Friday, October 28, 2005

Something To Insult Everybody

Since my first and last all-political post was a little hard on the U.S.A., I thought I would post these lyrics from the musical Do I Hear a Waltz? (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, music by Richard Rodgers). Fioria (Carol Bruce), the proprietress of a pensione in Venice, welcomes her latest group of American tourists by telling them how much nicer they are than all other nationalities:

Last week the Germans,
You can keep the Germans,
Always cheap, the Germans,
Even on a trip.
Sweet? Not the Germans,
Sweat a lot, the Germans,
Full of smiles, the Germans,
Don't expect a tip.
But this week Americans,
Open-armed Americans,
I am charmed, Americans,
Welcome, welcome, welcome,
I love Americans,
The pleasure is mine.
Remember, no breakfast after half-past nine.

Next week the English,
You should see the English,
All the tea, the English,
Thirsty, I suppose.
Good eggs, the English,
Rotten legs, the English,
All those teeth, the English,
Rows and rows and rows.
But this week Americans,
More than kind Americans,
Much-maligned Americans,
Welcome, welcome, welcome,
I love Americans,
And my home is yours.
I can't be responsible, so lock your doors.

Then come Parisians,
Full of food Parisians,
Always rude Parisians,
Every one a sneak.
Perfumed Parisians,
Over-groomed Parisians,
Middle-class Parisians,
Far more cheek than chic.
But this week Americans,
Generous Americans,
Never fuss, Americans,
Welcome, welcome, welcome,
Thank you, Americans,
For coming to stay.
How charming, my guests are from the U.S.A.

No alcoholic Swedes,
No double-dealing Russians.
No Spaniards with their beads
And their deafening discussions.
No narcissistic Greeks,
They're worse than the Italians
With overblown physiques
And St. Christopher medallions.
No millionaire Brazilians
Who somehow never pay,
I much prefer the millions
From the U.S.A.

But in Act 2, when the Americans are leaving and the English tourists are arriving, Fioria sings a different tune, or rather, the same tune with different lyrics:

Last week Americans,
Who can bear Americans?
Wash-and-wear Americans,
Charmlessly naive.
Two-faced Americans,
Dreadful taste Americans,
Summertime Americans,
Thought they'd never leave!
But this week the Britishers,
Cultivated Britishers,
Educated Britishers,
Welcome, welcome, welcome,
Thank God for Britishers,
You aren't like them.
And welcome till Saturday at three p.m.!

Moral: you can find something nasty to say about any country. Except possibly Canada. We're great.

On an analytical note, since this song is basically a catalogue of national stereotypes, it's interesting to note which stereotypes have and have not remained current since the song was written (1965). The stereotypes about the French -- focusing on snobbery, in the traditional sense (a "snob" originally meant a bourgeois person who affects to be higher-class than he or she really is) -- have mostly lost their currency. The stereotype of the tight-fisted German has, since German re-unification, been replaced in popular culture by stereotypes of Germans as hyper-efficient on the one hand and decadent on the other. Most of the other stereotypes have remained familiar enough to be a part of any bad comedian's repertoire.

I saw at least one analysis of the song that chewed Sondheim and Rodgers out for promoting all these horrible stereotypes. The writer had apparently listened only to the cast album, not realizing that in context the song is not about the stereotypes, but Fioria's willingness to say whatever her guests want to hear.

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