I have written before about the dangerous consequences of American exceptionalism, the belief that the country and its people are imbued with some special undefined quality that makes them and their cultural and political values better than those of others. This attitude can and does lead the US to think that it can impose its will on other nations and peoples, by force if necessary.
One of the flipsides of the belief in American exceptionalism is the use of the term ‘Un-American’. It is used pejoratively against those who are perceived to have deviated from the ideal and are even possibly traitorous. It is telling that the infamous Congressional committee that was formed in 1938 to investigate private citizens and government employees for disloyalty was called the House Un-American Activities Committee.
The use of the formulation ‘un-X’ where X refers to a nationality is not by itself unusual. In fact it is quite common. But whenever I have seen it applied in various forms to the people of other nations, it is used more humorously or self-deprecatingly to indicate someone who goes against a national stereotype. So someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve might be called ‘un-English’, a reserved and quiet Italian may be called ‘un-Italian’, and so forth.
Sri Lankans used to have the reputation of being lazy and not willing to work hard, content to live off the fat of the land. Partially because of this perceived national characteristic (which is definitely not true now, if it ever was), some in the country even adopted the nickname (derived from Greek mythology) of ‘The Land of the Lotus Eaters’. It was not unusual when I was growing up there to hear people jokingly speak of an extremely hard working and industrious person as ‘not being a true Sri Lankan’ or un-Sri Lankan.
But un-American, or its equivalents, is rarely used in this facetious, jesting, or even backhanded complimentary way. It is used to disparage the other person or an action. To call an action or person un-American is to label the action as a character flaw and such a person as a blemish on the American body politic, to be despised and rejected by right-thinking people. To be called un-American is fighting words.
I know that readers of this blog are from all over the world. I am curious if there are some of from another country X that uses the term un-X in the same seriously pejorative way that it is used here.