Let me copy here for your edification a morality tale that I read yesterday about anti-Americanism on a peninsula at the end of a continent:
In the spring of 2001, through a rather absurd set of circumstances, my understanding of Korean anti-Americanism took at great leap forward.This sort of story will sound depressingly familiar to many expats living here in South Korea.
One day, an editor of the New York Times travel section called me and said she needed something in a hurry. They were doing a feature on "farm stays" -- working farms that accommodate visitors who want a taste of the agricultural life -- and were an article short. Could I find such a place in South Korea and write it up pronto?
It didn't sound like my cup of tea, but I promised I'd look into it. Within an hour, I'd located a farm in Gangwon-do that sounded suitable and booked a room for my partner, his brother, and me.
A few days later we were there. High on a remote mountainside, it was the opposite of what Americans think of when they hear the word "farm": this was no patchwork of cornfields stretching to the horizon, but a cluster of small weatherbeaten wooden buildings surrounded by rocky scrubby earth, most of it far from horizontal, on which a few dozen goats and chickens grazed. It was, admittedly, picturesque: our room afforded a spectacular view of the valley and of a steep green mountainside down which narrow waterfalls trickled, like tinsel sparkling.
But the experience was ruined by the proprietor's behavior. Much of the point of a "farm stay" is to watch the farmer farm -- and our farmer obviously hated being in our company, and seemed determined to make his own company as unpleasant as possible. The three of us all came to the same conclusion as to why he was treating us this way, but I'll keep our speculations to myself; suffice it to say that I'd never encountered such incivility on the part of an alleged host. We'd planned to stay two nights but left after one.
Had there been time, I would've found another farm to write up; but since the Times needed something right away, I did what I had to. Though honesty required that I mention the host's conduct, this was a travel article and not an exposé, so I tried to be as positive as possible. I sent the piece in, and it appeared a couple of Sundays later. The next day, South Korea's newspaper of record, The Hankyoreh, ran a story summing it up. Now, what I'd written wasn't remotely newsworthy; the only reason the editors of The Hankyoreh thought otherwise was that South Korea had been mentioned in the New York Times. The attention surprised me.
Even more astonishing was what happened next. The owner of the farm, irked that I'd made a point of mentioning his rudeness, got his revenge by telling reporters that I'd demanded McDonald's hamburgers for dinner instead of that most South Korean of delicacies, Hanwoo steak. Though this was a transparent fabrication (his farm was in the boondocks, far from the nearest golden arches), the South Korean press lapped it up. The story received high-profile coverage all over South Korea and dragged on for days. After somebody at The Hankyoreh tracked down an essay I'd published in a Washington, D.C., policy journal, criticizing various elements of South Korea's statist economy and praising the at least somewhat market-friendly Grand National Party, the newspaper ran an article helpfully explaining that I didn't just hate the farm in Gangwon-do; I hated "pretty much everything about South Korea."
Meanwhile our inhospitable host became an instant folk hero. The next weekend, he was accorded a cozy ten-minute segment on MBC's Sunday evening -- the South Korean equivalent of being profiled on 60 Minutes. By the time the story had run its course, our unpleasant weekend trip had been transformed into a morality play about the threat posed by vulgar American urbanites to cherished native traditions. (Though two of our party of three had been South Koreans, we were referred to by more than one journalist as "the Americans.") I was flabbergasted. But my erstwhile host obviously wasn't: he knew his country; he knew its media; and he'd known, accordingly, that all he needed to do to spin events to his advantage was to breathe that talismanic word, McDonald's.
For me, the episode raised a few questions. Why had the South Korean press paid so much attention to a mere travel article? Why had it then been so eager to repeat a cartoonish lie and obsess over it for days? Were these actions reflective of a society more serious, more thoughtful, than the one I'd left? Or did they reflect a culture -- or, at least, a media class -- that was so awed by America as to be flattered by even its slightest attentions, but that was also reflexively, irrationally belligerent toward it?
However, the story isn't about South Korea at all. It's about an experience that Bruce Bawer had in Norway and recounts in pages 96-97 of While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within. Another, shorter version of the story can be found online, in Bawer's article "Hating America," HudsonReview.com, Vol. LX, No. 3: Autumn 2007.
Here's the code for deciphering the story posted above: Korean = European; South Korea = Norway; Gangwon-do = Telemark; The Hankyoreh = Aftenposten; Hanwoo (i.e., Korean beef) = reindeer; South Korean = Norwegian; Grand National Party = Conservative Party; and MBC = NRK.
Many of the American expats that I meet in South Korea have never lived elsewhere abroad. They therefore experience culture shock and anti-Americanism for the first time and conclude that South Korea is uniquely hostile to America, but we see that Bruce Bawer's "morality play" recounts an experience eerily similar to one that an American expat could easily have here in Korea.
Or elsewhere in the world.
In addition to living here in South Korea, I have lived in Switzerland, Germany, Australia, Israel, and -- of course -- the Democratic People's Republic of Berkeley, so I'm quite familar with the anti-Americanism of other lands.
Korean anti-Americanism merely fits into a common, easily recognizable pattern, so I didn't let it rile me much when I first encountered it since I'd already experienced the European (and Berzerkeleyan) variety.