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How to become an American
... with just minutes of practice a day

By Iraj
November 3, 1998
The Iranian

On one of my recent air travels, my seat was next to a man who was whistling quietly. When the plane took off, he ordered a drink and pulled a thick book from his handbag and started to read. It was Tom Clancy's novel "Executive Orders" in which the Iranian government tries to spread the deadly Ebola virus throughout the United States.

On the recommendation of a friend, I read the book a year ago. It was a mishmash of abbreviated military jargons filled with self-gratifying heroic actions by Clancy's American heroes. Clancy is not at fault for producing such nonsense because this way of thinking is almost second nature to many Americans born after the Second World War, and particularly among those brought up by television instead of parents who worked hard to reach the "American Dream" -- a house with two cars in the garage.

Clancy's twisted imagination is the product of the same society that thrives on all the action books and movies we've all read and watched. Entertainment or fiction, they all portray a supernatural character, preferably an American, who dodges a million bullets, swims the length of the ocean, runs as fast as a cheetah, climbs up skyscrapers, knows the combination of every lock, flies any plane, drives any car, makes love to many beautiful women and...

I have often thought that if we have such super heroes in this country, why do we need an army, navy or air force? A handful of such men -- and nowadays women, too -- is enough to destroy our enemies and conquer the world.

I guess I was staring at the book for too long because my fellow passenger noticed my interest. It seemed the book had made him feel very manly and tough. He felt very American and wanted to share his feeling. But he could not help noticing my Middle Eastern features and dark hair. Perhaps he thought I was from a terrorist country.

After a short pause he asked where I was from. Having played this game before, I said, "Texas." Since my accent was not quite twangy and I did not speak through my nose with a southern drawl, he neither expected nor accepted my answer. So he said, "I mean where were you born?"

Before I replied, I remembered that Clancy's bad guys in the book were from Iran. Wanting to see how the book had made an impact, I replied with a loud voice, "I am Iranian by birth." "Oh," he said with a concerned voice, and followed it up with "and what are you doing here?"

"I live here," I said.

"Did you flee I-RAN after the revolution?" he asked. "How do you like it here? Are you going to become an American citizen? Are there many terrorists in I- ran?"

I did not tell him that I have been living in the U.S. for 42 years -- longer than his age. I wanted to find out his ideas on being American. I told him I am weighing the advantages and disadvantages of being an American, but haven't decided yet.

For the next hour, he spoke about what is so good about being an American. When he finished, I had a feeling that even an American-born person may not know what is good about this country and why he or she should be proud to be an American. To comfort him, I said "I am glad you explained it to me. I will think about it."

He basically equated being an American to having wealth and material possessions, kicking "foreign ass," being free to invade the freedom of others if the U.S. feels necessary, and being "Number One," even if American students rank 18th in international scholastic tests.

This reminded me of a piece by a Hungarian by the name of Miklos Vamos who wrote down what was necessary to be an American. Here it is, with slight modifications:

How to Be an American in Just Minutes a Day

I have been an Iranian for 60 years. I'll try something else for the next 20 years. I'll try to be an American. A North American, I mean.

As an American, I'll speak English fluently. I'll make American linguistic mistakes instead of Iranian mistakes and I'll call it slang.

As an American, I'll have a credit card or two. I'll use and misuse them and I'll have to pay the fees. I'll apply for other cards right away.

As an American, I'll buy a car -- a Great American Car -- but it will use too much gasoline, so I'll sell it and buy a smaller German car, because it is reliable and doesn't use as much fuel. Later I'll sell it and buys a smaller Japanese car equipped with a computer. Then I'll sell it and buy a camper to enjoy the outdoors and the open space. I'll sell the camper and buy a bicycle because it will not pollute the air.

As an American, I'll buy a dog, a cat, a goat, a white whale and some big stones as pets and adopt a pot hole or two.

As an American, I'll live in my own house. It will be all mine, except for the 99 percent of it which is owned by the mortgage company. I'll sell my house and buy a condo. I'll sell my condo and buy a mobile home because the condo fees are too high. I'll sell my mobile home and buy an igloo. I'll sell my igloo and buy a tent. It will let me use the outdoors and the open space.

Anyway, as an American, I'll buy the best dishwasher, microwave, dryer and hi-fi in the world (USA). I'll use automatic toothbrushes, egg boilers and garage doors.

Anyway, as an American, I'll call every single phone number starting with 1-800 because it is free.

As an American, I'll buy the fastest food I can get, and I'll eat it very slowly because I watch TV during meals.

As an American, I'll buy a video player, of course. I'll watch the taped programs and then re-tape. Sometimes I'll re-tape first.

As an American, I'll have an answering machine too. The out-going message will promise that I'll call you back as soon as possible, but it won't be possible soon.

As an American, If I answer the phone on rare occasions, I'll tell you that I can't talk now because I have a long-distance call on the other line, but I'll call you as soon as possible (see above).

As an American, I'll get a job. I'll always be looking for a better job, but I won't get the job I want. I'll work really hard, since as an American I wanna be rich.

As an American, I'll always be in a hurry. Time is money. Unfortunately, my time won't be worth as much money as my boss's time; he gets paid more for a lot less of his time. Sometimes I will have some extra time and I still won't have enough money. Then I'll hate whoever said "time is Money."

As an American, sometimes I'll be really depressed. I'll have 12 psychiatrists, and I'll be disappointed with all of them. I'll try to change my life a little bit. I'll try to change my wife, my cars, my job, my lovers, my houses, my children and my pets.

As an American, I'll exchange a few dollars into other currencies and I'll travel to Europe, Hawaii, Tunisia, and Japan. I'll take at least 2,000 snapshots on each trip. I'll also buy a video camera and film everything everywhere. I'll look at the tapes, photos and slides and I'll try to remember my experience when I have time and am in the mood. But I won't have time or be in the mood, because I'll get depressed.

As an American, I'll smoke cigarettes. Then l'll be afraid of cancer and I'll stop. I'll smoke cigars and opium. I'll take a breather and then try, marijuana, LSD, heroin, crack, and cocaine. I'll try to stop but I won't be able to because I'm hooked.

As an American, I'll call 1-800-222-HELP. If nothing helps, I'll have some gay experiences, and swing. And if I am still unhappy, I'll make a final effort. I'll try to read a book. I'll buy some bestsellers. I'll prefer Tom Clancy. My second favorite will be "How to be Rich in Seven Weeks." I'll try to follow the advice of the book for seven years, but I won't get rich.

As an American, I'll always be concerned about my health, I won't eat anything but health food until I get sick. From time to time, I'll read in the paper that I should stop eating meat, sugar, bread, fiber, grains, iron and toothpaste, and that I should stop drinking milk, soda, water and acid rain. I'll try to follow the advice, but then later I'll read in the paper that I should do it the other way around.

As an American, I'll be puzzled. I won't know what cholesterol is, yet I'll eat fat-free butter. I'll drink decaf coffee, eat sugar-free cookies, and swallow lead free-gasoline. I'll believe that proper diet and exercise will make life longer. I'll go jogging every day until I am mugged twice and knocked down three times. Then I'll just exercise in my room, but it will make me depressed and also increase my appetite. I'll go on several diets, and little by little I'll reach 200 pounds.

As an American, I'll buy a new TV every time a larger screen appears in the market. In the end, the screen will be larger than the room. It will be difficult to put this enormous TV into my living room. Thus, I will put my living room into the TV.

Anyway, as an American, my living room will look very much like the living rooms you can see on the screen. My life won't differ from the lives you see in the soap operas. Nobody will complain; I won't complain either.

As an American, whenever I see a TV camera pointed at me, I'll smile and say "Hi Mom," even though she died 10 years ago, and I'll always smile and say cheese when my picture is being taken, even if I don't like cheese.

Is this what being an American means? I don't think so.

We should neither judge all Americans by these stereotypes, nor all Iranians by the behavior of a few who do not represent and display our unique culture and genuine goodness.

Copyright © 1997 Abadan Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated or distributed in any form