Friday, January 25, 2013


Anthropologists think we're super smart. We are, but not everybody gets it and sometimes that makes us come off as pretentious.

In 1956 this guy named Horace Miner wrote an article for American Anthropologist called Body Ritual among the Nacirema.

Horace Miner, Source: University of Michigan Faculty History Project
It's hysterical.

He looks like a hysterical guy, right?

It's about Americans. Nacirema is American spelled backwards. It talks about all the rituals we perform on our bodies including daily ablution rituals at the ceremonial font within the household shrine. I found this simultaneously true and bothersome.

 The fundamental belief underlying the whole system appears to be the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is towards debility and disease.

Go ahead and tell me that doesn't describe the generally cultural mentality of the U.S. It doesn't make sense, but it seems to be how we think about ourselves.

What brought this sudden obsession with Nacirema on today?

My husband sent me a link to the new WikiVoyage site and I started reading the information about the United States. It's written for (and presumably by) people who aren't from the U.S. thinking about visiting here and has some rather astute and humorous observations. At least I thought they were humorous.

Some of my favorite excerpts include [all emphasis taken from the original]:

While many Americans study a foreign language in school (usually Spanish, French or German), few achieve or retain fluency into adulthood. (This is because foreign language education occurs in Americans' teenage or adolescent years, rather than earlier in their childhood.) The end result is that many Americans know only a few words at best of a foreign language, even if they studied that language in school.

It is usually inappropriate to join a table already occupied by other diners, even if it has unused seats; Americans prefer this degree of privacy when they eat.

Crime is usually connected with gangs and drugs in the inner cities, and with heated disputes. Avoid those and you'll be fine.

Your chances of getting shot are very low, but bear in mind that:
  • In a city, a civilian with an openly visible firearm is much more of a concern than one in the country.
Health Care
Emergency rooms treat patients regardless of their ability to pay, even though their services are not free.

And my personal favorite:

As a result of its history of racial discrimination and the modern push toward equality, Americans are exceptionally touchy about issues of race. 

Keep in mind that I excerpted only the most hilarious parts. The rest is full of useful, but somewhat boring information. Maybe I'm weird, but I think its hysterical. Or maybe it's only funny if you're an anthropologist.

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