Monday, July 10, 2006

A Little Monday Night Mencken

From Minority Report (Number 27):

In ordinary human intercourse decorums are plainly more valuable than morals. No one really cares what the private morals of the other fellow may be, but there must be some confidence that he will react in ordinary situations according to the familiar patters and without too much aberration. To take an interest in his private morals is, in fact, the sign of low culture. It is encountered only in primitive societies, such as those that are to be found in remote country towns. But even in the best society his manners are immensely important. No man can be really friendly to another whose personal habits differ materially from his own. Even the trivialities of table manners thus become important. The fact probably explains much of race prejudice, and even more of national prejudice. No American is ever really quite comfortable in the presence of an Englishman. The Englishman is cocksure in regions wherein the American is naturally diffident, and reserved in regions wherein the American is accustomed to be frank. The two men wear their clothes differently, devour their food according to different technics, and react differently to many other common situations. Each can become accustomed to the ways of the other, but it takes time, and in certain fields it takes a good deal of time.

Immigrants who live in this country for many years are still sharply conscious of the fact that it is a foreign land. It is only the native-born second generation that ever finds it really comfortable. I believe the same is true of Americans living abroad. I have met a good many of them in my time, and I can't recall a single one who was really happy. They are all pathetically eager to hear what is going on at home, especially those who pretend to be disgusted by American life.

Sounds about right to me.

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