Sunday, December 12, 2010


In the spring of 2000, I was incredibly lucky enough to go on a program called Semester at Sea. The following piece was presented to me by a professor on this trip. It made enough of an impression on me at the time, that I would eventually track down this professor, and get a copy of it years later. And now you get a chance to read it to. I hope you find it as fun, interesting, and thought-provoking as I did.

Excerpt from an article by the American anthropologist Ralph Linton. It was published in 1937 in the literary magazine edited by H.L. Mencken entitled The American Mercury. In it Linton wrote of the patriotic American who [and I quote]:

rises every morning in pajamas, a garment of East Indian origin, dresses himself either in cotton, first domesticated in India, or wool from an animal native to Asia Minor, or silk whose uses were first discovered by the Chinese. He puts on his feet stiff coverings made from hide prepared by a process invented in ancient Egypt and cut to a pattern which can be traced back to ancient Greece. He ties about his neck a strip of bright-colored cloth which is a vestigial survival of the shoulder shawls worn by seventeenth-century Croats. He looks in the mirror, an old Mediterranean invention, and goes downstairs to breakfast. There he begins with a cup of coffee, an Abyssinian plant first discovered by the Arabs. He sweetens it with sugar, discovered in India, dilutes it with cream, both the domestication of cattle and the technique of milking having originated in Asia Minor. He may have a cantaloupe domesticated in Persia or some grapes domesticated in Asia Minor, followed by the egg of a bird domesticated in Southeast Asia, with strips of flesh of an animal domesticated in the same region. After breakfast, he places upon his head a molded piece of felt, invented by the nomads of Eastern Asia, and if it looks like rain, puts on outer shoes of rubber discovered by the ancient Mexicans, and takes an umbrella invented in India. At the train station on his way to work he buys a newspaper with coins invented in ancient Lydia, settles back on the train with a cigarette invented in Mexico or a cigar invented in Brazil. Meanwhile, he reads the news of the day, imprinted in characters invented by the ancient Semites by a process invented in Germany upon a material invented in China. As he scans the latest editorial pointing out the dangers of accepting foreign ideas, he will not fail to thank a Hebrew God in an Indo-European language that he is one hundred percent American.