, moaning like a petulent child, “It’s hot.” She finally bundled him up and assisted him to the vestibule between the cars and off the train.

4 Responses to “America is Not a Country”
  1. socratesoul says:

    He was probably referring to the fact that we are not the only country on the continents of North and South America, and as such probably shouldn’t call ourselves “Americans” as if we were the only ones on the continent. As someone who has traveled Central and South America, I can tell you that a lot of people in those countries take offense to that. Unfortunately, we have no other adjective by which to describe ourselves (United States-ian? lol) and most of the world has adopted the custom of calling us “Americans” so it’s pretty much done for.

  2. Bahia says:

    That certainly could be true, however, the sense that we got from his rant was that it was not in relation to other countries in North and South America, as he didn’t mention them at all. We couldn’t quite catch what his reasons were, as he was slurring by this point. If he seemed to be a cultured and well traveled person then I could see that as a reason, but that was definitely not the case. Not to pass judgement, but I suspect he had never even left Japan, or at least not gone anywhere that Japanese is not spoken (favorite places of travel for the Japanese are Hawaii, and Saipan, purely because they don’t have the hassle of actually experiencing a different culture.)

    From what we could gather (my husband’s Japanese being substantially better than my own) was that it was something about compared to Japan it didn’t count as a real country. We couldn’t catch why, but it could have been any number of reasons.

    At any rate, before I came to Japan I always called it the US, or the States, or the United States, never America, but because America means “the USA” in Japanese, I have started using it, much to my brother’s chagrin, as it sounds self righteous and patriotic (and of course neglecting the fact that the America’s are continents, not countries.)

  3. nagaijin says:

    All the while I was growing up in Canada, we never called the place south of us anything but “the States”.
    My experience has been that you can guess fairly accurately how an American votes by what they call their country. I’ve never heard Bush say anything other than “America”.
    BTW,I find that younger Canadian kids say “America” now, because that’s the word they hear on CNN and Fox.

    As for the people, what else can you call them? They’ve never been anything else but Americans, and after all, the full name of the country is “the United States of America.” If people in the Netherlands can be Dutch and people in the United Kingdom can be British,calling people from the United States “America” is no big problem.

  4. nagaijin says:

    Sorry. “American.”

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