The Second Version


Sophisticate And Uncouth

In a post from a few days back, reader Zhombre commented:
And for a true redneck, it's baloney, Wonder Bread and beer.
This simple (and innocent) statement made me think about some bigger issues which have repercussions on trans-atlantic relationships (yes, really!).

The main point is that the definition of redneck - or, to use less colloquial terms - the difference between sophisticate and uncouth, is largely a function of the local cultural environment.

In the case at hand, I am sure that drinking wine - even if it's foul-tasting homemade stuff guzzled straight from the bottle - turns one into a sophisticate if not effete chap in the eyes of rural Americans.

Here in Italy, some of the most uncouth and inbred countryside dwellers I know are avid drinkers of wine.

One reason is tradition and history: there is probably nothing more traditional than wine in Italy. This drink has been made and appreciated by countless generations of commons and nobles alike and it is an inextricable part of the local culture.

However, for centuries the commons did not enjoy their wine sipping it at elegant parties, from big, thin goblets while describing its taste and aroma with a collection of rare terms. No, the commons drank their wine in large amounts from small, thick-walled glasses (I remember my grandfather, my friend's grandfather and I have photographs from the first half of the last century) at home or at the local osteria (inn or tavern) and they cared more about alcohol content than taste; some folks quite literally drank wine till the day they died. Quite a few people still make their own wine, here, and it is often less than delicious.

American culture has very mixed roots, but the main influence is Anglo-Saxon: up there, the traditional drinks were ale and cider and mead; later the Americans added moonshine to the list (but kinda forgot about mead, it seems). In England and northern Europe wine has always been something foreign and exotic.

Besides tradition, there is the ages-old rift between countryside and urban dwellers; for a series of reasons which range from higher cultural affinity to the desire of distancing themselves from the uncouth hillbillies, passing through fads and fashions - the urban elites in America have adopted more European* habits.

So, the salt-of-the-earth Americans now automatically associate drinking wine with the effete, metrosexual and leftist urban elites. What they fail to realize is that there is probably less difference between the commons on both sides of the Atlantic (well, ok, the cultural difference is considerable anyway) than between commons and elites within the respective countries/regions.

To make just one example, while elites here and there are for the majority hoplohpobes, many blue-collar workers and professionals and farmers here will tell you that one should be able to use firearms in self-defense without fear of prosecution.

*The habits of the American urban elites seems to me a caricature of European habits, or at least what they'd like them to be rather than the real thing. How many of Manhattan intellectuals would be caught stepping into a bar to drink a glass or two of nondescript wine while still wearing oil-stained work clothes?

Update 02/03/09: I realized only recently that "baloney" is the english term for mortadella.

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