ONE HUNDRED PER CENT AMERICAN "
Diffusion of ideas, a pattern of behavior, or an exchange of material objects isalways a two-way street between societies. Americans often think it is a one-way process - others adopt our customs and "superior" technology, but suchis not the case. Americans have received as much as they have given to ptherpeoples. Our rapid assimilation of new items and our pride in self-sufficiencymay prevent us from seeing what has happened. In this article Ralph Lintonprovides numerous examples of borrowing and reintegration withoutappreciation.
There can be no question about the average country does the average man perform hisAmerican's Americanism or his desire to ablutions in the midst of such splendor. Butpreserve this precious heritage at all costs. the insidious foreign influence pursues himNevertheless, some insidious foreign ideas even here. Glass was invented by the an-have already wormed their way into his cient Egyptians, the use of glazed tiles forcivilization without his realizing what was floors and walls in the Near East, porcelaingoing on. Thus dawn finds the unsuspect- in China, and the art of enameling on metaling patriot garbed in pajamas, a garment of by Mediterranean artisans of the BronzeEast Indian origin; and lying in a bed built Age. Even his bathtub and toilet are buton a pattern which originated in either slightly modified copies of Roman orig-Persia or Asia Minor. He is muffled to the inals. The only purely American contribu-ears in un-American materials: cotton, first tion to the ensemble is the steam radiator,domesticated in India; linen, domesticated against which our patriot very briefly andin the Near East; wool from an animal na- unintentionally places his posterior.tive to Asia Minor; or silk whose uses were In this bathroom the American washesfirst discovered by the Chinese. All these with soap invented by the ancient Gauls.substances have been transformed into Next he cleans his teeth, a subversive Euro-
cloth by methods invented in Southwestern pean practice ,which did not invade Amer-Asia. If the weather is cold enough he may ica until the latter part of the eighteentheven be sleeping under an eiderdown quilt century. He then shaves, a masochistic riteinvented in Scandinavia. first developed by the heathen priests of
On awakening he glances at the clock, a ancient Egypt and Sumer. The process ismedieval European invention, uses one po- made less of a penance by the fact that histent Latin word in abbreviated form, rises razor is of steel, an iron-carbon alloyin haste, and goes to the bathroom. Here, if discovered in either India or Turkestan.he stops to think about it, he must feel him- Lastly, he dries himself on a Turkish towel.self in the presence of a great American Returning to the bedroom, the uncon-institution; he will have heard stories of scious victim of un-American practicesboth the quality and frequency of foreign removes his clothes from a chair, inventedplumbing and will know that in no other in the Near East, and proceeds to dress. He
From Ralph Linton, "One Hundred Per-Cent American," The American Mercury,vol. 40 (1937), pp. 427-429. Reprinted by permission of The American Mercury,Box 1306, Torrance, California. ~
.. puts on close-fitting tailored garmentswhose form derives from the skin clothingof the ancient nomads of the Asiatic steppesand fastens them with buttons whose
prototypes appeared in Europe at the closeof the Stone Age. This costume is appro-priate enough for outdoor exercise in a coldclimate, but is ql.1iteunsuited to Americansummers, steam-heated houses, and Pull-mans. Nevertheless, foreign ideas andhabits hold. the unfortunate man in thralleven when common sense tells him that the
authentically American costume of geestring and moccasions would be far mbrecomfortable. He puts on his feet stiffcoverings made from high prepared by aprocess invented in ancient Egypt and cutto a pattern which can be traced back toancient Greece, and makes sure that theyare properly polished, also a Greek idea.Lastly, he ties about his neck a strip ofbright-colored cloth which is a vestigialsurvival of the shoulder shawls worn byseventeenth-century Croats. He gives him-self a final appraisal in the mirror, an oldMediterranean invention, and goes down-stairs to breakfast.
Here a whole new series of foreignthings confronts him. His food and drinkare placed before him in pottery vessels, thepopular name of which-china-is suffi-cient evidence of their origin. His fork is amedieval Italian invention and his spoon acopy of a Roman original. He will usuallybegin the meal with coffee, an Abyssinianplant first discovered by the Arabs. TheAmerican is quite likely to need it to dispelthe morning-after effects of overindulgencein fermented drinks, invented in the NearEast; or distilled ones, invented by thealchemists of medieval Europe. Whereasthe Arabs took their coffee straight, he willprobably sweeten it with sugar, discoveredin India; and dilute it with cream, both thedomestication of cattle and the technique ofmilking having originated in Asia Minor.
If our patriot is old-fashioned enough toadhere to the so-called American breakfast,his coffee will be accompanied by anorange, domesticated in the Mediterraneanregion, a cantaloupe domesticated inPersia, or grapes domesticated in AsiaMinor. He will follow this with a bowl ofcereal made from grain domesticated in theNear East and prepared by methods alsoinvented there. From this he will go on towaffles, a Scandinavian invention, withplenty of butter, originally a Near-Easterncosmetic. As a side dish he may have theegg of a bird domesticated in SoutheasternAsia or strips of the flesh of an animaldomesticated in the same region, whichhave been salted and smoked by a processinvented in Northern Europe.
Breakfast over, he places upon his heada molded piece of felt, invented by the no-mads of Eastern Asia, and, if it looks likerain, puts on outer shoes of rubber, dis-covered by the ancient Mexicans, and takesan umbrella, invented in India. He thensprints for his train - the train, not sprint-ing, being an English invention. At the sta-tion he pauses for a moment to buy a news-paper, paying for it with coins invented inancient Lydia. Once on board he settlesback to inhale the fumes of a cigarette in-vented in Mexico, or a cigar invented inBrazil. Meanwhile, he reads the news of theday, imprinted in characters invented bythe ancient Semites by a process invented inGermany upon a material invented inChina. As he scans the latest editorialpointing out the dire results to our institu-tions of accepting foreign ideas, he will notfail to thank a Hebrew God in an Indo-European language that he is a one hundredpercent (decimal system invented by theGreeks) American (from Americus Ves-pucci, Italian geographer.).